Playing Games With Memory (continued)

Ways to Remember

Think about how you tried to remember the objects in one of the memory games. Some people try to remember them just by repeating them over and over, like this: comb, book, can of beans, left shoe, and so on. If you tried that, you were using what scientists call your "working memory".

When you look up a telephone number and repeat it over and over until you dial it, you're using your working memory. Your working memory is great for jobs like remembering a phone number for a few minutes.

But five minutes later, after you made a phone call using this method, you probably won't be able to remember the number. Your working memory can hold a small amount of information for a relatively short time. Repeating a list of things over and over lets you remember some of the items on the list for a little while. But it's tough to store twenty different things in your working memory and remember them long enough to write them down.

One way to remember more things for a longer time is to use what scientists call "elaborative encoding." "Encoding" is another word for transforming something into a memory. "Elaborative encoding" lets you connect new information to memories that you already have, and that helps you remember the new information. It can help you move that list of objects out of your working memory and into your long-term memory. (Long-term memory is just what it sounds like: memories that last for a long time -- days or months or years.)

Here are two ways that you can experiment with putting a list into your long-term memory using elaborative encoding. Try them out, and see how you do.




Tell yourself a story

What do I need?

  • A little imagination
  • A piece of paper and a pencil
  • Optional: A timer or a clock with a second hand and someone to tell you when two minutes are up

What do I do?

On the next web page, there are pictures of 20 different things. Just as you did in the previous memory game, you are going to click the GO button, look at the pictures for two minutes, then return to this page and write down as many of the things as you can remember.

This time, while you are looking at the pictures, make up a story that has all those things in it. If you were looking at the pictures in the last game ( Memory Solitaire ), you might make up a story about a cat named Charlie (which begins with C ) who was riding a bicycle and chasing a dog. Just then, the cat stopped for coffee and....

You get the idea. If the story is silly, that's just fine. Try to imagine the story as you tell it to yourself, picturing the cat on the bicycle and the dog running away.

OK, now try it yourself with the pictures on the next page.

Ready, set, GO!

Now write down as many of the things as you can remember on your piece of paper.

How did you do this time? Click the Check button to see.



What's going on?

When you tell yourself a story and imagine what's happening, you are doing a couple of things.

First, you are connecting the different pictures so that when you remember one, you remember the others too. If you remember "cat," you have a good chance of remembering "bicycle" and "dog" and "C" for Charlie. It's hard to remember all the items in a list where nothing is connected to anything else. It's easier to remember when one item is attached to a whole lot of others.

Second, you are making a mental picture that includes all these different things. Making a mental picture helps you remember something later.

You may discover that making up a story didn't help you remember all the objects -- but it helped you remember some of the objects for a lot longer. When you made a mental picture of the objects, you used your long-term memory, and that picture stuck with you.


Games       Memory

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