by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
Very few of us are lucky to have photographic memories. For the rest of us mere mortals, information has to be actively memorized and recalled. The degree of ease with which this process of memorization and recall happens is different for each of us, but the good news is that we can all use certain techniques to improve it at any stage of our lives. Let us look at the top memorization techniques that science suggests:
Many of us have experienced the protégé effect, which is the term for the psychological phenomenon where teaching something to another person helps you learn it and remember it better. This happens because when you teach something, there is increased metacognitive processing, which makes you more actively aware of the learning process. Secondly, when you teach, you automatically organize material and seek out key pieces of information. Thirdly, you tend to have greater motivation to learn when you have to teach the same thing later. Finally, when you have to teach what you have learnt, you experience feelings of competence and autonomy.
After learning something new, get a good night’s sleep or a power nap. Sleep improves the consolidation of memory for information that has been recently encoded. It protects our brains from forgetting memories, and helps to retrieve memories better. There are two ways how this happens: first, sleep protects recent memories from being disrupted by experiences and second, during sleep, stored information is arranged in order of their relative importance and expectations for remembering. When one is sleep-deprived, brain’s neurons get over-connected with too much electrical activity and so new memories cannot be saved.
Our brains work optimally only with an adequate supply of oxygen, and one needs to move a lot to ensure healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood to our brains. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, bathing it in oxygen. Research has found aerobic exercise such as running to be linked with improved memory. Exercise activates high levels of a protein called cathpsin B, which stimulates neuron growth and new connections in an area in the brain believed to be critical for memory, called the hippocampus.
There is food that helps you remember, and then there is food that makes you forget things! Saturated and trans fats – what you get from butter and red meet – are linked to a poorer memory. They can clog blood vessels in the brain, depriving it of oxygen. Diets consisting of mostly vegetables, fruits, seafood, olive oil and nuts which are rich in healthy unsaturated fats improve memory and lower memory decline rates.
“Mnemonics” is the term used to refer to any system or device designed to help remember information. Usually it is patterns of letters or words or phrases. For example, the colours of the rainbow can be remembered by VIBGYOR – Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red. Similarly, to remember the seven coordinating conjunctions you can use the mnemonic FANBOY (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet). Music mnemonics is a type of mnemonics in which you create a song to remember the information. The simple ABC song to remember the English alphabet is an example.
A Memory Palace is a tried-and-tested memorization technique. When you have a list of things to remember, you create an imaginary location in which you store these images. In the most common type of memory palace, you imagine a place you are familiar with, like your house, and imagine a journey through the various rooms. In different locations along your route, you have placed the things you need to remember. When you need to remember the list, you simple undertake the journey, and see what is in each location.
Chunking is the grouping of information according to commonalities and connections, and classifying them. Human brains are primed to find connections and patterns, so chunking works with even large amount of information. For example, if you have to remember the names of the countries of the world, it helps to organize them into different continents.
It is common knowledge that what you learn once will be forgotten, unless you revisit it after a while. This is called spaced repetition. This technique is very well utilized in elementary and kindergarten classrooms when children learn new letters or words. Teachers use a certain amount of time every day, to go through a set of flash cards containing the letters or words they want children to learn. They may repeat it one whole year.