Mental images, concepts and schemas are proven techniques to help us organise our thinking which may help us to improve our memory. Below is a brief description of each technique, examples of the technique, how it can help improve our memory and details of research/experiments which supports the validity, usefulness and success of each technique.
Firstly, mental images. Creating a mental picture of something within our mind can sometimes make the information easier to recall. Also the effort taken to create the image in our mind can help us fix it to memory. This generally works best if the image we create is distinctive, e.g. large colourful and out of the ordinary as we are more likely to remember items like this then trying to recall everyday run of the mill things. A good example of how mental images work is the key word technique which has been proven to be especially useful in the learning of basic vocabulary in foreign languages. This works by thinking of an English word which sounds similar to the foreign word you are trying to remember. This translation provides you with the relevant key word. Following this, you would create a mental image of the English translation to help you recall the foreign word when it is needed. Michael Raugh and Richard Atkinson (1975) developed this key word technique and conducted an experiment using this. Two groups of people were asked to learn a list of sixty Spanish words, only half of them being taught to use the key word technique. The people using key words were found to have scored 88% when tested later and the people without the key words scored just 24%. This experiment proves the key word technique to be extremely beneficial in the learning of foreign languages
Secondly, concepts. Concepts are whereby we organise our thoughts into specific categories to help us remember things. This is called concept formation. Each object within a certain category would share similar defining features, although the item itself may look very different to another item in the same category. A good example of a concept would be flowers. Although they can have many colours, shapes and sizes, their defining features are that they all have stalks and petals. In an experiment by Weston Bousfield (1953), participants were asked to learn a list of words that could be divided into certain categories. Even though the list was in no specific order, most people remembered the items in groups which fell into the same categories. Therefore if they remembered one fruit, they were more likely to automatically remember one or more of the other fruits in the list.
Lastly, schemas. A schema is very similar to concept formation but is more in depth and extensive. A schema is a framework of knowledge, everything you associate with something as a result of your own personal experience.
For example, if you associated everything you remembered of going to school, this would produce your ???going to school??™ schema and could include teachers, classrooms, pupils, lessons. etc.
A good description of a schema is provided in Starting with Psychology by Spoors et al. (2007) where they state that it is as if your memory is a huge filing cabinet and each file in the cabinet is a schema. If you opened the schema ???going to the cinema??™, it would contain all your knowledge about trips to the cinema, e.g. buying a ticket, finding the correct screen, buying popcorn and drinks etc. Therefore if you went to a cinema you have never been to before, you would be able to activate your ???going to the cinema??™ schema and would automatically know what to do when you went in. This way, schemas help us deal with new situations by enabling us to use our knowledge of the past or similar experiences to help us deal with the new situation that has arisen automatically and appropriately.
Whilst a lot of the knowledge we hold within our own schemas may be very similar to the schemas of other people who have had the same experiences, if our recollection of the experience is very different, the schema will therefore be different. For example, if you have a real liking of the game golf, your schema would contain lots of information about how it??™s played, golf courses, golf players, different types of clubs, rules etc. Someone who really disliked the game of golf would have a very different schema which would contain less detailed information, just basic things and that they should not play or watch it if it all possible.
John Bransford and Marcia Johnson (1972) conducted an experiment where the participants were asked to read a passage of information and to try to remember it as clearly and accurately as possible. Half of the participants were given a title for the passage before they read it and the other half were not provided with this information. Most people who read the passage could not make any sense of what was being described but the people who were given the passage title could produce a schema for the information and could remember their own experiences and therefore remember the passage more accurately.
Mental images, concepts and schemas are proven techniques which may assist us in organising our thoughts therefore improving our memory. By using these techniques to organise our thinking, it may make our recall of items and experiences much easier. Schemas are especially helpful in our everyday life as they assist us to deal with new situations by using our knowledge of past experiences.