News Release

Losing keys and everyday items ‘not always sign of poor memory’

Book Announcement

Taylor & Francis Group

The mysteries of how memory works are explained in a new book that suggests anyone can boost their powers of recall – and that losing your keys is normal.

Dr Megan Sumeracki and Dr Althea Need Kaminske say storing and retrieving information is far more complex than people think. Extremes of memory such as photographic or savant are also very rare despite their regular portrayal in films.

Their new book The Psychology of Memory outlines simple recollection-boosting techniques to improve learning – or to help remember names and numbers.

Forgetting is normal

The authors highlight how a degree of forgetting is natural to allow the brain to remember more general information. Memory does not work like a recording device, they say, but ‘more like a Wiki page’ because details can be edited.

The authors, who are both US-based psychologists, call for greater understanding of how memory really works, as it can have real life impact. For example, they suggest potential jurors should be taught how memory works, as victims of crime may not be believed in court because their memories are patchy even though this is perfectly normal.

Dr Kaminske writes: “Because we are most aware of our memory when we have trouble remembering something, our intuitions about how memory works might be a little biased.

“For example, I (Althea) spend an embarrassing amount of time looking for my phone, water bottle, and keys. You may be unsurprised to learn that our memory systems are not necessarily designed to remember where we put our phones. Or keys. Or water bottles.

“Though we would hazard a guess that if we were in a survival scenario where dehydration was a concern, we would be much more aware of water sources.

“People are better at remembering information when they process it in a fitness-relevant scenario, such as being stranded in the grasslands of a foreign land.”

How to improve memory

The Psychology of Memory uses research based on cognitive psychology to increase understanding of all types of memory and their impact. It shows how memory has a huge impact on our lives and can be impaired by alcohol, sleep-deprivation and caffeine.

The book explains the science behind different memory systems and types, such as short and long-term memory, and what they are used for.

The authors debunk myths such as that memory is merely a collection of past events. Instead, they show how it is vital for remembering to perform a task in future.

Strategies can strengthen this type of memory which is known as ‘event-based’ recall. Dr Sumeracki and Dr Kaminske suggest leaving a purse in the back seat of the car as a cue to remember to remove your child from their car seat before heading into work.

Other memory-boosting techniques can improve long-term knowledge and lead to more efficient learning, according to the authors.

One technique described in the book is ‘retrieval practice’, the strategy of ‘pulling’ facts from memory. An example is learning a new colleague’s name by deliberately addressing them by it every time you see them.

Chess players remember the location of pieces on the board using schema, a way of organizing new information in the brain. The benefit of schema is it also reduces demands on working memory, and while the authors are not suggesting that it is easy to become a chess champion, anyone can use schema to store and recall complex information.

“Visual and auditory techniques can also help train the memory of normal individuals. The ability to recall the order of cards in a pack seems impressive but can be achieved by creating mental associations for each card,” they explain.

“Anyone who has studied knows that regular practice is essential. But to become an expert in a field of learning, people need to employ deliberate practice. The difference is that deliberate practice involves purposeful and deliberate attention whereas regular practice just involves repetition.”

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