If asked, most people would respond to the question, “What happens to memories over time?”, the answer would be that they are forgotten. Whereas practically everyone has heard of amnesia, few have heard of hypermnesia. This blog post was inspired by a recent article written by Matthew Hugh Erdelyi.1 He cited a monograph written by Ballard2 published almost a hundred years ago. He found that children who were reputed to have poor memory actually recalled a partially mastered poem better—sometimes perfectly—on a second test after a two day interval. In extensive research Ballard found that if the recall of a partially learned stimulus, like a poem, is tested twice with an interval between the two tests, say two or three days, it is found that the second test fails to include some of the items recalled in the initial test (Ballard termed this oblivescence). However, it is also found, perhaps surprisingly, that the second test includes some stimulus items that had not been recalled on the first test (Ballard termed this reminiscence). When reminiscence exceeds obliviscence, hypermnesia results. When obliviscence exceeds reminiscence, Ballard termed it amnesia (which should be distinguished from clinical amnesia, which is usually quite severe).
What determines whether hypermnesia or amnesia prevails is the nature of the stimulus. Pictures, or stimuli that elicit imagery, such as poems will result in hypermnesia. Nonsense syllables or other meaningless material will result in amnesia. Generally speaking, meaningfull material result in hypermnesia; meaningless material results in amnesia. Once material, which was initially low in meaning become meaningful, hypermnesia results.
Mnemonic techniques, which are designed to improve material, often involve imagery, and are strategies for transforming inherently meaningless material into on meaningful material. In other words, mnemonic techniques are designed to promote hypermnesia. You should note that one of the categories in the Healthymemory Blog is labeled mnemonic techniques. Blog posts on mnemonic techniques can be found by clicking the “Mnemonic Techniques” category.
Prior Healthymemory Blog posts have also recommended trying to recall information as a means not only of studying more efficiently, but also for improving brain health (To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First!, “The Benefits of Testing”, “SQ3R”, “If We Know So Much More When We Are Older Why Do We Have Difficulty Recalling It, and More Importantly, What Can Be Done About It”, “Recalling Information That Is Difficult to Remember”, “More On Common Sense Approaches for Improving Memory”, “Common Sense Approaches for Improving Memory”).
2Ballard, P.B. (1913). Oblivescence and Reminiscence. British Journal of Psychology, 1(No. 2, Monograph Supplements). Preface-82.
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