Mnemonics are aids to a person in remembering data. This was proven in Bower (1973)’s experiment in which two different groups of students were given five lists of twenty words. Of these participants, those who used mnemonics remembered 72% of the items while the non-mnemonic group only averaged 28% recall. This however, was not the first research into memory. Ebbinghaus used nonsense syllables to test recall and tested himself many times. He found that memory declines quickly at the outset but then levels off soon after. This experiment has been duplicated many times with the same results.
Ebbinghaus’ recall method was relearning; although there are others such as serial recall, free recall, paired associates and recognition tasks. Memory processing can be split into three procedures: registration, encoding and storage – followed by retrieval. Encoding is how the information is changed into a storable form to be kept in memory. Storage is the actual keeping and retaining of the information in memory. Retrieval is how the information is taken from storage and brought to light (i.e. remembering). Forgetting may also occur at any of these stages causing the person to be unable to recall the information stored. However, not all information encoded is actually stored and not all stored information can be retrieved.
Memory is commonly split into three forms – Sensory, Short term (STM) and Long Term (LTM). From research into STM we find that it has a capacity of 7 +/- 2 items (Miller 1956). Also if unrelated information is chunked (i.e. linked together) recall is improved. Sensory memory has a duration of about 1 / 2 seconds in order for a person to decide whether further processing is necessary. This form of memory is modality-specific and although research in this area is rare, the current research focuses on the visual and auditory stores (iconic and echoic stores).
LTM is seemingly limitless in capacity and duration. Memory stored is usually via semantic encoding (e.g. verbal material) but visual and auditory encoding is also used. Returning to recall aids (Mnemonics), imagery is a mnemonic device to help increase recall of seemingly unrelated items. For instance verbal material is easily remembered if associated with a visual image. Bower’s experiment mentioned above, asked participants to pair words with visual images in order to increase recall. For example if someone paired the items with things in his house, he would take a walk around his house and mention the items as he ‘passed’ them.
This method, first used in Ancient Greece, is also known as the ‘Loci’ method of recall. By building a picture in your mind of familiar objects, one can use this familiarity to aid you in recalling unfamiliar items of information. Also, Paivio in 1971 found the same results and concluded that the reason for the improved recall when associated with visual images is that the information is encoded in two separate ways, both verbally and visual which gives the person double the chance of recalling the information later.
In addition to this research it was found (Bower 1972) that if the items were in chunks or clusters recall was further improved. Luria (1968) studied a Russian reporter Sherehevski who was able to recall strings of words up to fifty words in length after hearing them just once. He associated each item with a visual image on a street in Moscow. When recalling the list he would take a mental ‘walk’ down this street and would recall each item as he passed it. Luria claimed that Sherhevskii could remember all fifty words in the string even 15 years afterwards.
Aims My aim in this research is to further study the effects of mnemonic devices on recall. I will be using the Loci method mentioned above in my investigation on the experimental group and there will be a control group who will not be using any recall aids. The experiment will be similar in method to Luria’s work but will incorporate more participants to gain more accurate and standardized results on a wider scale. I will be using an experimental method to avoid confounding variables disrupting the results. The experiment will take place in a field setting to reduce any bias that would be found in a lab experiment and Independent groups will be used to avoid order or practice effects.