How Can Memory Be Improved by Use of Mental Images, Concepts and Schemas?

Published: 2021-07-27 15:40:06
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Category: Memory

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A mental image is a cognitive technique for utilising iconic memory and linking a work with a picture or image of the item to aid recall. Using mental images improves memory by organising our thoughts and helps focus on the words to be learnt thereby fixing them into long term memory for example, ci (pronounced key) is Welsh for dog, by visualising opening a giant lock with a dog helps to remember the translation. This form of linking a word with a bizarre image has many applications and is known as the keyword technique which was developed by Raugh and Atkinson (1975, cited in Spoors et al. 2011). Raugh and Atkinson conducted an experiment where a group of participants were given sixty Spanish Words to memorise and divided into two groups. The keyword technique was taught to one group but not the other. Results showed that the group who were taught the keyword technique recalled a greater number of words than the other group, thus proving that mental images improve recall. Another application of using mental images is mnemonics. An ancient mnemonic, known as the method of loci, was devised by the Greek poet Simonides (cited in Spoors et al. 2011) he found that when trying to remember a list of words memory is improved if the words are linked with familiar objects and a story compiled that follows a logical sequence. A basic application would be a shopping list where the items of food were placed around the home. Another mnemonic technique is by the use of rhymes such as ’30 days have September’ which allows instant recall of the number of days in a month or the great lakes HOMES which acts as a cue for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.
Mind mapping is frequently used by students when revising for exams, this method could be categorised as either a mneumoic, where the different shapes link into familiar words or as categorisation or formation of concepts. The formation of concepts aid memory by categorising and grouping items, these concepts are then subdivided for example the books in a library can be categorised by books then sub-categorised as romance, text book, dictionary ad infinitum. There are occasions when the item we are trying to categorise or sub-categorise does not follow the classical model creating a ‘fuzzy concept’ where we have no clear definition of it.
Young children have a tendency to over generalise, in the first few months of life they formulate the concept that all men are Daddy and mistakenly identify every man as Daddy. These concepts are redefined and adapted as the child matures. Bousfield (1953, cited in Spoors et al. , 2011) conducted an experiment where he gave a list of random words to his study group and asked them to remember the words, advising them that they could be divided into four categories but not specifying which categories.
After they had recorded all the words they could remember he gave them the category headings which allowed the group to remember a greater number of words. The headings acted as a cue which aided recall. Whereas Mandler (1967, cited in Spoors et al. , 2011) found that we automatically categorise items. He gave participants one hundred cards with words on and asked them to sort them into groups, half of the contributors were asked to memorise the words, both groups were allowed several attempts.
When measuring the dependent variable Mandler found that both groups had performed equally, determining that there is no difference in sorting words into categories or memorising them, each method is equally effective. The last method of improving memory is using schemas. A schema is a mental framework based on personal experience and knowledge; Spoor et al. (2011) liken it to a filing cabinet full of files where each file represents a schema. These are constantly updated and renewed as the person’s knowledge and experience adapts.
Jean Piaget, a leading psychologist in the field of cognitive skills and children’s psychology found that children’s method of learning was vastly different to that of adults, children tend to learn via schemas and as adults we draw upon this knowledge for example when transferring from primary to senior school we know what a school represents, teachers, classrooms, furniture, learning tools etc, we apply this knowledge to our first day in senior school, adapting the schema as new events occur, maybe seeing a science laboratory for the first time.
Schemas are either very complex or simple depending on the person’s interest in the subject, if you are interested in a subject you will build a large and detailed mental file on that topic but if you are disinterested the file will hold very limited information. Schemas are stored under different categories and titles. One example of the importance of understanding information and its impact on recall was the experiment by Bransford and Johnson (1972, cited in Spoors et al. 2011), they gave participants a short passage to read, which had no title, the members encountered great difficulty comprehending the passage but, when given the title ‘Washing Clothes’, it made perfect sense. The participants were able to recall their schema for doing laundry and apply the passage to it. As we acquire new experiences and knowledge our schemas are adapted and updated and new schemas formed.
In conclusion memory is enhanced by the use of various techniques each equally important. Mental images enable us to focus and fix words into memory, formation of concepts categorises words into different concepts and acts as a cue for recall. Finally schemas are the foundation and framework for all events and are continually being updated and renewed.

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