In this essay I will discuss superior memory abilities. I will first overview those that have exceptionally high memory abilities and consider a theoretical account of these individuals looking at the techniques they use. I will then use these ideas in order to see how they can have an impact on enhancing average memory ability. Research tells us that human memory is extremely flexible but places many limits on how well people can recall information. Those limits include the rate of decay or displacement of information as it is presented, and the capacity of short-term memory, which Miller (1956) claims is ‘the magic number 7 + or – 2’.
This means that not all information reaches LTM. LTM depends very much on the meaningful organisation of information. This means that recall errors frequently arise from interferences caused by existing or previously remembered information and inadequate retrieval cues. These limitations mean that for most people, remembering is an imprecise and unreliable aspect of cognitive performance, and briefly presented and meaningless information is particularly difficult to recall accurately.
Those with high memory abilities are able to recall such volumes of apparently meaningless information, so accurately, and over such long periods, that they appear to violate the normal limitations of human memory. Some of these people are undoubtedly are rather extraordinary individuals who don’t really resemble the average person, while others do seem quite normal in every other way. Psychologists are interested in studying whether they have fundamentally different memory systems and if so what is it that enables them to be so advantageous.
On the other hand, could they be said merely to be using their memory more efficiently than the normal person. In which case, do the methods they use fit into what is already known about memory performance, and could other people employ the same methods to make better use of their memories. When studying particular individuals, psychologists have particularly looked at whether their memory ability specific or not. Whether they use particular strategies or have a natural flare. They also look at the applications of these methods in improving the average individual.
Wilding & Valentine 1991, using a variety of standard laboratory tasks aimed to distinguish different types of remembering. They found those who reported using strategies performed significantly in strategic tasks requiring associations to be made such as recall. This shows that use of strategies makes a big difference to performance. For non-strategic tasks those who used no strategy and were natural memorists did slightly better as opposed to their strategy-using counterparts, due to the fact that these tasks were difficult to generate associations.
This shows that overall mnemonics increase performance significantly and strategic mnemonists perform better on associative tasks where as natural mnemonists perform better on abstract non-associative tasks. I am now going to be discussing specific cases of individuals with exceptionally high memory abilities. I will be giving cases of those with specific abilities and those with many abilities and I will explore into the mnemonics they use. Thompson, Cowen and Frieman (1993) studied Rajan Mahedevan.
His exceptional unpractised memory ability was reported in the Guinness book of records as he could recite 31,911 digits of Pi in 3 hours and 49 minutes his digit span also increased dramatically for visual presentation and spoken digits over 2 years. When asked to answer the place of a digit in Pi he had a 4. 3% error rate due to miscounting rather than misremembering. His was given the task to recall the next 5 digits from Pi after the presentation of 10 digits across one single column which took 8 seconds as opposed to chunks of 10 digits across 2 columns (5 at the end of column 1 and 5 at the end of column 2) taking 81 seconds.
This revealed that Rajan used a location-based strategy aided by chunking. Psychologists were interested to whether his ability was specific to digits. Vogl and Thompson (1995) tested his ability to recall high and low frequency words which he showed above average performance, however the strategies he used were not organised using the semantics of the words but the same strategies he used to recall numbers, showing he learned by locations not imagery. When tested for recall for categorized lists, the control group scored 41/49 whereas Rajan scored 35/49.
This shows his exceptional memory ability is digit specific. Like Rajan, S. F a long distance runner who was investigated by Chase and Ericsson (1980) had a digit specific ability although his came with practice. He originally had a span of 7 digits, but with practice of an hour a day over 2 years increased it substantially to 80 digits. The strategies he used were to group the unrelated digits into chunks which related to his present knowledge of running time, for example 231 was 2 minutes and 31 seconds and one based on ages and dates.
Retrieval for many chunks became difficult due to the limited capacity of short- term memory so he devised a strategy of hierarchically organising the chunks spatially. Both these specific mnemonists show us the malleability and flexibility of memory, even for someone with average recall like SF. They show us how appropriate strategies such as chunking using a spatial or location strategy can increase memory ability with practice and motivation for a specific skill.
However research has also been done into those whose abilities do not have any limits and are non-specific. I will be explaining some of these cases. TE studied by Wilding and Valentine (1972 was an intelligent, educated man, and his memory performance relied almost entirely on mnemonic techniques giving psychologists an insight into techniques used by mnemonists. One of his favourite aids was the figure alphabet, where each number is represented by a consonant sound. This enables numbers to be turned into words, which can then be visualised.
He used this to solve trigrams in the continuous paired associate task. Also when asked to recall 3 digit matrixes, he used a peg and hook mnemonic, where the numbers are associated with everyday objects that are easily visualised providing a peg or hook for that number allowing him to recall all three matrixes perfectly. Hunt and Love (1972) examined the abilities of VP. He was not exceptionally achieving in economic terms however came to investigators attention due to his expert ability to play chess.
He could play 7 games simultaneously blindfolded and even by post without knowing the prior moves. VP could recall the ‘War of the Ghosts’ story, producing the whole story more or less precisely after one hour and then again after 6 weeks. At 6 weeks his recall was about twice as good as the best performer among 10 ‘controls’. This shows how exceptional memory ability is linked with the level of skill, where expert knowledge gives a real advantage when addressed or deployed consistent with how it is normally used.
Vast research has been conducted on memory and skill of expert chess players and has found that expert chess players compared to average players after a five second game could recall 90% of the pieces whereas average players could only recall 40% of the pieces (Groot 1966). Even when recall was asked knowingly or unknowingly it had no affect of the accuracy of recall, Lane and Robertson (1979) claimed that as long as the experts decided on their move then recalled accuracy remained.
This is logical, as making a decision about a future move requires reconstruction and consideration of the pieces. Shereshevskii (‘S’) is one of the best-known memorists, and was tested and written about by the famous Russian psychologist Luria (1968) who saw his ability as innate. He is probably the best example of a ‘natural’ memorist. Luria considered that S’s memory was structured differently from normal and was based on non-cognitive, sensory processes, and Wilding & Valentine speculated that he had more brain tissue than normal devoted to processing visual material.
Imagery played a very big part in his exceptional memory, and he would use imagery and association to break material down into components to which mnemonic techniques were applied. Synaesthesia is the key to his ability. This is the crossover of perception from one sense to another, so that sounds caused experiences of light, colour, tastes and touch. He once remarked to the psychologist Vygotsky ‘what a crumbly yellow voice you have’. One of his favourite mnemonic techniques was the method of loci, placing objects to be remembered in places along walks through the city that he knew.
Some of the mistakes he made revealed his dependency on visual imagery. If disturbed when remembering he would ‘see’ a blur or puff of smoke on his visual record of the material and on his visual walks, things that were apparently forgotten had actually been placed where they were difficult to see. His strategy of imagery however made him unable to think of things in terms of general, abstract properties, and he would not see the obvious relationships between items. He would use his usual method of visualisation rather than the easy numerical structure to recall numbers in a matrix.
As you can see all the cases I have used have used mnemonics, such as peg and hook, loci and figure alphabet. However Hunter (1977) came across Professor Aitken, a maths professor and violinist who abhorred mnemonics and used a strategy of rhythm to recall. He recalled the ‘War of the Ghosts’ story almost perfectly after 27 years. He could recall the first 1000 decimal places of pi using rhythm. His digit span had limits, however; 10 for random letters, 13 for random digits, and 15 random digits presented visually.
His memory was restricted mainly to material that interested him and he disliked having to remember meaningless material. His performance can be explained to some extent by the Levels of Processing theory (Craig & Lockhart), which suggests that the depth to which information is processed determines how well it can be recalled. This therefore gives support to prior knowledge shown to be important in memory research for experts such as chess players explained earlier, where meaningful encoding is vital.
In conclusion from all the specific and non specific cases I have shown, who have shown natural or strategic abilities, Chase & Ericsson (1982) have proposed that there are three requirements for high memory performance regardless of the latter, these can be used for the average person to improve their memory. The first is the ability to meaningfully encode information so that material to be remembered is related to existing knowledge structures, in other words familiarity as shown by the study of experts increases recall.
The second is a good retrieval structure so that cues stored with the material to be remembered facilitate retrieval. Lastly is the ability to speed up by practicing meaningful encoding and retrieval structure, this is done by the use of mnemonics and practice. Therefore if these strategies are adopted in an effective way from those with exceptional abilities, this can have implications for those having educational difficulties or those with amnesia to improve their memory abilities. Show preview only