Basic Distinctions about Memory & How to Improve Your Memory


“Most of us, I fear are born with prosaically efficient memories. If it were not so, the institution of the family could not survive in any great modern city.”  – Robert Lynd

Memory is the key step towards learning. Learning implies memory; if we remembered nothing from our experiences we could learn nothing. Memory is the way to reflect upon our self for the very notion of the ‘self’. 

According to psychologists there are three stages of memory—Encoding, Storage and Retrieval. Whether it is a case of short termed memory or a long term memory, “encoding” plays a dominant role in improving memory.  To encode information into short term memory you must attend to it.  Since we are selective about what we attend to our memory will be certain only what has been selected. Long term memory, then tends to maintain meaning, thus encoding must be quite strongly enforced. 

Consider the meaning of airplane, one might encode its meaning in terms of a mental picture or image, or one might encode something more abstract, more conceptual- the kind of information that a dictionary gives about. Where in the former is called Imagery Code and latter a Semantic code. So, improvement in the memory is attainable  by using either semantic coding like converting  and connecting  with sentences or by imagery coding  where images are connected to the things  for remembering. According to an Experiment by (Anderson and Bower 1973) both Imagery instructions and semantic elaborations are responsible for better memory.

In summary, we remember verbal materials best when we encode them in terms of their meaning-either semantically or imaginably-and the more we elaborate the meaning the better our memory.

Another important key point for better and long term memory is storage and retrieval.  Poor memory may reflect a retrieval failure, rather than a storage failure. Retrieving process coincides with the storage capacity. Trying to retrieve an item from long term memory is analogous to trying to find a book in a huge library. Failure to find the book not necessarily mean it isn’t there, you may be looking in the wrong place it may simply be misfield and therefore inaccessible.  For quick retrieval we may organize the storage information by   retrieval cues. The better the retrieval cues, the better our memory. Research has identified two factors that increase the chances of successful retrieval:

Organizing the information in storage.

Ensuring that the context in which the information is retrieved is similar to the context in which we encode it.

“Memory does indeed improve when our internal state during retrieval matches that during encoding” – (Overton 1972)

Another factor that influences memory is emotions; the simplest notion is that we tend to think about emotionally charged situations, negative as well as positive, more than we think about neutral ones. We rehearse and organize exciting memories more than we do their blander; remorseful counterparts. Since we know rehearsal and organization can improve retrieval from long term memory.

So while we are facing exams when we are not confident. We can barely understand the initial questions; signs of panic appear. Although the second question really isn’t hard, the anxiety triggered by the previous question spreads to this one and when in haste you look at the third question it wouldn’t matter if it just asked for your name. There’s negative emotion that has curtailed you. Thus anxiety is often accompanied by extraneous thoughts like “I’m going to flunk out, or everybody will know how stupid I’m”. These thought then interfere with any attempt -to retrieve the information relevant to the questions, and this is why memory fails so utterly.

As we’ve been much more acquainted with the basics of memory, now it’s time to tackle the question of improving memory. As mentioned earlier the best way to improve the memory is through imaginary and encoding. Imagery-when we link the terms with an image like HORSETABLE. It can be remembered   by linking ‘Horse’ and ‘Table’ by image to recall in better way. This is the main principle behind many mnemonics [memory aiding system]. This mnemonics are based on method of Loci. This can be explained as: 
You enter through the front door come into the hall, move next to the book cases. Then television and the curtains at the window. Take a mental walk and form an image that relocates the locations. For example; shopping. List related the locations with images shopping list is of bread, eggs, juice, milk like- you might imagine a slice of bread nailed to your front door, an egg hanging from the light cord in the hall, a can of juice in the bookcase and milk commercial playing on television.

“Another example for this may be like if you have to remember 3D series elements-    Scandium, Titanium, Vanadium, Chromium, Manganese, Iron, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Zinc.

We may connect it with imagery coding by mnemonics:  Scary Tiny Vicious Creatures May Fear Cows and Nice  Cute  Zebras”. This is known as Keyword Method. Likewise we may remember same foreign vocabulary first as “pate” in Spanish means duck. We may keyword it with ‘pot’ and set a mental image of ‘a duck wearing pot over the head’. This seems to be complicated but studies have shown keyword method does make learning more easily.

In concluding terms. The more deeply and elaborately we remember it the practical implications of these finding are straight forward. “If you want to remember something, expand on its meaning and above all organizing before learning and retrieval cues are most beneficial trends to improve memory.”

“Improve retrieval by practicing it-that is, to ask yourself questions about what you are learning.  Suppose you have two hours in which to study an assignment, four times is likely much less than reading it once and asking yourself questions about it. You can then reread the selected parts to clear up points that were difficult to retrieve for the first time.

Reference for the above context

-Introduction to Psychology (VII Edition).

By Richard C. Atkinson

Literary Significances

‘Forgetting’ by Robert Lynd 


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