Saturday, December 31, 2011
Two elderly couples were enjoying friendly conversation when one of the men asked the other, "Fred, how was the memory clinic you went to last month?"
"Outstanding," Fred replied. "They taught us all the latest psychological techniques - visualization, association - it made a huge difference for me."
"That's great! What was the name of the clinic?"
Fred went blank. He thought and thought, but couldn't remember. Then Fred smiled and asked, "What do you call that red flower with the long stem and thorns?"
"You mean a rose?"
"Yes, that's it!" He turned to his wife. . ."Rose, what was the name of that clinic?"
Memory techniques, like visualized associations, are important for improving memory. I sometimes get chided, as in a recent commentary, for writing about things that readers think are unrelated to memory.
But memory is not independent of everything else that brains do. This includes general thinking abilities, motivation, attitudes, lifestyle, and the mental challenges that a person seeks. General health, exercise, sleep, response to stress, and diet are also important. I have elaborated on these influences on memory in my books and learning and memory blog. Research continually expands our understanding of these indirect influences on learning and memory, and I try to keep readers informed of the practical applications of these developments.
Another under-appreciated area about memory is the role of learning. As two sides of the same coin, learning and memory are interdependent. How we approach a learning task has enormous impact on how much of it we remember. These factors include study strategy, attentiveness, distractibility and cognitive interference, and organization and categorization of learning material. Likewise, how much you remember of learned material affects one’s capacity for understanding and memorizing new material. Experts in a given field have become experts because what they have memorized includes learning templates and schema that help them to be better learners than non-experts. They may have learned to increase working memory capacity, which in turn improves the ability to think and solve problems. That is, the more they know, the more they can know.
Memory ability is multi-dimensional. The complete learner employs all the means of improving knowledge.