Saturday, November 30, 2013

How Your Working Memory Makes Sense of The World

This post is on Psychologist Peter Doolittle's TED Talk, "How Your "Working Memory" Makes Sense of The World." If you'd like to watch the video yet are unable to view it above, click here.

Knowledge Nuggets:

Image from "Brain Leaders and Learners"

What is working memory?

Working memory is the part of consciousness that we're aware of. We can't turn it off. It's used to store immediate experiences along with a bits of knowledge taken from those moments. Working memory reaches back to grab things we stored earlier in long term memory to reach a current mundane goal.

Working memory allows us to do things like have a logical conversation, problem solve, think critically, or listen to someone speak and ask follow-up questions. When it fails, we forget things or get distracted and stop paying attention to what's important.

People with high memory capacity tend to be good story tellers, writers, and problem solvers. They also do well on tests and can reason at high levels.

To "test" someones working memory:
Say aloud five (non-related) words and ask them to remember them. Doolittle used "tree, highway, mirror, Saturn, electrode". Then ask the person to do three things. He used the following: Solve 23x8. Count to ten on one hand. Recite the last five letters of the alphabet (backwards). Typically, less than half of people remember the five words after this, or are in some range of remembering all, none, or a few of them.

How can we better remember information we're interested in?
Unless we do something with information, we can typically only remember four things for 10-20 seconds. To hold onto it we must process the immediate experience the moment it happens. You then need apply it to your life, process it, write it down, practice it, and/or talk to someone about it. Instead of applying it to old knowledge, wrap everything around the new knowledge, making new connections, making it meaningful. It's very helpful to think of it in images as well, as our brains are built for that.

Doolittle's take-home message: 
"What we process, we learn. If we don't process life, we're not living it. Live life."

My Thoughts:

If you're reading this blog, then you're likely the type that reads a lot of articles and subscribes to all sorts of knowledge bits. You may enjoy flooding your mind with information and learning everything you can. Thanks to the internet, there's an enormous amount of easy knowledge out there. If you're like me, you have fifteen or more tabs open with articles you've come across on social media that you're going to read later, and you honestly do. I thought this post may be a good one for those of you struggling to manage this flood of information. Below, in the "Further Reading section, there are even more tools linked to help (I realize my contribution to the "problem" of information overload here).

In the same light, this video seemed quite relevant as it's partly why I created Boiled Down. A good chunk of the reason was to share knowledge, something I enjoy, but I also know that I can listen to many interesting videos and forget what was said by the end of the day, or at least the end of the week. This bothers me. I've been one to keep a notebook by my side while reading to take down interesting bits of information that I'd like to remember, but I'm typically listening to videos while I get ready for work, when doing chores, or even driving if I have a good signal. These situations obviously aren't the best for jotting down knowledge nuggets. I can tell you with assurance that listening to the chosen videos at least twice, extracting the info given, understanding and writing the information, then boiling it down to a minimum has certainly made it all stick, exactly as Doolittle states. In creating a post for this blog, the info poured over and processed is mine to use for a good long time.

As a side note, my working memory must be fan-freaking-tastic. A week after I watched this video, I remembered three of the words, and two I was very close on. I probably "cheated" though. One of my majors in college was psychology, so I knew to use imagery, creating a single picture in my head that related each object to one another. It really does work, folks. Cheat away. I apparently have ADHD by the way, which should make my working memory kinda stink, but it generally doesn't. I suppose I've picked-up a lot of the strategies Doolittle stated in my college psychology classes so I don't suck so much. Usually. I'm still the absolute golden child for forgetting where I put things though. Stopping to make mental images of where you place items is really helpful, but I don't always remember to do that. In fact, soon I have to find the charger for the iPad I'm typing on. No clue at the moment where that may be. Wish me luck.

Further Reading: 

More Basic Information on Working Memory
How We Can Enhance Working Memory?
Working Memory Treatment for those with ADHD
Does Brain Training Really Work?

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