Research concerning the connection between the temporal lobe and memory is an area that continues to expand. Studies are finding an increasing number of links between this area of the brain and the formation, retention and recall of memories. The hippocampus, located inside the temporal lobe, has long been recognized as essential in the formation of new memories. Damage to this area does not prevent a person from recalling old memories, but new ones will not be formed if the hippocampus does not function correctly. Although it is believed that most memories are not stored in the temporal lobe, damage to this area can interfere with the recall of both verbal and non-verbal memories.
The temporal lobe, present on both the right and left hemispheres, is the region of the brain where sensory data is organized into meaningful information. This is believed to play a vital role in the formation of explicit or declarative memories, which involve events, names, numbers and the context surrounding them. The hippocampus processes the new information and relays it to other areas of the brain for storage and later recall. The left temporal lobe processes verbal information, while the right lobe is involved with non-verbal information, like music or art.
Studies of patients with damage to this area of the brain have helped researchers pinpoint the connections between the temporal lobe and memory. Patients who have suffered damage to the hippocampus and surrounding portions of the temporal lobe retain memories created before the damage. They may clearly recall and relate events from their early life but are unable to form new memories. Although they can usually still perform many activities such as daily routines, playing an instrument, or maintaining a manual skill, they cannot recall recent events, conversation or new information.
Using data from people who have experienced strokes, researchers have discovered a connection between the left temporal lobe and memory concerning the recall of the names of people, animals and tools. The researchers believed that these three areas of classification were especially vital to humans as they evolved. In daily life, the names of people in their community, the animals that were either hunted or presented a danger, and the tools used to hunt, cook and enhance life were all essential items. Damage to the front left temporal lobe interferes with remembering people’s names. Corresponding damage to the middle portion affects recalling animals and the rear section correlates with the names of tools and implements.
Early studies seemed to suggest that the temporal lobe was not active in the formation of implicit or procedural memory. This is the type of memory used for things like brushing teeth or performing other routine skills. These are procedures that can be done without conscious recall. Later research has indicated, however, that the temporal lobe and memory of this type may also be connected.