Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Seven Memory Sins

The setting: Leisurely stroll in a mall.

The event: A person notices you and calls your name. You turn to say, “Hi… ah…”. But for the life of you, you can’t seem to recall the name. Yet, the person’s face is familiar to you.

Before you start singing John Mayer’s song, “Oh, it’s another social casualty… score one more for me”, have you ever stopped to wonder why we often have these memory lapses – especially when it comes to people’s names?

In an article from Buzan Australia, it mentions the book “Seven Sins of Memory”, written by Daniel Schacter, Chair of the Harvard University’s Deparment of Psychology. According to Schacter, “Memory’s malfunctions can be divided into seven fundamental transgression or “sins”:

· Transience – weakening or loss of memory over time. The main culprit in many memory problems.

· Absent-mindedness – misplacing keys or forgetting a meeting typically occurs because we are preoccupied with distracting issues or concerns and we don’t focus our attention on what we need to remember. We haven’t forgotten it; it never registered in our memory in the first place!

· Blocking – the thwarted search for information that we may be desperately trying to retrieve. We’ve all failed to produce a name to accompany a face, only to have it pop up unexpectedly a few hours/days later.

· Misattribution – assigning a memory to the wrong source. It is far more common than most people realise and has potentially profound implications in legal settings.

· Suggestibility – memories can be implanted through leading questions, comments or suggestions when a person is asked to recall a past experience.

· Bias – the powerful influences of our current knowledge and beliefs on how we remember our pasts. We often edit or entirely rewrite our previous experiences – unknowingly and unconsciously – in light of what we now know or believe.

· Persistence – repeated recall of disturbing information or events that we would prefer to banish from our minds altogether: remembering what we cannot forget.

Which sin are you most guilty of? How can we address these?

Don’t fret, help is on the way. There are ways to “redeem your memory sins” by doing the following:

Imagination and Association – The best way to anchor an item into your memory is to think about it as an image, in association with something else that is fixed and known to you. It is easy as creating a mnemonic like Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit, to remember the notes on a musical staff.

Be Present – Stop Absent-Mindedness by being Present Minded. Lapses are Failures of Attention!

- Momentarily pause for thought
- Scan around when leaving
- Take time to plan and think ahead
- Think it through
- Write it down – Use a Mind Map diary
- Use reminder notes/props.

Conceptualise – Names are difficult to retrieve because they are isolated from conceptual knowledge. Knowing that your accountant's name is "Bill Collins" doesn't tell you anything meaningful about him. Elaborate on the name in a way that makes it meaningful: imagine a dollar bill being snatched from your accountant's pocket by a playful collie.

Consideration – Studies of college students showed that when asked to consider possible origins of an idea can, at least to some extent, override the influence of priming. These students plagiarized less frequently than those in the other group.

Open-ended – Leading questions or feedback from other people can create false memories of events that never happened. Always ask simple, open-ended questions, particularly with young children. Ask "What happened?" rather than "Where did you hurt yourself?"

Beware of Stereotypes – Appreciate that current knowledge, beliefs and feelings can influence our recollections of the past, and shape our impressions of people and objects in the present.

Acceptance – Attempts to avoid traumatic memories often backfire. Intrusive memories need to be acknowledged, confronted and worked through in order to set them to rest for the long term.

Buzan, in his book, “Age-Proof Your Brain,” mentions that the brain is a muscle. In order for it to stay sharp, we must regularly ‘exercise’ it. Try doing puzzles or a short memory game. Play Sudoku instead of the pre-installed Hearts or Solitare card game in your computer. You will notice that the more you keep your brain ‘fit’, it will be easier to absorb info and recall facts and details.

Another useful way to recall facts and info is the tool created by Tony Buzan called Mind Mapping. Just browse past articles about Mind Mapping in this blog to find out what it's all about.


Your Skype English Teacher said...

It made me realize my transgressions. Two thumbs up for this post!

Ardy Roberto said...

Thanks! People should read this. I fall into these traps/sins myself :-)