Hippocampus Lesson for Kids: Definition & Function

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

The hippocampus is a special structure found deep within the brain. It has a very important job involving memories. What does the hippocampus do? Read more to find out.

How's Your Memory?

Do you remember what you were doing five minutes ago? Easy, right? How about this one: What did you have for breakfast last week? Now see if you can answer this question: Do you have memories from several years ago, like a special event or an important day? The answer is most likely, yes!

How much can you remember?

It is possible to recall memories both old and new because of a special structure tucked deep into your brain. This structure is called the hippocampus, and it has a very important job when it comes to your memories. What, exactly does the hippocampus do, and why does it sound like an animal? Join us as we take a closer look.

An Organ to Remember

Although it sounds like a place for hippos to attend college, the hippocampus is actually a small organ located deep in the folds of the brain. Its name comes from the Greek word hippokampus, which literally means ''seahorse.'' Why is it named this way? Because its shape strongly resembles, you guessed it: a seahorse.

The hippocampus isn't exactly a part of the gray, wrinkled, folded brain itself. Instead, it belongs to a region called the limbic system. The limbic system is a grouping of structures tucked deep down within the brain folds. This system is in charge of many very important jobs, including controlling emotion and memory. The job of the hippocampus makes it possible for us to hold tight to important memories from the past.

Location of the hippocampus deep within the brain

More specifically, the hippocampus takes our short-term memories and files them away permanently in long-term storage. This way, you can remember more than what you just did today. Does this remind you of anything? Most likely you are thinking of a computer. When you keyboard words, the computer stores that information temporarily. However, by hitting ''Save'' and storing them in a file, you can keep those words forever. The hippocampus is like the ''Save'' button on the computer, tucking away your memory files.

The hippocampus is like a computer, storing long-term memories.

Memories with Emotions Attached

Often, we have memories that make us feel a strong emotion. For example, you might catch a whiff of a certain smell and suddenly be transported to the memory attached to it. Perhaps you went on an amazing vacation to the beach. Now, every time you smell the ocean breeze, you think of that trip. Why are these types of memories so vivid?

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