Keys to Improving Memory: Introduction to Psychology (2023)

learning goals

  1. Identify and review principles of encoding, storage, and retrieval.
  2. Summarize the types of amnesia and how they affect memory.
  3. Describe how the context in which we learn information can affect how we remember that information.

While storing information in sensory and short-term memory is helpful, we also rely on our long-term memory (LTM). We want to remember the name of the new student in class, the name of the movie we saw last week, and the material for our upcoming psychology test. Psychological research has produced a great deal of knowledge about long-term memory, and this research can be helpful when trying to learn and remember new material (seeTable 8.2 Useful memory techniques based on psychological research). In this section, we'll look at this issue in relation to the types of processing we do to the information we want to remember. To succeed, the information we want to remember must succeedencodedjstored, and thenrecovered.

Table 8.2Useful memory techniques based on psychological research

TechnologyDescriptionuseful example
Use sophisticated coding.Material is best remembered when processed more thoroughly.For example, think: "Proactive intervention is like retrospective intervention, but it's direct."
Use the self-reference effect.Material is best remembered when associated with thoughts about yourself.For example, think: “I remember a time when I knew the answer to a test question but couldn't think of it. This was an example of the tip of the tongue phenomenon.”
Note the forgetting curve.The information we learn quickly decays over time.Review the material you've already learned before the test to increase the likelihood that it will stick with you.
Use the distance effect.The best way to learn information is to study it in shorter periods of time.Learn a little each day; Don't push at the last minute.
learn to trust.We can keep learning even if we think we know the information perfectly.Keep learning, even if you think you've mastered it.
Use contextual recovery.We recover better when it occurs in the same situation in which we learn the material.If possible, study under conditions similar to those under which you will be taking the exam.
Use stateful recovery.We recover best when we are in the same psychological state we were in when we learned the material.Lots of options, but don't study under the influence of drugs or alcohol unless you plan to use them on test day (which is not recommended).

Encoding and storage: how our perceptions become memories

codificationesthe process by which we remember things we experience. If the information is not encrypted, it cannot be stored. I'm sure you've been to a party where you've been introduced to someone and maybe a few seconds later you realize you can't remember the person's name. Of course, it's not really surprising that he can't remember the name because he was probably distracted and never coded the name.

Not everything we experience can or should be encoded. We tend to code things that we need to remember and don't bother to code things that are irrelevant. To viewFigure 8.8 "Pennies in different styles", which shows various images of US cents. Can you tell which one is real? Nickerson and Adams (1979) found that very few of the American participants they tested were able to identify the correct one. We see a lot of pennies, but we don't bother coding its features.

Figure 8.8Coins in different styles

Can you spot the "real" dime? We tend to have a bad memory for unimportant things, even if we see them often.

One way to improve our memory is to use better coding strategies. Some learning methods are more effective than others. Research has found that we can remember information better when we encode it in a meaningful way. if we interferecomplex codingusProcess new information in a way that makes it more relevant or meaningful.(Craik e Lockhart, 1972; Harris e Qualls, 2000).

Imagine trying to remember the characteristics of the different schools of psychology we discussed.Chapter 1 "Introduction to Psychology". Instead of just remembering schools and their characteristics, you can try connecting the information with things you already know. For example, you can try to recall the fundamentals of the cognitive school of psychology by relating the features to the computer model. The cognitive school focuses on how information is entered, processed, and retrieved, and you can imagine computers doing the same thing. You can also try to organize the information into meaningful units. For example, you might associate the cognitive school with structuralism because both are concerned with mental processes. You can also try using visual cues to help you remember information. You can look at Freud's photo and imagine what he looked like as a child. This image may help you remember that childhood experiences were an important part of Freudian theory. Everyone has their own way of processing information; The most important thing is to try to develop unique and meaningful associations between the materials.

Research focus: elaboration and memory

Rogers, Kuiper, and Kirker (1977) examined how people remembered information learned under different processing conditions in a large study showing the effectiveness of elaborative coding. All participants were given the same list of 40 adjectives to study, but through the use of randomized assignments, participants were given one of four different instructions on how to process the adjectives.

assigned to participantsstructural taskThey were asked to rate whether the word was printed in uppercase or lowercase. participant ofphonemic task conditionThey were asked whether or not the word rhymed with another given word. insidesemantic task condition, participants were asked whether the word was synonymous with another word. And notself-referential task conditionParticipants were asked to indicate whether or not the given adjective applied to them. After completing the given task, each participant was asked to recall as many adjectives as they could remember.

Rogers and his colleagues hypothesized that different types of processing would have different effects on memory. as you can see in itFigure 8.9 "Self-reference effect results", students in the self-reference task condition recalled significantly more adjectives than students in any other condition. This discovery, known asself-reference effect, is strong evidence that self-concept helps us organize and retain information. The next time you study for a test, try to relate the material to your own experiences. The self-reference effect suggests that it helps you remember information better (Symons & Johnson, 1997).

Figure 8.9Results of the self-reference effect

Participants recalled the same words significantly better when processed in relation to themselves than when processed in other ways.

Adapted from Rogers, T.B., Kuiper, N.A. & Kirker, W.S. (1977). Self-Reference and Encoding of Personal Data.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(9), 677–688.

Improve your memory with the contributions of Hermann Ebbinghaus

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) was a pioneer in memory research. In this section, we examine three of his key insights, each of which can help you improve your memory. In his research, in which he was the only research participant, Ebbinghaus practiced memorizing lists of nonsensical syllables such as the following:


You can imagine it wasn't easy because the material I was trying to learn didn't mean anything. Ebbinghaus calculated how many syllables he could remember compared to the time since he studied them. He discovered an important principle of memory: memory decays rapidly at first, but the rate of decay decreases over time (Figure 8.10 "Ebbinghaus forgetting curve"). Although Ebbinghaus analyzed forgetting for days, the same effect occurs on longer and shorter time scales. Bahrick (1984) found that students who take a Spanish course forget about half of the vocabulary they learned in three years, but after that period their memory remains virtually constant. Forgetting also decreases quickly in a shorter period of time. This suggests that you should try to review what you've already learned before taking a test. That way, you'll be more likely to remember the material during the test.

Figure 8.10Ebbinghaus-Vergessenskurve

Hermann Ebbinghaus found that memory for information initially declines rapidly, but then stabilizes over time.

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Ebbinghaus also discovered another important learning principle known asdistance effect. ANDdistance effectrefers tothe fact that learning is better when the same amount of learning is spread over periods of time than when it happens more often together or at the same time. This means that even if you have a limited amount of time to study, you will learn more if you study continuously throughout the semester (preferably a little each day) than if you wait until the last minute before the exam to study. (Figure 8.11 Effects of massive versus distributed practice on learning). Another good strategy is to study and then wait as long as possible before forgetting. Then check the information and again wait as long as possible before forgetting. (This will probably take longer than the first time.) Repeat and repeat. The distance effect is generally considered to be the difference betweendistributed practice(practice spreading over time) andmass practice(exercise that comes in a block) with the above approach leading to better memory.

Figure 8.11Effects of massive versus distributed practice on learning

The distance effect refers to the fact that memory is better when it isdistributedinstead oftoo full. Leslie, Lee Ann, and Nora studied for a total of four hours, but students who broke their learning down into smaller chunks performed better on the test.

Ebbinghaus also considered the role ofoverlearning– that is, keep practicing and learning, even when we think we have mastered the subject. Ebbinghaus and other researchers have found that overlearning helps you code (Driskell, Willis, & Copper, 1992). Students often think they've mastered the material, only to find out when they take the exam that they haven't. The point is clear: try to keep learning and revising even if you think you know everything.


Even if the information is encrypted and stored properly, it's no use to us if we can't retrieve it.lazerrefers tothe process of reactivating information that has been stored in memory. You can get an idea of ​​how difficult recovery is just by having someone read the words (but not the categories) in the sidebar below. Tell the person that you are going to ask them to remember them after reading all the words.

After reading the list to your friend, give her enough time to write down all the words she can remember. Make sure they don't remember, and for words that aren't on the list, ask your friend about some of the category names: "Remember words that were mobile? Do you remember a word that was a tool? I think you'll find that the category names that act as retrieval cues will help your friend remember information they might not otherwise be able to retrieve.

recovery demo

Try this information retrieval test with a classmate. Instructions are in the text.

locker room(Furniture)
television stand(Furniture)

We've all experienced recovery errors in the form of frustration.tip of tongue phenomenon, in whichWe're sure we know something we're trying to remember but can't find. You can also try this with your friends. Read your friend the names of the 10 states listed in the sidebar below and ask him to name the capital of each state. Well, for the capital letters your friend can't name, just give them the first letter of the capital letter. You will likely find that the initials of cities help with recovery. The tip of the tongue experience is a very good example of the inability to recall information that is actually stored in memory.

states and capitals

Try this demonstration of the tip of the tongue phenomenon with a classmate. Instructions are in the text.

Louisiana(red stick)
New Jersey(Trenton)

We are more likely to be able to retrieve items from memory when the retrieval conditions are similar to the conditions under which we coded them.contextual learningrefers toan increase in recall when the external situation in which information is learned coincides with the situation in which it is remembered. Godden and Baddeley (1975) conducted a study to test this idea with divers. They asked divers to learn a list of words when they were on land or underwater. Then they tested the divers' memory, in the same situation or in the opposite situation. as you can see in itFigure 8.12 “Results from Godden and Baddeley, 1975”, the divers' memory was better when tested in the same context in which they learned the words than when tested in another context.

Figure 8.12Godden and Baddeley results, 1975

Godden and Baddeley (1975) tested divers' memory for learning and information retrieval in different contexts and found strong evidence of contextual learning.

Adapted from Godden, D.R. and Baddeley, A.D. (1975). Contextual memory in two natural environments: on land and underwater.British Journal of Psychology, 66(3), 325–331.

You see, contextual learning can also be important for improving your memory. For example, you might try studying for a test in a situation similar to the one you're taking the test in.

Whereas contextual learning refers to a correspondence in the external situation between learning and remembering,state dependent learningrefers tosuperior memory recall when the individual is in the same physiological or psychological state as during encoding. For example, research has found that animals learning a maze under the influence of a drug tend to remember their learning better when tested under the influence of the same drug than when tested without the drug (Jackson, Koek, & Colpaert, 1992). . And human research has found that bilinguals remember better when tested in the same language in which they learned the material (Marian & Kaushanskaya, 2007). Moods can also induce state-dependent learning. People who learn information when they are in a bad mood (rather than when they are in a good mood) may recall those memories more easily when tested in a bad mood, and vice versa. It is easier to recall unpleasant memories than pleasant ones when we are sad, and pleasant memories easier than unpleasant ones when we are happy (Bower, 1981; Eich, 2008).

Differences in the ability to retrieve information are also seen in theseries position curve. If we give people a list of words one at a time (for example, on flashcards) and then ask them to remember them, the results will be similar toFigure 8.13 "The serial position curve". People may remember more words presented to them at the beginning and end of the list than words presented to them in the middle of the list. This pattern, known as a series position curve, is caused by two recovery phenomena:Primacy Effectrefers toa tendency to better remember stimuli presented at the beginning of a list. ANDcurrent effectsrefers tothe tendency to better remember stimuli that are later presented in a list.

Figure 8.13The line position curve

The serial position curve is the result of primacy effects and recency effects.

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There are several explanations for the effects of primacy and recency, but one of them concerns sample effects on short-term and long-term memory (Baddeley, Eysenck, & Anderson, 2009). Because we can retain the last few words we learn from the presented list in short-term memory by repeating them before starting the memory test, they are relatively easy to remember. The recency effect can thus be explained by the attempt to retain it in short-term memory. And the primacy effect could also be due to repetition: when we hear the first word in the list, we start to repeat it, making it more likely to switch from short-term to long-term memory. The same goes for the other words that appear at the top of the list. But for words in the middle of the list, this redaction becomes much more difficult, making them less likely to transfer to LTM.

In some cases, our existing memories influence our new learning. This can be done both backwards and forwards.retrospective interventionsthis happens whenlearning something new affects our ability to recall previously learned information. For example, if you learn to program in a computer language and then learn to program in a similar one, you may start making programming mistakes in the first language that you never would have made before learning the new language. In this case, the new memories work backwards (retroactively) to affect the recall of the memory already present.

Contrasted with hindsight interferenceproactive interventionsworks in the forward direction.proactive interventionsthis happens whenPrior learning affects our ability to encode information that we later try to learn. For example, if we learn French as a second language, this knowledge may make it at least partially difficult to learn a third language (eg Spanish) that contains similar but not identical vocabulary.

Figure 8.14Proactive and retrospective interference

Both retroactive and proactive disorders can affect memory.

The LTM framework: categories, prototypes and schemas

The memories stored in the LTM are not isolated, but linked together.categoriesNetworks of related memories that have common properties. Forming categories and using categories to guide behavior is a fundamental part of human nature. Associated concepts within a category are interconnectedpropagation activation, which occurs when activating an item in a category activates other associated items. For example, since tools are assigned a category, reminding them of the word "screwdriver" will help them remember the word "wrench". And when people have learned lists of words from different categories (for example, as inNote 8.33 "Demonstration of Recovery"), does not remember random information. If you just remembered the word "key", you are more likely to remember the word "screwdriver" than the word "dahlia", because words are organized into categories in memory and because "dahlia" is activated by "key" activation (Srull & Wyer, 1989).

It has some categoriesdefining characteristicsthis must apply to all category members. For example, all members of the Triangles category have three sides, and all members of the Birds category lay eggs. But most categories are not so well defined; Category members share some common characteristics, but it is impossible to define which are category members and which are not. For example, there is no clear definition of the “tool” category. Some category examples, such as a hammer and wrench, are clearly and easily identifiable as members of the category, while other members are not as obvious. Ironing board is a tool? How about a car?

Category members (even those with defining characteristics) can be compared to the categoryPrototype, whichthe category member who is the most average or typical for the category. Some category members are more prototypical or more similar to the category than others. For example, some category members (robins and sparrows) are very prototypical for the Birds category, while other category members (penguins and ostriches) are less prototypical. We recall prototypical information in a category more quickly than less prototypical information (Rosch, 1975).

Figure 8.15Prototypik

Category members differ in terms of their prototypical nature. Some cats are "better" category members than others.

Airwolfhound -Lion - Linton Zoo– CC BY-SA 2.0; A. Davey -lucia the cat– CC POR 2.0; Pete Hunt-bald cat 1– CC-BY-NC 2.0; hehaden-Pepsi– CC-BY-NC 2.0.

Sometimes mental categories are mentionedSchemePatterns of knowledge in long-term memory that help us organize information. We have schemas about objects (that a triangle has three sides and can have different angles), about people (that Sam is friendly, likes to play golf and always wears sandals), about events (the steps involved in ordering a meal). a restaurant) and about social groups (we call these group schemesStereotype).

Figure 8.16different schemes

Our people, couples, and event schemas help us organize and store information.

Pedro Ribeiro Simoes.beautiful laugh– CC POR 2.0; Pier Luc Bergeron –A happy couple and a happy photographer– CC BY-SA 2.0; Emiliano Horcada-Boda – Flopy & Pol– CC-POR 2.0.

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Outlines are important in part because they help us remember new information by giving it an organizational structure. Read the following section (Bransford & Johnson, 1972) and try to write down as much as you can remember.

The procedure is really quite simple. First you organize things into different groups. Of course, one stack might be enough, depending on how busy she is. If you need to go elsewhere due to lack of facilities, this is the next step. Otherwise, you're pretty much set up. It's important not to overdo things. That said, it's better to do too few things at once than too many. This may not seem like a big deal in the short term, but complications can easily arise. Even a mistake can be costly. At first glance, the whole procedure looks complicated. However, it will soon be just one facet of life. It's hard to predict the end of the need for this task in the immediate future, but you can never tell. Once the process is complete, the materials are reassigned to different groups. Then they can be put in their proper place. Eventually they will be used again and the whole cycle must be repeated. However, this is part of life.

It turns out that people's memory for this information is pretty bad, unless they have been told beforehand that the information describes "laundry", in which case their memory for the material is much better. This demonstration of the role of schema in memory shows how our existing knowledge can help us organize new information and how this organization can improve encoding, storage, and retrieval.

The biology of memory

Just as information is stored on digital media such as DVDs and USB sticks, information in LTM must be stored in the brain. The ability to retain information in the LTM involves a gradual strengthening of connections between neurons in the brain. When pathways in these neural networks fire frequently and repeatedly, synapses become more efficient at communicating with one another, and these changes create memories. This process, known asLong Term Potentiation (LTP), refers tothe strengthening of synaptic connections between neurons as a result of frequent stimulation(Lynch, 2002). Drugs that block LTP decrease learning, while drugs that increase LTP increase learning (Lynch et al., 1991). Because it takes time for new firing patterns to develop at synapses, LTP occurs gradually. The period in which LTP occurs and memories are stored is called the retention period.consolidation.

Memory is not limited to the cortex; occurs through sophisticated interactions between new and old brain structures (Figure 8.17 "Schematic image of the brain with hippocampus, amygdala and cerebellum highlighted"). One of the most important brain regions involved in explicit memory is the hippocampus, which serves as a preprocessor and information processor (Squire, 1992). The hippocampus helps us encode information about spatial relationships, the context in which events were experienced, and associations between memories (Eichenbaum, 1999). The hippocampus also serves in part as a relay that captures memory for a short period of time and then relays the information to other parts of the brain, such as the cortex, for rehearsal, processing, and long-term storage (Jonides, Lacey, and Nö, 2005). Without the hippocampus, which can be called the "librarian" of the brain, our explicit memories would be inefficient and disorganized.

Figure 8.17Schematic image of the brain with the hippocampus, amygdala and cerebellum highlighted

Different brain structures help us remember different types of information. The hippocampus is especially important in explicit memories, the cerebellum is especially important in implicit memories, and the amygdala is especially important in emotional memories.

While the hippocampus manages explicit memory, thecerebellumit's atAmygdalathey focus on implicit or emotional memories. Research shows that the cerebellum is most active when we are learning associations and caregiving tasks, and animals and humans with cerebellar damage have greater difficulty in classical conditioning studies (Krupa, Thompson & Thompson, 1993; Woodruff-Pak, Goldenberg, Downey- Lamb, Boyko & Lemieux, 2000). The storage of many of our most important emotional memories, especially those related to fear, is initiated and controlled by the amygdala (Sigurdsson, Doyère, Cain, & LeDoux, 2007).

Evidence for the role of different brain structures in different types of memories comes in part from case studies of patients suffering from the disease.amnesia,a memory disorder that involves the inability to remember information. As with memory impairment, amnesia can act forward or backward, affecting retrieval or encoding. In people who suffer brain damage, for example as a result of a stroke or other trauma, amnesia can work in reverse. the result isretrograde amnesia,a memory disorder that results in the inability to remember events that occurred before a specific point in time. To demonstrate the fact that LTP takes time (the consolidation process), retrograde amnesia is often more severe for memories that occurred shortly before the trauma than for older memories, and it is possible that events that occurred shortly before the event traumatic events that caused the memory leak will never be recovered because they were never fully encoded.

Organisms with damage to the hippocampus develop a type of amnesia that acts forward to affect coding, known aslow grade amnesia.low grade amnesiaesthe inability to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory, preventing the formation of new memories. A well-known case study involved a man named Henry Gustav Molaison (known only as H.M. before his death in 2008) who had parts of his hippocampus removed to reduce severe seizures (Corkin, Amaral, González, Johnson, & Hyman, 1997). After the operation, Molaison developed virtually complete anterograde amnesia. Although she could remember most of what had happened before the operation, and particularly what had happened earlier in her life, she was unable to create new memories. Molaison would have read the same magazines over and over without realizing that she had seen them before.

Cases of anterograde amnesia also shed light on brain structures involved in different types of memory (Bayley & Squire, 2005; Helmuth, 1999; Paller, 2004). Although Molaison's explicit memory was impaired because his hippocampus was damaged, his implicit memory was not (because his cerebellum was intact). She could learn to draw shapes on a mirror, a task that requires procedural memory, but she never had any explicit memory of performing the task or of the people administering the test.

While some brain structures are particularly important for memory, that doesn't mean all memories are stored in one place. The American psychologist Karl Lashley (1929) tried to discover where memories were stored in the brain by teaching rats to navigate mazes and then injuring various brain structures to see if they could still complete the maze. This idea seemed simple, and Lashley hoped to discover that memories are stored in specific parts of the brain. But he found that no matter where he got the brain tissue from, the rats retained at least some memory of the maze, leading him to conclude that memory is not found in just one spot in the brain, but is distributed around it. .

Long-term potentiation occurs as a result of changes in synapses, suggesting that chemicals, particularly neurotransmitters and hormones, must be involved in memory. There is some evidence that this is true.glutamate, a neurotransmitter and a form of the amino acid glutamic acid, is perhaps the most important neurotransmitter in memory (McEntee & Crook, 1993). When animals, including humans, are under stress, more glutamate is excreted, and this glutamate can help them remember (McGaugh, 2003). the neurotransmitterserotoninis also secreted when animals are learning andAdrenalineit can also improve memory, particularly during stressful events (Maki & Resnick, 2000; Sherwin, 1998).estrogen, a female sex hormone, also appears to be critical, as menopausal women often report memory difficulties along with a reduction in estrogen levels (Chester, 2001).

Our knowledge of biology's role in memory suggests that it may be possible to use drugs to improve our memory, and Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on memory supplements in hopes of doing just that. However, controlled studies comparing memory enhancers such as Ritalin, methylphenidate, ginkgo biloba and amphetamines with placebo drugs have found very little evidence of their effectiveness (Gold, Cahill & Wenk, 2002; McDaniel, Maier & Einstein, 2002). Memory supplements are generally no more effective than drinking a sugary soda, which also releases glucose and therefore slightly improves memory. That's not to say that one day we won't be able to develop drugs that significantly improve our memory. This is likely to happen in the future, but the impact of these developments is still unknown (Farah et al., 2004; Turner & Sahakian, 2006).

While the most obvious potential use of drugs is to try to improve memory, they can also be used to help us forget. This may be desirable in some cases, e.g. B. for those who suffer fromPost Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)You are unable to forget disturbing memories. While there are no therapies that involve the use of medication to help people forget, they may become available in the future. These possibilities will raise some important ethical questions: is it ethical to erase memories, and if so, is it desirable to do so? Maybe feeling emotional pain is part of being human. And maybe feeling emotional pain can help us deal with trauma.

the central theses

  • Information is best remembered when it is presented in a meaningful way.
  • Hermann Ebbinghaus made important contributions to the study of learning, including modeling the forgetting curve and studying the effect of spacing and the benefits of overlearning.
  • Context- and state-dependent learning, as well as primacy and recency effects, affect long-term memory.
  • Memories are stored at synapses connected through the process of long-term potentiation (LTP). In addition to the cerebral cortex, other parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, cerebellum, and amygdala, are also important for memory.
  • Damage to the brain can result in retrograde amnesia or anterograde amnesia. Case studies of patients with amnesia can provide insight into the brain structures involved in different types of memory.
  • Memory is affected by chemicals such as glutamate, serotonin, epinephrine, and estrogen.
  • Studies comparing memory enhancers to placebo drugs find very little evidence of their effectiveness.

exercises and critical thinking

  1. Plan an approach to help you study for your next exam, and incorporate as many of the techniques mentioned in this section as possible. Try to implement the plan.
  2. Make a list of some circuit diagrams that you have stored in your memory. What is the content of each schema and how can you use the schema to remember new information?
  3. In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, characters undergo a medical procedure designed to erase their memories of a painful love affair. Would you agree to such a procedure if it were offered to you safely?


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(Video) How To Improve Your Memory RIGHT NOW!

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