Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

memoryI have always thought of memory and the ability to retain information as something akin to a filing system. You learn something new, and duly the mind makes a copy on a piece of paper and stores it in the relevant drawer, ready for being picked out when it is needed. Some people may have more space than others, file faster or simply copy things quicker, but the filing cabinet was always the analogy of choice. That could be why teachers are so keen on covering the same thing again and again, as this will create highlights in our filing system, and why course outlines and bulletpoints are so popular, as we imagine that students add to some existing mental archive.

Imagine my surprise when I came across research that argues that memory is not like a filing system, but rather it works like Velcro (cf. Rubins (Ch. 2), Mayer [1980], Fiske & Taylor [Ch. 4-5]) … This “velcro theory of memory ” argues that when we get a new piece of information we instantly try to relate it to other things that we know (using a ‘Schema’) in our head. For example if you are going to learn about a new fruit – The Pomelo – and you don’t know what a Pomelo is (or if you do, pretend that you don’t), I can give you the facts:

“The Pomelo is the largest citrus fruit. The Rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit has a light yellow to coral pink flesh and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart”

Look away, and explain to me what a Pomelo is… … If you didn’t know a Pomelo, odds are that you will remember maybe the colour, or the tangy option, or something else. This is all correct knowledge but it is not connected to any pre-existing ‘schema’ in the mind, so your knowledge of the Pomelo is probably not very good, and one would struggle to relate to others what a Pomelo is, without reading the above statement again and again. Now if we use a ‘schema’, one can describe the Pomelo as: “basically a big grapefruit with a thick and soft rind.” (Pomelo example from Heath & Heath (2008: 53))

Money says that the latter description is both easier to remember, and that you would be able to relate both what a Pomelo is quickly, and know quite a bit about it. It connects with things we know (pre-existing schemas) about grapefuits and builds on top of them. So metaphors are very helpful not just because they may illustrate a point, but they tug at existing memories (and schema’s) and thus help retain information more easily. (cf Lakoff & Johnson on metaphors)

How one can apply this in teaching and business is then the next step, although I suspect that marketing departments around the world are already in the know… But maybe not? This was news to me, but what do the scientists make of this claim?


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