How Can the Way in Which We Organise Our Thinking by Using Mental Images, Concepts and Schemas Help to Improve Memory

How can the way in which we organise our thinking by using mental images, concepts and schemas help to improve memory As adults we mainly use a semantic thought process, this is thinking in words. We also perform many day to day tasks using an enactive thought process, such as driving a car. We do this automatically as if the memory is stored in our muscles. However there are further thought processes we can use to improve our memory and recall such as iconic thought, concept formation and schemas. Iconic thought is the process of thinking in pictures and it has been shown that this is a useful tool in recollecting information. A key word technique has been developed that is particularly useful when learning a foreign language. This involves finding an English word that sounds like the foreign word then picturing a mental image to cue the recall of the word. Raugh and Atkinson (1975) found this key word technique to be successful when participants attempted to learn sixty Spanish words. Half of their participants were taught this technique and showed an 88% recall. Compare this with a 28% recall with those not taught this technique and it would seem to be a successful aid in improving memory. Another technique using mental image to improve recall is a type of memory strategy known as mnemonics. A well known poem is actually a mnemonic and is a useful cue to remember a certain sequence of events. For example the mnemonic to remember the colour and sequence of the rainbow is Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. The first letter of each word is the first letter of a colour of the rainbow in the same order. Mnemonics have been used since ancient times; one such was called the Method of Loci which entailed linking a mental image to a location the person knew. These methods of using iconic thought show how successful mnemonics can be when used as a cue to recall information, as forming an image fixes it into our memory. A second successful way of improving our memory is using concept formation. This involves putting thoughts and words into categories and these categories then being used as prompts to remembering pieces of information. Mandler (1967) showed that we can remember information if we first organise it. Two groups of people were shown 100 cards with different words on. One group was told only to sort the cards whereas the second group were told to remember as many words as they could, as well as categorise the cards. Mandler interestingly found that there was no difference in recall percentage between the two groups, suggesting that we categorise information automatically and by doing so we increase our performance of recall. A way of thinking of schemas is imagining each category of thought to be a file which, when opened, contains all the relevant information inside. Schemas enable us to file away all of our experiences so that when faced with new encounters we can take this filed information and process it so that we behave appropriately to the situation. Bransford & Johnson (1972) proved the importance of schemas. They gave two groups of participants a passage of text which they were asked to read and recall what information they could. The passage detailed an everyday task but only one group was given the title of ???Washing Clothes??™. The other group recorded difficulty in understanding the text, let alone being able to remember it. The group given the title were able to access their schema of washing clothes to recall the passage successfully. This experiment found that this file name of washing clothes was the trigger to remembering past experiences of the process so that the information could be recalled accurately. Taking a wider view we are able to see the advantage of being able to recall additional information of an experience or situation by initially accessing our schema. It must be noted however that as helpful as schemas can be in drawing on past experiences and prompting our memory they can also fool us and lead us to make incorrect assumptions. We can often overlook what is actually in front of us and see what we expect to be there instead. This is known as a perceptual set. Further to this we can also distort an experience using our pre conceived knowledge instead of the facts, known as reconstructive set. An experiment was conducted by Brewster (1981) to see how schemas can distort our memories. Participants were taken into an office for 35 seconds. In a second room they were given a memory test on the first. The participants showed a higher recall of items that would fit into a generic office schema, such as a desk, notebook and calendar. Less failed to spot incompatible items in the room, such as a brick and pliers. These items would have been overlooked by the participant??™s memories as they did not fit in with the pre conceived office schema. Additional to these findings, some participants even recalled seeing a telephone in the room despite there not being one present. This shows how easily our schemas can lead us astray. It is clear to see that we are able to improve our memory using certain techniques such as a key word, a mnemonic and grouping thoughts into categories to give us a prompt to recall further information. Schemas, or filings of thoughts, used as a cue can also be a successful memory aid but we must also consider how much validity we can place on these schemas due to the tendency to disregard information or presume for ourselves what is not necessarily there.Word Count 930ReferencesSpoors, P., Dyer, E.W. and Finlay, L. (2007) Starting with Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

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