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How Memory Works

Humans have two types of memory:


Short-term memory is designed to remember things from a few seconds up to a few days. For example imagine going into a shop to buy a chicken sandwich, a green apple and a bottle sparkling water and your favourite magazine. How do most people remember this short list? Most do so by rehearsing this to themselves by saying the list in their heads over and over again.

One week later, many people will have forgotten what they bought in the shop. One month later, most will have forgotten completely. So how does the brain decide to delete this information? What simply happens is that the brain puts this information into short-term auditory memory and then it gets replaced by new information.

Short-term auditory memory resembles a cassette tape

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What happens when the tape is full and you go to record onto it again? You must go back to the beginning of the tape and record back over the old information. This gets erased and is replaced by the new information.

This is exactly how short-term memory works – new information constantly replaces old information.

Short-term memory and studying:

How many students spend hours locked in a room reading and re-reading or writing or re writing notes only to find that when they test themselves a few hours or a few days later that they cannot recall most of the information?

These are what we refer to as inefficient learners.

Long-term memory however is mainly visual.

Try this:

Remember your favourite Christmas present that you received as a child.
Remember your first memory from primary school.
Remember a time when you were very proud.

So how did you recall these events? Most people do so by making a picture in their heads.

When most of us recall memories from long-term memory we make a picture. So long-term memory is mainly visual…. Like a video cassette.

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What is the capacity of long-term menmory compared to short-term memory?

Amazingly for every one auditory memory brain cell we have

1, 600, 0000 visual brain cells.

One auditory brain cell 1, 6000, 000 visual brain cells

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Why is this so?

If we look at the picture below we see that development of the human body and brain from stone age man up to modern day man.

If we could take all of these billions of years and squash them together into 24 hours, in relative terms we have only been speaking for the past five minutes. Therefore for the first 23 hours and 55 minutes we relied on visual cues to survive: what an enemy looked like, the colour of the berries that were safe to eat, the position of the sun etc.

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So which memory system should we use to become efficient learners? Obviously - the visual system. Yet not all of us are taught to process visually.

Types of Visual Memory

It is estimated that there are 114 types of Visual Memory, which can be broken down into two families Visual Static Memory and Visual Dynamic Memory.

Visual Static Memory is used when we view or imagine a still picture with our visual brain. We often use this type of memory for example when remembering maps, diagrams, photographs, pictures, formulae, etc.

Visual Dynamic Memory is used when we imagine or visualise a "movie" or moving picture. This type of memory is used for process learning such as experiments, recipes, sequences in Maths or other practical subjects. Each student can be taught how improve this type of memory using simple mental skill exercises.

 


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