Number 18 BOWER

Number 18 BOWER - 'mfifi.Efiflfl GORDON H BOWER It is...

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Unformatted text preview: 'mfifi .Efiflfl _. GORDON H. BOWER It is in the nature of the mind to forget and in the nature of man to worry over his forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is the constant thorn in the side of the scholar and the scientist, the bane of every student’s exis- tence. Stories about such total memory catastrophes as amnesia, loss of personal identity, diasociated or multiple personal— ities have such a gut-level appeal and fas- cination for us that we will pay to see them dramatized. Similarly, we are suffi— ciently amazed by a spectacular memory that Walt Disney Productions can make a profit on a banal movie (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes), whose weak plot revolves about an idiot savant who acquires and retains information with the speed and reliability of a computer. Since time immemorial men have searched for various incantations, rituals,- tricks, gimmicks, artifice, and methods to improve their memories. Incantations and prayer aside, the latter efforts have been partly successful, and by now a very few highly specific and reasonably successful methods are knowu. Collections of these mnemonic tricks are sold in commercial memory courses, which are usually adver- tized in the back pages of newspapers and pulp magazines. These typically lurid advertisements proclaim how success in life, love, school. and business is the sure- fire sequel of the super-powered memory 132 Learning, Teaching, and Educating that will issue from the reader’s signing up and paying for the course. Although'such hard-sell tactics are somewhat repugnant to respectable scholars (who view their grant proposals and fund-raising speeches in a different light), we should not be de- terred by these commercial trappings from investigating scientifically some of the mnemonic devices. In this paper I will dis- cuss one of these mnemonic devices, show how it works, begin some experimental analyses of its principal components, and show how these lead into scientific ques- tions about the mind and language that are at the current frontiers of psycholog- ical research. The Mnemonic and Its History The particular mnemonic to be studied, called the “method of loci,” has been ' known in Western civilization since ancient Greek times. Cicero (in De Omtore) claimed that the method originated in an observa- tion by a Greek pOet, Simonides, about whom he told the following story: Simo- nides was commissioned to compose a lyric poem praising a Roman nobleman and to “Analysis of a “manic Device" by Gordon H. Bower. American Scientist. 1970. Reprinted by permission of the American Scientist. ' recite this panegyric at a banquet in his honor attended by a multitude of guests. Following his oration before the assembled guests. Simonides was briefly called out- side the banqueting hall by a messenger of the gods Castor and Pollux, whom he had also praisod in his poem; while he was absent, the roof of the hall collapsed, kill- ing all the celebrants. So mangled were the corpses that relatives were unable to identify them. But Simonides stepped forward and named each of the many corpses on the basis of where they were located in the huge banquet hall. This feat of total recall is said to have convinced Simonides of a basic prescription for remembering-to use an orderly arrangement of locations into which one could place the images of things or peeple that are" to be remembered.- Cicero relates this story about Simon- ides in connection with his discussion of memory regarded as one of the phases of rhetoric. In ancient times rhetoric teachers provided memory instruction because, in those days before inexpensive paper and writing implements, public speakers had to memorize an entire speech, or at least the sequence of main tapics. For this rea- son most references to the method of loci come down to us from treatises on rhetoric, such as Cicero’s De Omtore, the anony- mous Rhetoricc ad Herennium, and Quin— tilian’s Institu tio oratoria. Frances Yates tells the historical story in fascinating de- tail in The Art of Memory and provides a - detailed description of how the method of loci was used in ancient times: It is not difficult to get hold of the general prin- ciples of the mnemonic. The first step was to imprint on the memory a series of loci or places. The commonest, though not only, type of mne- manic place system used was the architectural type. The clearest description of the process is - that given by Quintilian. In order to form a series of places in memory, he says, a building is to be remembered, as spacious and varied a one as - possible, the forecourt, the living room, bedrooms, and parlours, not omitting statues and other oma- , ments with which the rooms are decorated. The ' images by which the speech is to be remembered . . . are then placed in imagination on the places which have been memorized in the building. This done, as soon as the memory of the facts requires to be revived, all these places are visited in turn and the various deposits demanded of their custo- dians. We have to think of the ancient orator as moving in imagination through his memory build- ing whilst he is making his speech, drawing from the memorized places the images he has placed on them. The method ensures that the points are remembered in the right order, since the order is fixed by the sequence of places in the building (Yates 1966, p. 3). To summarize, the prescription for memorizing a series of items is (a) first to memorize a list of “memory snapshots” of locations arranged in a familiar order; (b) to make up a vivid image representing, symbolizing, or suggesting each of the items of information that is to be remembered; - and (c) to take the items in the sequence they are to be learned and to associate ' them one by one with the corresponding imaginary locations in memory. The asso- ciations are to be established by “mentally visualizing" the image of the items placed into the imaginary context of the locational snapshots. The same loci are used over and over for memorizing any new set of items. Without this feature—if an entire new set of loci had to be learned for each new list— the use of the method would be uneconom— ical. To illustrate, the modern home dweller might have a series of loci, such as “my driveway,” “interior of my garage," “front door," “upper shelf of coat closet," and “kitchen sink." The list is easily memorized because the places and their order in nature are familiar to the person. If he were to use these loci to remember a grocery shopping list—say, hot dogs, cat food, tomatoes, bananas, and whiskey—then he would try to imagine vivid mental pictures of the items at their respective loci. Examples, shown in the cartoons in Figures 1— 5, might be “giant hot dogs rolling down the driveway,” “a cat eating noisily in the Figure 6. flag-rate] nu: thro the loci. - a 39:1 .- -r. .- - ' 4- " a" - '3" _ qt?! 184 Learning. Teaching, and Educating garage,“ “ripe tomatoes splattered over the front door," "bunches of bananas - swinging from the closet she! ,” and “a bottle of whiskey gurgling down the kit- chen sink. The images may be elaborated in as much detail as desired, with move- ' merit and color, in unusual sizes and shapes, in any form to arouse interest. Then, when the person wishes to remember the shop- ping list, he need only walk mentally through his list of loci (see Fig. 6), asking himself, in effect, “What did I put in the driveway? What in the garage?” and so on. The loci on the list are well learned and are easily called to mind. Recall of the scene constructed at each locus enables him to recognize and name the other main object . in it, thus appearing to recall the items in their correct order. Dues the System Work? The mnemonic system appears on the surface to be fantastic legerdemain, con- structed by elves, and reasonable peOple are likely to believe that magical and occult powers of mentation are required to use the system effectively. Similar systems have also been associated in modern times with showmanship and magicians, and psychol- ogists have tended to be rightly skeptical about the authenticity of spectacular memory performances. Is there any accept- able scientific evidence that such mnemonic systems are not simply elaborate systems for self-deception? Do they in fact reall improve anyone’s memory? - There is much anecdotal evidence that the system does work. A recent case is re- corded by A. R. Luria in his charming account, The Mind of a Mnemonist. The man, 8., had a truly fantastic memory. Luria, who studied him periodically over a span of many years found that S. could remember volumes of information of all sorts rapidly and without effort and could retain it for years in some cases. He relied extensively on diverse idiosyncratic asso- ciations and ruses for converting most materials into visual images, and he seemed to have discovered for himself the method of loci. . . . _ In recent years such personal anecdotes have been supplemented and amplified by - controlled laboratory experiments testing mnemonic devices on “normal” intelligent adults (typically college students). A typical experiment might compare recall by sub- jects using the method of loci to recall by other subjects instructed to learn by their usual means, and the two groups might be compared on memory for lists of related or unrelated items, objects, events, persons, or words. The results are often striking and dramatic, the subjects using loci frequently recalling two to seven times as much as control subjects. This figure represents genuine improvement; the control subjects are not shamming. In fact, they are trying very hard to remember, but are using the hit—or-miss procedures college students have developed over the years (which, one 'would have supposed, should be fairly effi- cient learning strategies). _ To cite one example, J. Ross and K. A. ' Lawrence (1968) asked their students to study many lists, each 40 items long, for one trial, using as loci 40 locations around the college campus. After each list of 40 items (nouns) had been presented once (at about 13 seconds per item), each stu- dent immediately recalled the list. He also came back the following day to recall again the list of the preceding day and to study a new list of 40 items. Recall immediately after studying the lists averaged 38 out of 40 in correct serial order; a day later, recall averaged 34 out of the 40 items in correct order from the previous day’s list. In com- psrison to the scores usually observed in rote learning experiments, such recall per- formances are quite exceptional, if not _ staggering. Such demonstrations of the effectiveness of the procedure are impor- as he reads the critical list words to the sub- tant in indicating the magnitude of the ject. ' mnemonic effect. 2. The cues are memory images of loca- tions. Neither memory images nor locations are crucial for the mnonic effect. First, componenfifll Anaka 0f - ' presentation of external stimuli, such as the Mnemonic - pictures, by the experimenter can substitute The next step after a few such demon_ for the person’s cuing himself with memory . . . - ° . Second the cues need not be images stratlons is to begm more careful analyses ‘ “113%,” ’ . . of the components of the mnemonic de- or New 0‘ 3803131)th locatlons' such vice, so that one may better understand the 1°C? ha‘ie fl“? Mme of hem “ficimi method, decide which components are wily mUflhZBd' and already lam" m a emential and which are inconsequential, natural serial order; but “nous expen- ' ' st that any and ha understand how memory menial 09111331150115 magma: generally. The method of loci readily visualized object or context would contains a number of distinct components, supply 85 300d a we 38 ‘10 scenes of 8‘80- - . graphic locations (which, after all, just The more “hem ones “6‘ coherent collections of objects} T1115 305' 1. There is a known list of "cues." clusion is suggested by the equally g°°d 2. The cues are memory images of geographic recall produced by the «numeric Word» locations. . a. Cues and items on the list to be learned “Stem . . . . _ are to be associated during input of the list items. The numeric Word 5%th ls mmllar 4. Associations are to he made in one-to-oue to the method of loc1 except that the pairings memory pegs or pigeonholes are images 5. Associations are to be effected through of unrelated countete objects associated Emmi eumflm’ maul” by m °f Visual in one—to-one fashion with the first twenty agri'iie imagine] construction should be un- 01' m0” huge“. Typical W011" (511mm usual, hm, striking, in Fig. 7)-are concrete nouns that rhyme 7. if the list items are studied a second time, the same items should he placed at the same loci: even if ordered output is not required, constant ordered input is desirable. _B. Atthe time ofreeallfliepersonmustcue hisrecallotthelistitems. ' 9. The recall cues must be the same as or similar to those he thought of while studying the items. ' Recent research provides information about each of these factors and its contributionto the overall mnemonic effect. I will briefly discuss the factors in turn. 1. A known list of “cues. ” What is im- portant is that the cues (loci) be available to the person at the time the list items are studied and at the time recall is attempted. The cues, in fact, could be actual pictures of locations, or objects, or unrelated words __ - for that matter, shown by the experimenter Figure 7. Numeric pegworda or pigeouholea. 136 Learning, Teaching. and Educating with the numbers—like “one is a bun, two isashoe,threeisatree,”andso on. To learn a nevir list of items, “one-bun” is used in the same way as the first location in the method of loci, “two-shoe” is used like the second location, and so forth. That is, the person is to visualize the first object in some interaction with a bun, visualize the second object interacting with a shoe, and-so on. The pegword and loci methods are identical except for the nature of the cues and for the fact that the pegword system provides direct access to numeriCal— order information. For instance a person learning by the pegword system can directly recall in isolation that the seventeenth item was car; he can also say, retrievingjn the reverse direction, that car was the seven- teenth item; in contrast, the “loci” learner can only reconstruct such numeric infor- mation by counting from the beginning or end of his chain of cues. 3. Cues and list items are to be asso- ciated during list input. Formation of such associations is critically necessary for the mnemonic effect. If the person is taught the locations or pegwords but is not told how and when to use them, there is no memory improvement whatever. A similar absence of effect arises if the person is exposed to external cues such as pictures while he is hearing the list items but does not attempt to connect them. Such ex- ternal or imaginal cues become effective memory “retrieval cues” only if the per- son tries to associate or relate them to the list items at the time'the items are studied. 4. One-to-one pairings of cue and item. Pairing appears to be an irrelevant and im- material part of the method. Multiple items can be hooked onto the same peg- word or can be imagined clustered together in the same location. No appreciable loss in recall occurs if the items hooked to a _ given pegword arrive simultaneously or in close succession and if the person elabor- ates one grand imaginal scene depicting some unitary interactions among the several items and the peg or location cue. Having the several items that are being associated to a given pegword simulta- neously in mind seems to be the crucial matter. Without such cognitive simultane- ity, retention of earlier items is disrupted somewhat by the learning of later items (see Fig. 8}. By using the simultaneous method, therefore, a list of 40 items can be stored equally well as one-to-one pair- ings with 40 loci or as four-to-one pairings with 10 loci. What may be last in the four- to-one pairings is information concerning the serial order of the items within the successive quartets of the list; that infor- mation'may not be preserved in the simul- taneous composite scene the person con- structs for each quartet. 5. Use imagine! elaboration, especially visual imagery. Imaginal elaboration of the items—seeking out and depicting interact- ing relationships between the referents— appears to be critically important in pro- ducing the large effects typically observed. The imagery has to be" of concrete objects or referents of the words, not of words themselves. (In fact, imagery of verbal symbols-words, digits, number arrays—is generally very poor.) Since construction of verbal relationships between cue and item can sometimes produce just as high recall as mental imagery of object inter- relations, the specific claims for imagery require closer examination. But it is clear that various kinds of cognitive elaboration or construction of relationships lead to greater acquisition of associations (be- tween cue and item) than dOes rote re- hearsal or verbal repetition. 6. Unusual, bizarre imagery. The evi- dence for the prescription to use odd, bizarre imagery is, to date, entirely negativi That is, four laboratory experiments that have studied this variable have not demon- strated that “bizarreness of imagery” ' producesa consistent, significant effect on remembering. Subjecm instructed to concoct bizarre associative scenes remem— ' her the cue-to-item associations no better .than do others instructed to compose familiar, regular, sensible associative scenes. Differential effects are similarly absent when subjects study pictures of associative scenes that are bizarre versus regular as rated by other people. Little thought is required to see that bizarreness is itself a poorly defined dimension; any effect such prescriptions might have in natural- istic settings is probably clue to incidental factors (for example, arousing or ing interest in learning by the move] asso- ciation). ' 7. Repeating each item on the some locus. When the person receives two or more study trials on the same set of words, it is important to repeat each item on the same locus. If the items do not have to be recalled in a special serial order, then the training agent (teacher, experimenter) may vary the order of presenting the items from one trial to the next. If the subject auto- matically assigns each reordering of the items to his string of pegwords from start to finish, several items will be hooked to a given peg (with relatively long intervals between successive “hookings”), and a given item will be hooked to several pegs. Along this way lie trouble and poor per- formance. First, hooking item C to the same one (A) to which item B was pre- viously hooked may produce something like “unhooking” or unlearning of the prior association between the cue A and - the item B. This is more likely if during A—C learning the person does not implic- itly revive B and associate the simultaneous complex A- 3—0 (refer back to Fig. 8 and its associated text). Further, if an item becomes hooked to several different pegs, the person has the problem of monitoring for and inhib- iting repetitions of this item in his recall. During oral recall, as he goes through his pegs, he continually must be asking him- self, “Is this an item I've already recalled on this trial?" Such discriminations require 1“ Immediate 1W Delayed lulu-ed n E 5 fl 5 Separate E 70 E L4__J__"l W J" hhnulus Figure 3. Immediate and 30-minute delayed reten- tion of 1, 2, or 5 items emaciated to each cue, when studied all together (massed) or individually at separate times. that a separate kind of occurrence informa- tion be stored in a working short-term memory; the discriminatory decisions based on that monitor memory may be mistaken, and the person may suppress his recall of some correct items, thus lowering his performance scores. For such reasons the subject will be much better off if he places a given item on the same peg at each trial. _8. At recall the person must cue him- self. lithe person associates items with a set of cues, those cues must be made avail- able to him by some means if they are to aid his recall. The pegword and loci meth- ods; preacribe that the person should gen- erate or present himself with his own cues by running through his well-known list. But if the cues are external, and manipu- lated by the experimenter, their presence vs. absence will produce effects similar to presence vs. absence of the imagine] cues. 9. Recall cues must be similar to those studied. It cue A has been assooiated at input with item B, then any effective one A' for retrieving B from memory must be “similar” to A. The main and significant - dimensions-of similarity are that ones A and A' be close in semantic meaning (for example, synonymous) or consist of images of neighboring regions in space or belong to common perceptual categories. An important sort of similarity for practical reasons is that between imagining a situation (A) and actually being in that situation (A'). This similarity is traded on whenever we establish in imagination asso- ciations that we wish to have activated later in real life. One example is the “sys- tematic desensitization" treatment for specific phobias, in which a patient in therapy learns to replace his anxiety re- action (aroused by the phobic object or situation) by calm relaxation (see Wolpe 1958). The breaking and replacement of the old object-to-anxiety association is all done in imagination, by visualization, in the therapist’s office, but the changed association transfers and occurs in real-life contacts with the formerly phobic object. A second example is a recommended and effective way to remember future in- tentions, as when we think to ourselves, “Tomorrow mornihg when I leave home for the office, I must remember to bring that book for Sam," or “After my class tomorrow I have to telephone the service station." The bast way to remember such future intentions is to visualize vividly some specific act usually done in the cue situation (for example, eating breakfast, gathering up lecture notes) and in imag- ination link performance of that cuing act to thinking about and performing the re- quired act. - To summarize the discussion of the method of loci, the important ingredients appear to be formation of imaginal associa- tions between known cuas and previously unknown list items at input, and use of these cues for recall. The control subject, exposed to the same list of items to re- member but not using the method of loci, is in what psychologists call a “free recall” experiment. His problem is that he does not know how or where to search in memory for the items just presented to him. For instance, he might know that they were words, but since he knows many thousands of words, how is he to begin searching for the ones he has tagged as having been on the list just presented? The magnitude of his problem would be similar to that of trying to retrieve a few specific books in the Library of Congress after all the books and documents had been dumped baphazardly and randomly in one enormous unsorted pile. The method of loci or pegword mnemonic solves this search problem by providing the learner with a known bank of pigeon-' holes or file cabinets in which he stores the list items. At recall, the person knows wheretostarthisrecallandhowtopro- ceed from one unit to the next; he has a way to monitor the adequacy of his recall; he knows when he has forgotten an item; and he knows when he has finished his recall. All of these are the good fruits of the retrieval scheme. and they mainly account for its effectiveness. References Re, J. & uwrcnce. K. A. Some observations on memory artifice. Psychoaomic Science, 1968, 13, 107-108. - Wolpe, J. Psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition. Stanford, Calif; Stanford University Press, 1958. Yams, F. A. The Art of memory. Chimgo: Uni- versity of Chicago Press, 1966. ...
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Number 18 BOWER - 'mfifi.Efiflfl GORDON H BOWER It is...

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