building strong memory 8
Importance of physical activity. To promote recall, it is important to make outward, physical motion a part of the
learning process. Students who silently read their assignments, no matter how diligently, often wonder why they
remember so little after several days have passed. They do not realize that using the eyes alone as a means of absorbing
information is an inefficient and ineffective method. Reciting aloud or writing the information even sketchily, is better by
In an experiment to test short-term and long-term memory, three groups of students were given new material to learn.
The first group was told to write down answers to certain questions; the second group was told to “mentally compose”
answers to the same questions; and the third group was told to simply read the correct answers, which were supplied for
On a test given immediately after this the three groups showed no significant differences. However, another
comparable test was given two weeks later. The group that had made the written responses had significantly higher scores
than either the silently thinking group or the reading group. The muscular activity of writing down information had helped
engrave it on their minds.
Muscular learning. We all know that once we have learned to swim or skate, the muscles never completely lose these
skills. True, we may become “rusty,” but we can still function more or less adequately.
Another example is the skill of typewriting. In this case, the muscles seem to “know” and retain the skill even better
than the conscious mind. For example, it is difficult to visualize mentally the exact location of the letter “L” on the
keyboard; but place the fingers on the keyboard and the appropriate finger will peck out the letter “L” unerringly. The
muscles seem to “remember” better than the mind in such cases.
The lesson for studying is to trust and use your muscles as powerful aids to the memory.
How much recitation? Students often ask: “How much time should I spend reciting?” The answer depends on the type of
material you are studying. If much memorizing has to be done, for example, of lists of dates, names, experiments,
principles, or formulas, then recitation should take about 95 percent of your study time.
On the other hand, in subjects like sociology and history, in which the primary concern is with ideas and events, then
recitation should take about 30 percent of your study time.
In such subjects as economics and psychology which have a high density of ideas, data, and theories, your recitation
should take up about 50 percent of your study time.
7. The Principle of Consolidation
A young man doing a little mountain climbing with friends falls on his head, being knocked unconscious for a moment and left in a dazed state for a couple of hours. We could not expect him to remember what happened during the dazed state, but the curious and psychologically significant fact is that his memory for the 15 minutes preceding the accident was blank and permanently so. Numerous records kept on automobile accidents reveal that this kind of blank period is common in people who have been knocked unconscious by a blow on the head.
The conclusion that psychologists have drawn from these cases is that the neural traces in the mind need some time — from four or five seconds to about fifteen minutes — to jell or consolidate. A sharp blow evidently permanently disrupts this settling-down process, but it does not noticeably affect memory of earlier events that have had time to consolidate. Experiments with rats and hamsters offer concrete evidence that information needs to be harbored in the mind for a period of time before a temporary memory can be converted or consolidated into a permanent one. In rats, the neural trace must persist in the brain for at least 90 seconds. Perhaps for the conversion of the temporary memory into a permanent one in human beings, the neural trace must persist for only a few seconds, perhaps four or five.
This principle of consolidation may well be at work when you recite or write the ideas and facts that you read. As you recite or write you are holding each idea in mind for the four or five seconds that are needed for the temporary memory to be converted into a permanent one.