Memory Strategies

Memory is the brain’s capability to recall and store information that we are exposed to throughout our lives, and we can improve our memory and learn more efficiently by using several different memory strategies every day of our lives.

Memory strategies are activities that can help to improve a process called encoding, which means processing data and depicting it in the mind, and also improve retrieval, which is the process of locating information in the mind. Two memory strategies I personally find very helpful are the self-reference effect and also a technique called chunking.

Most memory strategies help us remember something from our past, relating stimuli seen and heard to past experiences in order to help recall them. This is called self-reference effect.

According to this strategy, a person will remember more information and learn better if they try to relate it to information about themselves. This tends to boost deep levels of processing, which help considerably in recall. Research shows that self-reference effect is extremely powerful.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. The self is a huge source containing memory cues, which people can then use to connect with new data they are trying to understand and learn.
  2. Self-reference memory cues encourage individuals to think about how their own personal characteristics are similar to others.
  3. Self-reference causes people to practice and rehearse material more frequently when it’s related to them, so it’s easy to understood why the self-reference effect is such a benefit in regards to memory.

For example, I study psychology because I am extremely interested in psychology. Since more processing and more connections are made in the mind in relation to a topic connected to the self, my passion for learning psychology makes it a lot less difficult to comprehend and gives me more motivation to keep learning more and more.

This would not be the case with something like Geography or Business Administration. Finding motivation and learning would be more of struggle for me since I’m not as interested in these areas of study. So, memorizing geographic or business terms or reading textbooks about them would be difficult for me to study and/or be motivated to do. But give me psychological terms, theories, journal articles, and case studies and I am digging in and relating to these so much more.

Another memory strategy I find very helpful is chunking. Chunking is one of four memory strategies found in the category of mnemonics.

Mnemonics are mental strategies designed to improve memory. When people use organization as a mnemonic strategy, it makes sense because, like the self-reference effect, it uses deep level processing.

Four mnemonic strategies are:

  1. Hierarchy, which is arranging items in a series of ordered groupings of people or things within a system
  2. The First Letter Technique, which is taking the first letter of each word you want to remember and composing a word or sentence from those letters
  3. A narrative or a story that joins words together
  4. Chunking, which is combining items into units (letters, numbers, etc.)

When we group a sequence of letters or numbers together, according to significant and familiar units rather than random groups, we can recall much more material. George Miller wrote about this process of grouping pieces of information together in order to remember.

Miller stated that short term memory has a limited capacity, which is why he came up with the theory of the magic number seven plus or minus two, the approximate number of groups of information, or chunks, that can be remembered. However, in more recent studies, the true limit appears to be about three or four distinctive chunks.

An example of this that is used often is how we remember a phone number. Think about it… do you remember it as a whole like this – 4736568355? Or do you break it into chunks like this – 473 656 8355 or 4736 568 355? It’s much easier for your brain to process and remember it in chunks, isn’t it?

How do you remember things more easily?

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