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... Because it's All in Your Mind!


Memory Spring Monthly

How Much Information Can You Hold in Your Short-Term Memory?


Water Overflow
“I always have trouble remembering 3 things: Faces, Names, and … I can’t remember what the third thing is.”
-Fred Allen
Yes, it’s our short-term memory that most of us struggle with on a daily basis.  We walk into a room and forget why we entered it.  Someone gives us instructions and then we forget those instructions halfway towards our destination. We get a simple grocery list and we can’t seem to get it right.  We beat ourselves up a lot about our failures, but how much information can our short-term memory hold? 
In 1956, Cognitive Psychology founding father, George A. Miller, published the paper "The magical number seven, plus or minus two". He tested short-term memory via tasks such as asking a person to repeat a set of digits presented; absolute judgment by presenting a stimulus and a label, and asking them to recall the label later; and span of attention by asking them to count things in a group of more than a few items quickly. For all three cases, Miller found the average limit to be seven items. 
Over the years, Miller’s rule of 7, has made sense, however, more recent research suggests that the capacity of short-term memory depends on several factors, including age, attention and the type of information presented. For instance, long words like “onomatopoeia” and “reciprocate” take up more memory span than short words like “cat” and “ball.” Grouping smaller bits of information into a meaningful unit, like a word of many syllables or an abstract concept, is called “chunking,” and our ability to retain information decreases as the chunk becomes more complex.
Psychologists now believe that we can recall about four chunks of information at a time, which works out to approximately six letters, five one-syllable words and seven digits. 
What’s the purpose of our short-term memory? Short-term memory is that memory that we gain and use immediately.  For instance, if we’re given a phone number and call it immediately.  If we hold information in our short-term memory long enough and use it in different ways (working memory) it converts to long –term memory. 
How can we increase our short term memory?  There are a number mnemonic devices or memory techniques out there that can help increase your short term memory.  In our Maximizing Your Memory program we teach a number of techniques to help you increase your short term memory capacity and apply that memory.  Here are a few techniques to consider: 
The Link Method - The Link system is a proven system that has many uses including grocery lists, to do lists, stops on a trip, recalling numbers, and other tasks. The reason it's called the link system is because you link all of your list items together in a story or picture.  It requires you to utilize both sides of your brain which creates stronger memory pods. Key steps include: 
1) Visualize a story (or picture) including all of your items.
2) Make the story ridiculous using your imagination, exaggeration, humor, and abnormal colors.   
3) Tell yourself (or visualize) the story 3 times. 
The Journey Method - The Journey Method is a powerful memory technique that can be used for lists, numbers, and other uses. This technique works by pegging or coding images for information to known things, in this case to objects on a journey or trip. For instance, there are certain landmarks or things that you see every day when you’re on your way to work. Once you establish those landmarks
1)Imagine a journey that you know (or would like to know).
2)Identify key landmarks (memory pegs) in that are always on that journey (Start with something in your house).
3)Assign items on your list to each key object (memory peg).
4)Utilize your memory keys (association, imagination, exaggeration, humor, etc.) to bring them to life.
5)Review your list 3 times.
The Roman Palaces Method  - The Roman Palaces method is an ancient and effective way of remembering information where its structure is not important. This technique works by pegging or coding images for information to known things, in this case to objects in a room. The Roman Palaces method is most effective for storing lists of unlinked information.
1)Imagine a room that you know (bedroom, kitchen, office, etc.).
2)Identify key objects (memory pegs) that are always in that room (table, television, picture, etc.). 
3)Assign items on your list to each key object (memory peg).
4)Utilize your memory keys to bring them to life.
5)Review your list 3 times.
Apply these techniques today and you’ll begin getting a handle on your short term memory.  Are you interested in testing your short-term memory? Can you remember 7 items? Try these three links for short term memory tests:  1) University of Washington Test; 2) The Short-Term Memory Checker; and 3)  Simon Says Short-Term Memory Test.  For more information on improving your short term memory, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (530) 297-6464.