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Basic Concepts of Memory – Association, Clustering, Visualization and Imagination


If you want to efficiently remember something, it is necessary that it be regarded in connection, or in association with one or more other things that you already know.  The greater the number of other things with which it is associated with, the better chances you will be able to recall it.

Two popular techniques of association are acronyms and acrostics.

An acronym is an invented combination of first letters of the items to be remembered. For example: an acronym commonly used to remember the sequence of colors in the light spectrum is the name ROY G. BIV: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Sometimes, the acronym can be more familiar than the complete name itself, such as RAM (Random Access Memory) or SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus).

On the other hand, an acrostic is an invented sentence where the first letter of each word is a cue to the thing you want to remember. For example,  Every Good Boy Deserves Fun is an acrostic to remember the order of G-clef notes on sheet music – E, G, B, D, F. An acrostic for the nine planets of our solar system would be My Very Eager Mother Just Sent Us Nine Peaches (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).

Visualization and Imagination

Images are internal sensory representations that are also used in the creation of memory. They can bring words to mind, which can arouse other images or pictures. The formation of images appears to help in learning and remembering what has been learned or experienced in the past.

Images and words can help you in remembering things by bringing pictures in your head instead of just words or figures. Let’s say, in learning the process of cell mitosis or cell division, most of the books that contain concepts or scientific ideas have pictures to describe scenarios that are sometimes difficult to be seen by the human eye. Another example would be the structure of a bacteria or a virus. Graphic elements and visual tools, therefore, may become guiding principles in learning conceptual or precisely scientific ideas.

Another example would be in memorizing the lyrics of the songs or in remembering stories that you might have read before. In these two examples, the memorization process becomes easier if you imagine the images conjured by the lyrics of the song or if you create vivid images in your mind as you read or recall a narrative or tale. Picture the actual scenario described by the sentences or paragraphs.

To further intensify your imagination, you have to actually feel what the character is feeling. If you’re reading a story about a knight in shining armor fighting a dragon, then feel your strength, the power of your sword, the heat of the fire from the dragon’s mouth, and even the kiss of the princess after saving her from the monster. J

Images and the formation of which, in the process of learning or remembering, can therefore help you in improving your memory. Here are some of the valuable methods which you can use in achieving an imaginative memory:

  1. Learn to think with both words and figures. For example, in reading a book, it would be helpful to stop for a while and reconstruct the suggested scenario inside your head. This way, you are also increasing the chances of not only recording linguistic data but also some of the essential cognitive aspect of remembering, like the reconstruction of perceived or imagined senses in your brain. The smell and taste of ice cream, the redness of a strawberry, or the thickness or thinness of blood described in a crime novel that not only gives chill or excitement in reading but also makes your reading experience more memorable.
  2. In learning new ideas, associate these concepts with a very particular image or picture that is very personal or relevant to you. Put some premium on what you already know or on what is easily conjured by your brain in experiencing these words (like in learning a new language or subject). Put some personal relationship with these words like knowing the origin of their meanings (etymology) or by giving them a concrete symbol in your head.
  3. If you’re reading a very technical manual or theory pamphlet, what you can do is imagine yourself doing the scenario suggested by the book. This is also what we call as vivid reading. Words and sentences become alive not with their meaningful connections but with their correlative value with reality. In fact, writing prose or poetry involves a highly developed skill in imagery and mental mapping. Poets and creative writers are said to be good not only in remembering details or facts, but also in the creation of worlds or situations found within the mind.


Grouping of details and data in recalling names or numbers is very essential in the process of retention. The associative power suggested by groups or grouped items help us further organize or give direction in memorization. Pairing words, for example, either synonymously or with their opposing meanings, like “fair” and “square” or “man” and “woman” helps us remember data more easily because they are not only singularly meaningful but at the same time relative to other words or data that we already know from the past.

Clustering numbers (memorizing telephone numbers by threes or by fours) or in whatever relevant grouping, is one tendency that leads to easy access from these numbers or even word groupings. Clustering is one way we can further improve our memory. Examples of these include:

  1. Grouping by numbers, colors, or under the same category.
  2. Grouping words and concepts by their opposing meanings or through antonyms: (bitter vs. sweet, love vs. hate)
  3. Grouping words into pictures or through subjective organization.

Subjective organization depends on the way we recall or organize our materials by our own categories or devices. For example, learning a list of new words or vocabularies can be developed through subjective interpretations of these words or groupings. The better we organize or become aware of how we build a system of information, the better it would be in performing cognitive or mental tasks such as memorization or application of our memory.

One example of this is cooking. We may follow a recipe or procedure dictated by the recipe. But the way we cook food or give meaning to the process of cooking is different from one another. Thus, the procedure is also similar in getting information and knowledge. It would be better if you:

  1. Think of the process of how you solve your problems or in getting the necessary information.
  2. Know your capacity in the process of learning or memorization. Are you the type of person who easily gets the information by clustering them into meaningful categories, or are you the type of person who learns better if you follow a direction or picture inside your head?
  3. Analyze the situation, the details, or experiences. Try to remember the relevant facts and remove unnecessary data or information.

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    About Leon Edward

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