Memory Improvement Techniques Part 2

In this video I discuss a few more memory concepts which can be applied to improve recall and enhance the effectiveness of your studying. Levels of processing theory suggests that deeper processing improves recall and this can be especially effective when combined with the self-referential effect, which is that we tend to recall things that we have a personal connection to. This relates to the idea of retrieval cues and how memories are connected to one another. By creating more connections between ideas you have more retrieval cues that you can call upon in order to help bring a particular memory to mind. Lastly I consider the role of sleep on this process of extracting meaning and consolidating memory, which is an idea that we will return to in a future unit.

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Video Transcript:
Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review. In this video we’re going to continue looking at ways to apply concepts from memory research to improving our memory and improving our study habits. So before I do this I’d like to read you a list of words. Here’s the list here: hospital, nurse, sick, bed, stethoscope, physician, medicine, exam, gown.

Ok, we’ll come back to that list in just a few minutes. So I want to look at this idea known as levels of processing theory. In the previous video when I mentioned overlearning I mentioned this idea that if you learn the foundation really well it makes it easier to learn future knowledge because you have something to connect it to and this kind of relates to levels of processing theory because what levels of processing theory says is that we have better memory for things that we process more deeply. So we want to have deep processing.

What does that mean? Well, the processing means that we’ve spent time reflecting on the information and we’ve considered itj right? We ask questions, that’s a great way to process more deeply, and this allows us to connect the information to existing knowledge that we already have, right? So as I said, one of the best ways to do this is to ask questions about the material, think about what does this concept mean, or how does this relate to something that I’ve already learned.

This allows you to connect this information and by processing it more deeply and connecting it with things you already know it sort of becomes a part of your knowledge rather than just being an isolated fact. One of the best ways to do this is to ask questions and one of the best ways to ask questions is to think about your own personal relevance to what you’re learning because this brings in another effect and this is called the self-referential effect. So the self-referential effect refers to the idea that we remember things more easily if they are connected to our sense of self.
So when you learn about some new theory what you want to do is think about how does this apply to you, how would this, how has this been demonstrated in your life, or how might this influence you in the future. For instance, if you were trying to remember the list of memory failures that I talked about in a previous video, rather than just thinking of “okay I need to memorize the definition of misattribution and I need to memorize what suggestibility is”, that’s shallow processing. It’s not really going to help you that much but if you sit down and say “okay what are some times that I’ve personally experienced misattribution? Were I’ve had a memory and I think it came from somewhere and it actually didn’t, I got the source wrong, I misattributed the memory.”

If you go through and think about that actually happening to you, it’s going to be a lot easier when you see this term misattribution to remember what it is. The same for suggestibility, think about times where maybe something has modified your memory and you didn’t realize it until somebody pointed it out later. Or you can think about ways it could influence you, imagine that something were to happen, you were to witness some crime, you can think about all the ways, what might be the things that could be causing your memory to change. You know, maybe it would be the police officer questioning after, maybe it would be how you retell the story to friends, maybe it’d be the questions they ask, right?

All of these things could influence your memory and now you have a personal story that goes along with this theory and you’ll find it much easier to remember. Ok, now this brings us to the idea of how we get memories out, when we retrieve memories, right? Why is it that being connected to ourselves or being connected other things, why is that helpful? So this brings us to the idea of retrieval cues. So a retrieval cue is a cue that helps us to retrieve a particular memory and the idea here is that memories are connected to other memories and recalling one memory can activate other memories.

So this brings us back to our list that we had before. I’d like you to pause the video for just a few seconds and see if you can write down as many words as you remember from that list as possible. See if you can come up with all the words that I said earlier. Don’t go back and rewatch, that’s cheating, but see how many you can recall. Ok, so if you paused the video and you thought about this for a second, I want to think about some of the words that you probably came up with. One of these in particular is the word “doctor”.

Many people probably think of the word doctor when they think about that list. Now doctor was not on the list. Now this is sort of interesting because I mean, there’s a lot of words you could have written down that you didn’t, so why doctor? Why would so many people remember doctor? Well the answer seems fairly intuitive, these were doctor related words.

So the idea of this list was what I did was I activated a lot of memories that you have associated with doctor, right? I read a bunch of words that are mentally connected to the word doctor right? So you have the word doctor and that’s probably connected to nurse and to hospital and to gown and exam and bed and sick. So what I did, what else was on there, stethoscope, what I did in reading this list was I activated all of these other memories and in doing so I was sort of strategically trying to trick you because I was hoping that you’d remember the word doctor even though it wasn’t on the list.

This brings us to this idea of spreading activation. This is the idea that memories influence each other and they work in these sort of networks and if I activate a whole bunch of these other ones, it’s highly likely that it will activate this idea of doctor in your mind. This is actually a useful strategy. It may have caused you to make an error in remembering the word doctor but it’s actually usually a very helpful technique for remembering things. For instance, what your mind is doing when it sees this list, when you hear me read off all these other words, it’s saying “oh geez, that’s a lot of words, I’m not going to remember all of them. I’m not going to take the time to individually memorize each particular word”.

So what your brain does it immediately finds a pattern and says “hey! It’s a bunch of doctor words, just remember a bunch of doctor words, if they ask me later about this list just spit out all the doctor words you know and you’ll probably get a bunch right”. That’s a pretty good strategy. It’s a lot easier than trying to memorize each individual item, right? You extract the gist from the list and then that allows you to sort of make up the list later and still get a bunch of them right. So that’s probably what you did and in doing that though, you accidentally spit out the word doctor because it’s associated with all these other doctor words.

Ok, so how can we use this to help us rather than making this error? Well think about when you’ve experienced that tip of the tongue experience that I talked about in a previous video, right? So this is where you have a memory, you can’t seem to retrieve it. Well what do you do when this happens to you? You have this infrequently accessed memory and you’re trying to get it out. You know it’s in there, you can’t seem to recall it. Let’s say for instance that you’re trying to remember a particular actor’s name.

Well, what are you going to do when you try to come up with his name. You can picture his face, you just can’t come up with his name. What are the things that you might think about? Well, you might start thinking about the titles of movies that he was in or other actors that he was in the movie with and that’s sort of strange. I mean that’s not his name, how would that possibly help you to recall a name? To think about a movie title?

Well, what you’re doing is you’re activating all these other memories. It’s like going in and saying, “okay there was this movie title here, and he co-starred with this other person, and then he was in this and he had a spot on a TV show here” and what you’re hoping is that if you activate enough of these other memories then suddenly you’ll activate sort of this central memory that connects them all together right? So that’s how you try to overcome this tip of the tongue experience; you activate related memories and you hope they trigger the memory that you’re looking for.

You hope that they’ll act as a retrieval cue. Ok, so again, how do we actually apply this to learning? Well, what you want to do when you learn is you want to make as many of these connections as possible. You don’t want to learn isolated individual words because then if you can’t retrieve it, it’s got nothing connected to it. How are you going to have a retrieval cue for it if you don’t connect it to anything else that you know? So the way that I like to think about this is I want you to think of building a spiderweb. Alright, so what I mean by that is don’t try to learn isolated facts, always learn things with lots of connections to each other. The better spider web is the one that has lots of strands in it. That’s the one that’s going to catch a bug.

You don’t want a spiderweb that you know has like three items on it right? It’s like this corner to that corner and then it’s like two strands, that’s not going to catch any bugs. What you want to do is you want to have a lot of things. First of all, you want to learn as much as you can and then you want to make as many connections between those points as possible. You don’t want to just have like one thing here. Alright so in this one I can add some other fact, if I don’t connect it to anything else that’s going to disappear right? But what I do here is I think “okay, how is this related to something else I learned earlier? How does this relate to that chapter? How does this relate to something from earlier in the class? How are these things similar, how are these related?

You go through and you build this spiderweb of connections. This is part of that deep processing. It’s reflecting, considering, think about the ways that this is connected to that and this is connected to this here and so now when you have some new fact that appears, right? Now I have some new thing that I want to learn, I’ve got lots of things that I can connect it to and they’re all connected to other things so as soon as I sort of have this new fact I can connect it to 10 other things I already know and it’s like now it’s part of my knowledge structure. I’ve got it. It’s much easier to remember than some isolated fact.

Ok, so that’s how we can sort of use this spreading activation. So later when I’m taking an exam and I’m trying to remember that term, right? Now I can’t seem to come up with it. I’m struggling a little bit, well I can think about 10 other terms I know that I have mentally associated with it and hopefully that will cause it to spring to mind. Ok and the final step in all of this is the one that you already know and your mom has probably told you a million times. That is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. You don’t want to stay up all night cramming because one of the things that happens when you sleep is it helps with memory consolidation.

In a future unit we’re going to talk about sleep in much more detail and one of the things that we’re going to look at is research by Robert Stickgold and what Stickgold suggests is that one of the most important features of sleep and its role in memory consolidation is this extracting the gist from the list of words that we did earlier. It’s figuring out the meaning. What do all of these things have in common?

Now in the case of the doctor list it was really easy to see these are all doctor related words but when you’re learning some new concept, it might take some time for your brain to sort of figure out how does this relate to my existing knowledge structures? How do I integrate this? How do I extract the gist, get the meaning of this, and then connect it to what I already know? Sleep seems to be fundamental for doing this and so you want to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. It will actually help your performance in these types of tasks.

Ok, in the next video we’ll look at some mnemonic strategies for improving your memory. I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel for more.

Thanks for watching!