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

How Can the way in which we organise our thinking by using mental images, concepts and schemas help us improve our memory.In Chapter 3 of The Open University Starting with Psychology course book (2010), the section on organisation and improved recall explains that how we organise our thinking can help us improve our memory. It shows us how mnemonics, or memory tools can help us remember difficult information in a way that it is easier to recall. Mental Images, where a mental picture is used to give a clue to recall a memory. Concepts, where information is put into categories so memory can be aided by guessing against stored past experiences and Schemas when information is filed in topics for future reference are 3 ways in which we can organise our memory. This is a brief explanation of how each method works.Firstly Mental Images. Although most people use semantic thought that is they think in words, if we use a a colourful and bizarre mental image of what we wish to remember it takes more time and effort to fix it in our memory and will therefore give us an additional clue to the information when we try to remember it. Two mnemonics which are examples of mental imaging are the Method of Loci and the Keyword Technique.
The Method of Loci is a system that was devised in Ancient Greece around 500BC by a poet Simonides. The items to be remembered are pictured in a sequence of familiar locations like around the house or local streets but are imagined in bizarre and colourful situations. This has proved to be a powerful aid to memory and is still used over 2000 years later.
The Keyword technique was developed by Michael Rough and Richard Atkinson (1975), it can be helpful when learning new words in another language. The foreign word to be learnt is substituted with an English word or words that sound like the foreign word, then a mental image is formed, linking these words and the definition, again the more vivid and exaggerated the more effective it can be. In the course book the example given is the French word ???poubelle???, which means bin, the example given shows a mental image of a man lifting the lid of a bin, the bin shaped like a bell, the man is holding his nose and it is obvious the ???poubelle??? is very smelly. In Michael Rough and Richard Atkins experiment 2 groups of students were learning Spanish, both groups were asked to learn 60 Spanish words but ? of the participants were taught the Key Word Technique first. When they were tested those who had learnt the technique scored and average of 88% compared to 28% who had not. This shows what an excellent way that organising our thoughts can help improve our memory.Secondly concepts, this is where we categorise and sub categorise items as an aid to improve memory, is so common that we are not usually aware that we are doing it. For example, in the past if we saw a Jack Russell it was placed in the dog subcategory and dog was placed in the animal category, we then can use this stored information then when we see another small animal, say a spaniel, our past experiences tell us it has 4 legs and is hairy so it is likely to be a dog, like the Jack Russell and therefore to be an animal as well. In 1953 Weston Bousfield, researching this technique, asked participants to learn 60 words, although these words could be divided into categories they were presented randomly. The participants without being asked divided the words into themes, which in turn helped them to remember the words.
George Mandler 1967 experiment asked 2 groups of participants given 100 cards with words on them,1/2 were told to just sort them into categories and the other to memorise them while they sorted them, when tested both groups remembered the same amount of words this results shows us that by organising information, we learn it without actually make a conscious effort to so this is another way in which we can improve our memory.Lastly a schema is a mental framework, similar to concepts but it covers a greater scope. Its where we organise information on objects, experiences, and people, into structured clusters. We can then gain cues and hints from other items already stored within the schema to help interpret and retain new information.
Jean Piaget was credited with developing this idea, he worked for over 50 years with children studying the way they think and learn and identified they did this by forming schemas which they had gained from the experiences they had of the world around them.
In John Bransford and Marcia Johnson 1972 experiment, participants were given a passage to read, this passage had no title which made it very hard to understand or recall with any detail, yet when the same passage was given to a second group but titled ???Washing Clothes??? the readers were able to understand and remember in some detail as the schema, washing clothes allowed the information to make sense and be stored appropriately and recalled more easily. So we can see that organising our thinking into Schemas helps improve memory as they provide an organisational basis so information is stored with related information on a specific theme therefore giving a short cut to retrieving the information together everything else associated with the object or experience. I have that shown how memory can be improved by using mnemonics such as mental images,which make the memory more significant, concepts, which categorise our thought and make them easier to recall and schemas which aid memory by filing it so as it triggers other useful memories stored from past experiences.
Spoors, P., Dyer, EW and Finlay, L. (2010) Starting with Psychology Milton Keynes, The Open university.

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