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Study sheds light on how people form memories

People could be helped to recall information more readily by a new study that reveals the various ways that we remember things.

The research highlights a range of mental processes linked to memory, which are used in different ways to perform similar tasks.

Memory tools

Researchers say the review will improve the understanding of these mental tools and shed light on how they function in different ways to form memories. 

The team says its findings will inform scientific debate about memory because often there is an assumption that memory works in more or less the same way for everyone.

Mental imagery

Learning more about the range of memory tools that people use can offer greater understanding of how memory functions in everyday life, researchers say.

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh looked not only at how people attempt to remember things, but what they forget as well.

They reviewed more than 100 previous research studies with adults that investigated the different ways in which people remember words, letters, numbers and pictures.

Memory changes

The studies considered how people order information and use mental imagery and examined their ability to create mental representations of things.

Researchers also looked at how memory changes as people get older and the influence of intelligence on memory.

Mental tasks

The team found people memorise things in a variety of ways, for instance, when trying to learn and remember words in a new language some people remember by repeating the word, others might try to think about whether it sounds like a word they already know, and others might visualise what the word looks like and what it means. 

Researchers also found that placing things in order – a technique used when remembering pin numbers or combination locks – could be achieved in several ways, such as creating a memory chain by associating the first number with the second and so on, or learned representation – where each number is remembered separately.

Examining memory in a wider context – rather than its performance in particular tasks – could eventually offer a way to help people to use the memory tools they have more effectively, and help them maintain their memory abilities as they get older.

Professor Robert LogieSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

Link to paper

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