Using what we now know to understand how you can improve your memory by using mnemonic devices (systematic memory aides).

Most mnemonic systems work by solving the 2 major problems with LTM:

1. They usually solve the encoding problem by using imagery, a way of doing Type 2 rehearsal. (They elaborate on material by adding pictures to it.)


2. They solve the retrieval problem by building in retrieval cues. Because the cues are built in, you don't have cue-related forgetting. Because you know where to look (you look where the cue is), you aren't bumping into the wrong information, so, at first, you may not have interference problems (Interference, however, can still become a problem. To understand how, click on the following link:  Why aren't mnemonics used more often? ).

Two examples of mnemonic devices:

Example 1: The method of loci (the method of places) in which you (1) encode each piece of information by creating a mental picture that links the information to a place along a familiar path and then (2) retrieve the information by taking a mental walk along that path.

Example 2: The peg-word mnemonic: A method is which you

  1. form mental images of and then memorize a list of "peg words" -- a list of words that are easy to visualize and that you can put in order (e.g., a common system ties each peg word to a number: "bun" for one, "shoe" for two, etc.), then
  2. encode information by forming, for each new item, a picture that includes both the new item and the relevant peg word (e.g., for your first new item, you would form an image of the new item interacting with your first peg word),  and then
  3. retrieve the information by going through your list of peg words (cues)  in order.
Look at the table below to see an example of how you might go through the 3 steps to use a peg-word mnemonic.

Step 1 (Set up your cues) Step 2 (Encoding--link the new information to your cues) Step 3(Retrieval--Go to your cues)
Get an ordered list of peg words. Normally, your first word should be associated with "1", your second word with "2" etc. (examples of number-based peg lists) If, however, you hate numbers, you could choose a list of peg words in which the first word is associated with "A", the second with "B", etc. (examples of  some alphabetical lists of pegwords).

Then, visualize your peg words and memorize them in either numerical or alphabetical order.


Link new material to peg words using imagery.

Picture the first new item interacting with first peg word,  the second new item with second peg word, etc. You may need to use some creativity to (1) make an image representing each new item and (2) getting each new image to interact with its corresponding peg word (ideally, in a vivid and bizarre way).

Go through the pegs (your cues) in order. Start by picturing the peg word associated with "1." Your first item should pop into your head. Keep going until you have gone through all your peg words.
Example "1" as "bun"
Example: Connect bun to your image of sensory memory (in this case, the image of "sensory register" is a cash register that senses with its ear). The interaction (not pictured) is that the bun opens up and swallows the sensory register.
  Example: Visualize the peg word for "1" (bun) and you should see bun trying to eat or bite the sensory register. 

**Note that you only need to do Step 1 once. After you have set up all the pegs, you don't have to do that ever again. So, once your system is set up, you will be able to remember items in order by just doing Steps 2 and 3.

If mnemonic systems are so powerful, why aren't mnemonics used more often?

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