Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Friday, July 22, 2016

Building A Better Memory

"We are who we are because of what we learn and remember"
Eric Kandel, Nobel Laureate

"Without learning and memory processes, personality would merely be an empty, impoverished expression of our genetic constitution"
Joseph Ledoux, author of Anxious

Are learning and memory completely distinct?  No; both are experienced based.  “[M]emory is the consequence of learning from an experience- that is, the consequence of acquiring new information” , asserts James McGaugh (memory researcher, author of Memory and Emotion).  Learning is a process of memory formation.  There are 2 general categories of memory: explicit and implicit.  Explicit (declarative, conscious) – is what most people think of when they think of memory.  It involves conscious recall of people, places, objects, facts and events. As an example, direct memory testing (tests in school) reflects explicit memory.  Implicit (procedural, unconscious) – the storage of information that does not require conscious attention for recall- often in the form of habits, perceptual or motor strategies, and associative and non-associative conditioning.  Examples of implicit memory include the memory utilized for riding a bike, or throwing a ball.  IM has an automatic quality, it is recalled through performance.  The tips provided in this article are for enhancing explicit memory, but they are also applicable to implicit memory (some modification may be required). 
Strategies to maximize learning

Be prepared! Familiarity with class material- read all assignments – complete understanding of directions

Focused Attention! Eliminate distractions- No FB or texting – focalfilter.com

Take detailed notes! Highlight – learn highlighted material well- read aloud

Following class, review lecture (notes and reading materials)! Don’t rush- think deeply about materials,  meaning and how it is connected to information already in memory

Ask questions!  In class, out of class, e-mail

Don’t worry about if you will remember! Concentrate on understanding- understanding means strong memory formation

Foundations of Memory

Strong memory rests on some key foundations.  These foundations include: brain health, focused attention, elaborative encoding, spaced rehearsal and testing.  With the appropriate strategies most people can strengthen the foundations substantially.  When considering memory and learning some people may have some biological advantages, but in most cases the right strategies goes a long way in building strong memories. [Refer to Emotional Memories and Genes for more info on how genes may influence memory]    

All memories require the brain (explicit and implicit memory).  When a new memory is formed changes occur in the brain.  Memory reflects biological change (change in brain connections).  Short term memory does not lead to brain changes, while long term memory does.  The formation of long term memory requires protein synthesis. Due to the brain's central role in memory it is apparent that brain health is important in regards to learning / memory. The pillars of brain health are exercise, nutrition, cognitively challenging activity, positive social interaction and minimal stress. 
Focused attention involves being  attentive to desired sensory outputs while ignoring undesired sensory outputs. That is, attention to current goal while ignoring distraction [Refer to The Benefits of FocusedAttention to learn more about this important aspect of attention]

Another foundation of  memory is elaborative encoding or rehearsal.  It involves think deeply- about meaning and connecting the to-be-remembered information to other information already stored in memory.  When using elaborative rehearsal I often recommend that students apply the VSOC principle.  This principle involves thinking about whatever your trying to remember from the following perspectives: visual, spatial, outrageous (salient) and consequential (personal consequences in regards to yourself).  This technique helps  attach the information to a large framework of existing memories, thus leading to the possibility of many retrieval  paths. An array of variations might be used.

Spaced rehearsal (distributed practice effect) involves studying or practicing persistently over time.  Cramming is not conducive to strong memory formation.  Three 1hr sessions are more beneficial than one 3hr session.  One of the key reasons that spaced learning increases memory is that each time you study you may perceive the material from a different perspective.  [Refer to HowTo Study]   

Test yourself on the information you are trying to remember. Do not have the answers in plain view while testing.  Testing serves as a powerful mnemonic aid for future retention.Testing allows for an accurate assessment of knowledge. Individuals often over estimate their level of knowledge.  [ Refer to Does Testing Enhance Learning]

To reiterate, the foundations of memory include: brain health, focused attention, elaborative encoding, spaced rehearsal and testing.  Understanding is imperative for strong memory.  Studying should be structured: progressive, organized, spaced over multiple sessions and involve accurate evaluation.