Why Your Brain Forgets Everyday Things and What You Can Do about It
Akshay Naik 03 May 2024
A new book, The Psychology of Memory, explores the fascinating science of memory, offering practical tips to improve recall. Authors Dr Megan Sumeracki and Dr Althea Need Kaminske, who are US –based psychologists, emphasise that losing everyday items such as keys is a common experience and that everyone can boost their memory.
In their book, the authors reiterate that storing and retrieving information is a far more complex process than most people assume. Those with photographic memory or savants are very rare, despite their frequent portrayal in films and other visual media. Highlighting how a degree of forgetting is natural, to allow our brains to remember more general information, the authors say that memory does not work as a recording device, but ‘more like a Wiki page’, because details stored can be edited. 
They have also called for a greater understanding of how memory really works, as it can have real life impact. In the book, they suggest that potential jurors should be taught how memory works, as victims of crime may not be believed in court because their memories are patchy, even though this is perfectly normal. 
“Because we are most aware of our memory when we have trouble remembering something, our intuitions about how memory works might be a little biased. For example, I spend an embarrassing amount of time looking for my phone, water bottle and keys. You may be unsurprised to learn that our memory systems are not necessarily designed to remember where we put our phones. Or keys. Or water bottles,” Dr Kaminske writes in the book.
“Though we would hazard a guess that if we were in a survival scenario where dehydration was a concern, we would be much more aware of water sources. People are better at remembering information when they process it in a fitness-relevant scenario, such as being stranded in the grasslands of a foreign land.”
The Psychology of Memory makes use of research that is based on cognitive psychology to increase understanding of all types of memory and their impact. It goes on to show how memory has a huge impact on our lives and can be impaired by alcohol, sleep-deprivation and caffeine. There is also an attempt to explain the science behind different memory systems and types, such as short- and long-term memory, and what they are used for. 
The authors have taken efforts to debunk myths such as the belief that memory is merely a collection of past events. Instead, they show how it is vital to remember to perform a task in the future. Strategies can strengthen this type of memory which is known as ‘event-based’ recall. The authors suggest leaving a purse in the back seat of the car as a cue to remember to remove a child from their car seat before heading to work. 
The book also outlines simple recollection-boosting techniques to improve learning or to help remember names and numbers. Such memory-boosting techniques can improve long-term knowledge and lead to more efficient learning, the authors explain. One technique described in the book is ‘retrieval practice’, the strategy of ‘pulling’ facts from memory. An example of this could be learning a new colleague’s name by deliberately addressing him/her with it, every time you meet.
Players of the board game chess, remember the location of pieces on the board using schema, a way to organising new information in the brain. The benefit of schema is that it also reduces demands on working memory and, while the authors are not suggesting that it is easy to become a chess champion, anyone can use schema to store and recall complex information. 
“Visual and auditory techniques can also help train the memory of normal individuals. The ability to recall the order of cards in a pack seems impressive but can be achieved by creating mental associations for each card,” the authors explain. “Anyone who has studied knows that regular practice is essential. But to become an expert in a field of learning, people need to employ deliberate practice. The difference is that deliberate practice involves purposeful and deliberate attention whereas regular practice just involves repetition.”
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