While there are lots of different tricks for remembering better, all of the techniques used in memory contests ultimately come down to a concept that psychologists refer to as elaborative encoding. And it’s well illustrated by a strange kind of forgetfulness that psychologists have dubbed the “Baker/baker paradox:”
A researcher shows two people the same photograph of a face and tells one of them that the guy is a baker and the other that his last name is Baker. A couple of days later, the researcher shows the same two subjects the same photograph and asks for the accompanying word. The person who was told the man’s profession is much more likely to remember it than the person who was given his surname. Why should that be?
When you hear that the man in the photo is a baker, that fact gets embedded in a whole network of ideas about what it means to be a baker: He cooks bread, he wears a big white hat, he smells good when he comes home from work. The name Baker, on the other hand, is tethered only to a memory of the person’s face. That link is tenuous, and should it dissolve, the name will float off irretrievably into the netherworld of lost memories.
It’s about taking information that is lacking in context, lacking in meaning and figuring out a way to transform it so that it makes sense in the light of all the other things that you have floating around in your mind. If you want to make something memorable, you first have to make it meaningful.
What technique do you use to remember important details? Share them with us!