What you need to know about simulators for memory

Which of us would not like to learn faster and remember new information on the fly? Researchers associate strong cognitive abilities with many factors. They determine not only the ability to memorize, but also a quality life – here a successful career, active socialization and the ability to simply spend free time are interesting.

Not everyone is lucky to be born with photographic memory, but this is not a reason to despair. You can do something in this situation. Someone memorizes “Eugene Onegin”, others are buying manuals and collections with special exercises. Still others are increasingly paying attention to applications that promise phenomenal results to their users if they are ready to devote 10-15 minutes to exercise daily. We will tell you what these simulators are based on and what to expect from them.

A photo: Warren wong / Unsplash.com

How do we remember

Serious academic research on this issue began in the second half of the 19th century. The honor of one of the key discoveries in this area belongs to the German professor Hermann Ebbingauz. It is his findings that are still used in memory improvement systems.

Ebbinghaus investigated the underlying processes of memory that exist regardless of context. This distinguishes his work from the research of the same Freud. The father of psychoanalysis studied why we forget things that are unpleasant to us or form not always correct, but often “convenient” memories. Ebbinghaus – engaged in mechanical memory. It works on the basis of repetition of material.

Therefore, in his experiments, the scientist memorized the sequence of syllables of three letters (one vowel between two consonants – “ZEC”, “MUSH”, “TYT”). A prerequisite was that these combinations did not form meaningful words and did not resemble them. For this reason, for example, he would have rejected “BEECH”, “MYSH” or “TYAN”. At the same time of the day, Ebbinghaus read out the chains of such syllables aloud at the expense of the metronome. He further noted how many repetitions are required to accurately reproduce a sequence.

The result of these works was the “curve of forgetting.” It reflects the slipping of information from memory over time. This is not a figure of speech, but a real dependence that the formula describes.

, where b is the fraction of the material remaining in the memory (in%), and t is the elapsed time (in minutes).

It is worth emphasizing that the results of this work were later confirmed. In 2015, scientists reproduced Ebbinghaus experiment and achieved approximately the same indicators.

The discovery of Ebbinghaus made it possible to draw several conclusions about mechanical memory. First, the scientist discovered that the brain is trying to find something familiar even in deliberately meaningless material. Secondly, the information erases from memory unevenly – in the first hour more than half of the material “leaves”, in ten hours a person can remember only a third, and that which is not forgotten in a week, most likely he will be able to remember in a month.

Finally, the most important conclusion is that you can work on memorization, periodically returning to what you have learned before. This method is called interval repetition. It was first formulated in 1932 by the British psychologist Cecil Alec Mays in one of his books.

Repeat wisely

Although researchers proved the effectiveness of the technique with repetition as early as the 1930s, it gained wide popularity only 40 years later, when the German scientist Sebastian Leitner applied it to teach foreign languages. His book “How to Learn to Learn” (So lernt man lernen, 1972) has become one of the popular practical guides on the psychology of learning.

The main condition proposed by Leitner is that each subsequent interval before the next repetition of the material is greater than the previous one. The size of the pauses and the dynamics of their increase can be different. The “20 minutes – eight hours – 24 hours” intervals provide effective short-term memorization. If you need to remember something on an ongoing basis, you need to return to such information regularly: after 5 seconds, then after 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years.

A photo: Bru-nO / Pixabay.com

In the 70s, Leitner proposed the use of cards on which the meanings of foreign words were recorded. As the material was memorized, cards were moved from the group with the most frequent repetitions to rarer ones. With the advent of computers and specialized software, the essence of the process has not changed.

In 1985, Polish researcher Piotr Woźniak launched the SuperMemo program. She has become one of the foremost memorization programs. The solution exists to this day, and its algorithms have been used in many alternative applications.

Wozniak’s software allows you to work with virtually any information, since there is the possibility of adding data. Further, the program will track the “forget curve” for individual cards and form a queue from them according to the principle of interval repetitions.

In subsequent years, all sorts of analogues of SuperMemo and copyright versions of systems for the development of memorization skills were released. Many of these programs have proven effective in practice – we talked about this in an earlier habrapost. But, alas, criticism followed.

A spoon of tar

No matter how useful Leitner cards are for learning foreign languages, memorizing mathematical formulas or historical dates, scientists do not find evidence that training memory on any particular topic improves the overall ability to memorize.

You also need to understand that to combat deterioration in cognitive abilities, whether due to trauma, any disease or age-related changes, such programs also do not help.

A photo: Bru-nO / Pixabay.com

In recent years, this topic has often confronted experts. And how can I read in the open a letter, which was signed by dozens of eminent scientists in 2014, most of these systems, including various intellectual games, are effective only within those tasks that they themselves solve, but cannot contribute to an overall improvement in the “quality” of your memory. On the other hand, in response to these allegations, another open letter.

But be that as it may, as a result of subsequent proceedings, at least one developer of “brain simulators” was forced to adjust the wording.

In 2016, the US Federal Trade Commission obliged Luminosity to pay $ 2 million for incorrect advertising. The regulator concluded that the company played on the public’s fear of age-related changes and instilled false hopes in users. Now the project is promoting its services as tools for “unlocking the potential of the human brain.”

Further research on the topic is increasingly inclined to the fact that there is still some effect from daily exercises, but most likely solving puzzles on a smartphone will not increase your perseverance, no matter how convincing some mobile simulators are.

And memorizing foreign words with the help of such software will help to somehow speak in a new language at best in a year or two. Therefore, anyone who wants to improve their memory should pay extra attention not only to the “tools” for memorizing, but also focus on the area of ​​competence you need and not lose sight of the factors that affect your attention, ability to concentrate and readiness of the body for educational loads .

Additional reading:

  • Likbez from memory: what it happens, and what it gives us
  • Who are eidetics, how false memories work, and three myths about memory
  • A selection of books on how to learn, think and make effective decisions

And further:

  • The birth of educational software and its history
  • The first PCs, educational games and software for students
  • Personal computers and virtual teachers
  • Learning Management Systems and the rise of online education

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