How To Remember Anything, According To Research
The best way to pick a password or hiding spot you’ll remember is to choose one quickly because you want something that will return to mind quickly:
The key to picking a good hiding place is hiding place is making a quick connection between the thing being hidden and the place in which it is hidden, says Alan Brown. Brown is a professor at Southern Methodist University who has studied where and how people hide things. Not long ago he surveyed adults between the ages of eighteen and eighty-five, asking them all sorts of questions about where they hide things. Their answers have provided some illuminating differences. Older adults, for instance, typically hide jewelry from thieves, whereas younger adults tend to hide money from friends and relatives. And while the places they choose may vary, the successful strategies didn’t. One key to picking a good hiding place— or a good password: do it quickly. “I think the only successful way to do it—and this is true with both hiding places and passwords—you have to do it quickly,” said Brown.
Faces can be made more memorable by ignoring physical characteristics and focusing on personality traits. Does this person look trustworthy or likable? This makes your brain process the face more deeply, promoting learning.
They found that when faces are judged not by their surface details but for deeper emotional traits—like honesty or likability—the faces are subsequently better recognized than faces judged for physical features like hair or eyes. Why should traits be more memorable than features? Traits appear to require the brain to engage in a greater depth of processing; it takes more work to figure out whether someone has an honest face than it does to determine, say whether he’s got curly hair. And that greater effort seems to make the face stick in the memory. So strong is the effect that one of the leading researchers on face recognition once offered this advice: “If you want to remember a person’s face, try to make a number of difficult personal judgments his face when you are first meeting him.”
Is there a technique that works across the board for improving memory? You can improve recall of most anything by matching the context of where you learned it.
When something is out of context, it is not only harder to recognize, it is harder to remember. But reinstate the context, and memory improves. This was demonstrated years ago in a deceptively simple experiment with preschoolers who were taken for a walk in the park. The day after the walk, the children were asked to recall what they could of their visit to the park. The results showed that when the children were asked to make the recollections while they were sitting in a quiet room, their recall was relatively poor. But when the children were taken back to the park, they recalled significantly more activities.
This effect has been repeated numerous times with adults (and, yes, things learned underwater are best remembered while submerged.)
Now it’s not practical to assume you’ll only have to recall things where you learned them. What’s great is that emotional context is just as effective a trigger.
Events learned in one emotional state are best remembered when we are back in that state. Happy times, for instance, are best remembered when we’re happy.
Merely matching your facial expression to the one you had when you were introduced to the information can boost your ability to recall it.
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