How Strategies for Memory Improvement Work

Use of Elaborative Rehearsal

Craik and Watkins (1973) distinguished between maintenance and elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal is a strategy that is often used by young children - it involves simply repeating information over and over again - but it only helps maintain information for a few seconds (i.e. in STM). To encode information successfully into LTM, more elaborate forms of rehearsal are required. In other words, the information must be made meaningful - for example, perhaps by linking it to pre-existing knowledge. Elaborated memories are easier to recall because several different routes can be used to reach items in this memory. 

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  • By organising information, we establish links that help us recall. Mnemonics such as acronyms and acrostics accelerate the process whereby we make associations between new information and information already stored. We actively link the new information with memory hooks to aid recall. 
  • Organisation also refers to literally putting the information into order. We know it is hard to find things in a messy room, similarly it is difficult to find a piece of information in our LTM if it is not organised.
  • Bower et al (1969):
    • Aim: To demonstrate that information presented in a hierarchy will be better recalled than information presented randomly.
    • Procedures: They asked participants to learn a list of words. The experimental group saw the words organised in conceptual hierarchies, while the control group saw the words presented randomly. 
    • Findings: In a total of 4 trials, the participants saw 112 words. The experimental group recalled on average 73 of 112 words correctly (65%). The control group recalled only 21 words correctly (19%).
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Avoid Interference Effects

One of the most important factors that can impair retrieval of information is interference from similar material. A distinction has been made between two types of interference:

  • Retroactive Interference - when new information interferes with old information. For example, if you change phone numbers, you soon find that the new number replaces the old in your memory. 
  • Proactive Memory - when an old memory trace disrupts new information. You may, for example, suddenly find yourself giving someone your old number even though you have not used it for months. 
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