More on Common Sense Approaches to Improving Memory

When learning material it is important to know that spaced practice is superior to massed practice. So if you have three hours to learn something, it is generally better to distribute the learning over three one hour sessions rather than one three hour session. This is another reason that it is not good to postpone study to the end of a course. Apart from running out of time, the time you do spend would have been more effective had it been spread out the entire course rather than being crammed into the end. So if you want to remember someone’s name try to remember the person’s name later along with any facts you might have associated with the name. Paying attention is not a one time thing. Making repeated attempts to recall important information at different times enhances memory. Memory is more than a matter of study. Practicing retrieving information is also important. Basically you are strengthening and enhancing routes back to the memory. LTM is vast and contains an enormous amount of information. It is easy to get lost trying to find information. Therefore it is important to practice finding this information. Basically you are learning your way around your memory.

Throughout all my years as a student, all the way to my Ph.D., I never once used a magic marker in a book. My thinking was that I needed to have this information marked in my brain. So I mentally marked important sections of a book. It may be that poor students think they have completed the task by marking in the book. This might facilitate the finding of information, but important information needs to be well-encoded in the brain. It is also important not to forget practicing retrieval. Mentally recalling the content of the book and establishing relationships between relevant concepts and ideas is very important. Useful study can be accomplished when we are walking and are well away from any books by thinking about the content in the book and relating it to lectures and other relevant knowledge.

 What was written about recalling a person’s name is relevant to any information we want to remember. Pay attention. Make the information meaningful and interesting by relating it to other concepts and facts. Practice recalling and thinking about the information at different times.

The effectiveness of retrieving information at increasing longer intervals has been proven to be effective even for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The technique is called spaced-retrieval training.[1]

Finally, do not procrastinate. If something needs to be done that can be done now, do it. Having a long list of things to do increases the likelihood that something will be forgotten or neglected. So prioritize what needs to be done and try to work off this list as soon as it is convenient.

Still you are going to experience memory failures. It is helpful to consider the size and the activity of the human brain to appreciate the phenomena of human memory. It is estimated that there are 100 billion nerve cells in the human brain and that one million new neuronal connections are formed every second. It is estimated that there are 500 trillion synaptic connections in the typical adult brain. A typical desktop computer can perform  about 25 billion instructions per second, whereas the estimated processing capacity of the human brain is 100 trillion instructions per second.[2] So it should not be at all surprising when you have difficulty finding information. It should also be clear that it is likely the information is somewhere in there, if only you could find it.


[1] Camp, C. J., Foss, J. W., Stevens, A. B., & O’Hanlon, A. M. (1996).  Improving Prospective Memory in Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In Prospective Memory:  Theory and Applications, ed. Brandimonte, M.,  Einstein, G. O., & McDaniel.  Mahweh, N. J.:  Erlbaum.

[2] From Huang, G.T.  “Essence of Thought”, New Scientist Vol 198 No. 2658, 30-33.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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