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The Science Of Forgetfulness And 5 Tips For Better Memory

science of forgetfulness

We know the fact that memorization leads to a longer retention of knowledge. But it also leads to a superficial grasp of the material, information or subject you read. Due to this, we often struggle to find an effective strategy for better memory. And when we fail to do so, we blame ourselves for being ‘forgetful’. In other words, we think forgetting is our short-coming and a malfunction of our mind. On the contrary, the science of forgetfulness suggests otherwise.

However, new research in the dynamic field of neuroscience reveals quite contrary results. It highlights the critical role of strategies for better memory and makes a solid foundation of learning. Therefore, for a student to excel in his academics, it is necessary to follow certain steps. But before trying to expand the memory capacity, the process requires an understanding of the science of forgetting.

The Underlying Science Of Forgetfulness:

According to a recent article published in the journal Neuron, neurobiologists Paul Frankland and Blake Richards transformed the existing view of memory. Their theory suggests that forgetting is a part of the process of loss- a slow depletion of information-despite our crucial efforts to keep it. As per Blake and Paul, the role of memory is not just storing and recalling information but also to ‘optimize decision making’ according to the environment.

Hence according to this model of memory, forgetting is an evolutionary strategy. In other terms, it is a background process of memory that discards or eliminates those chunks of stored information which doesn’t complement the survival of the human species. 

To quote Blake and Frankland “From this perspective, forgetting is not necessarily a failure of memory. In contrast, it may better be represented as an investment in a more optimal mnemonic strategy.”

The Forgetting Curve:

The science of forgetfulness suggests an activity to make you understand your brain better. Imagine your memory as a network of an interconnected overlay of spiderwebs instead of a library full of books (information). In those spiderwebs, there are several strands of recollection distributed among a number of neurons of your brain. Whenever we learn something new-learning to solve a math problem, for example-new neural connections forms. Thus, converting our experience into memory.

In the 1880s psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus performed a ground-breaking study in the field of psychology, memory retention and learning. He termed it ‘the forgetting curve’ which explains how much we forget over a period of time. He discovered that with no reinforcement to prior connections, information slowly washes away from our mind. In figures, we lose roughly 56 percent of the information in the first hour, 66 percent in the following day and around 75 percent over a span of six days!

This discovery might have amazed you and also intrigued you about the steps we can take to improve memory. However, after all these evolutionary years of development, we don’t have neatly aligned techniques that foster strong memory. Therefore, research-backed strategies must be included in the education curriculum. They will surely help students develop a mind that retains information.

Memory persistence And Its Connection With Science Of Forgetfulness:

Several researchers have found that the same neural circuitry occurs in remembering and forgetting. Hence, if students and teachers properly understand this, they can reinforce their memory and prevent memory leaks.

A team of neuroscientists from MIT, led by Robert Cho explained the science behind synaptic strengthening in a 2015 article published in Neuron. They suggested that during the frequent firing of the neurons, synaptic strengthening takes place in those neurons. And the opposite is true for neurons that are seldom fired.

Neuroscience terms this mechanism-synaptic plasticity. In simple words, the more you access the data stored in your mind, the easier it is to retrieve it. This is because of the strengthening of the neural networks associated with that data. This mechanism also explains why we are able to remember some information very well while others take time to remember and the rest we can’t remember at all.

Strategies for better memory:

Till now you must have understood that when we learn something new, we make new synaptic connections. That’s why it is crucial to include the following strategies in the school’s curriculum so that students can learn to retain their memory for longer periods. Two possible strategies for better memory are: widening the ‘spider web’ or recalling the memory repeatedly.

Keeping these in mind, the following are the strategies for better memory teachers and students can adopt:

#1 Passive explanation:

It has been shown that when students explain a concept they have just learned to their peers, their memory gets better. It gets reactivated, reinforced and consolidated. This not only fosters strong memory connection but also encourages active learning in students.

Additionally, it will strengthen the memory of the information just learned and second, it will improve presentation and communication skills. Teachers can include this strategy for better memory in their teaching methodology. They can start their lecture by letting a student explain the concept he learned yesterday to other students.

#2 Reviewing:

According to this strategy for better memory, students should revisit the subjects, topics or chapters periodically throughout the year. Instead of learning and moving on, they should plan their academic timing so that they remain in touch with previous information. 

Research shows that students who periodically reviews the old chapter or concepts perform better in academics due to better memory. On the teacher’s part, they can incorporate the habit of reviewing the key points every time they start a new chapter. Or they can start giving homework to students on the previously learned material.

#3 Periodic practice tests:

In addition to reviewing, teachers can take periodic tests of students. These periodic tests can include a chapter, lesson, or topic students have previously learned. This strategy will boost long-term information retention and also help students in keeping stress at bay. Simply stated, decreasing the level of stress can alone improve the memory capacity of the mind.

It is worth noting, that the tests can be grade-less and simple e.g. a quick pop quiz or a trivia before the start of a chapter. For students, tiny quizzes are more interesting and helpful than hour-long exams. Also, these quizzes will help them reinforce the memory circuits quickly because of the limited time available.

Thus, we can conclude that low stake tests (e.g. quizzes, trivia, games, etc) are far better and result yielding than the big tests. That’s why breaking a large stake test into a number of smaller tests can is an effective strategy for better memory of students.

#4 Mind mapping:

Mind mapping is a technique of visualizing and interconnecting all the topics or concepts one has learned. Instead of focusing only on one topic and remembering it, a student can try to find an interrelation between it and other topics he has learned. 

To start with mind mapping, a student can write the name of current and old topics on a drawing chart. Next, he can try to find a link between all the topics written down. This exercise will reinforce the neural networks, thus strengthening the memory. He can also use different colors to make the map more appealing.

This exercise is one of the most result-oriented strategies for better memory. As it, not only, help students remember more amount of information for a longer duration but also kindle a spark of interest in him.

#5 Learning with images: 

It is far easier to remember information that is visual to us as it enables us to experience with our senses. Also, graphic images tend to get more organized when fed into the mind. For example: pairing a list of all the Asian countries with a map that locates their position on the map can help a student retain the information for long periods. 

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