Our discussion up to this point has centred around the phase of memory called impression. We have described some of the conditions favorable to impression and have seen that certain and accurate memory depends upon adherence to them. The next phase of memory—Retention—cannot be described in psychological terms. We know we retain facts after they are once impressed, but as to their status in the mind we can say nothing. If you were asked when the Declaration of Independence was signed, you would reply instantly. When asked, however, where that fact was five minutes ago, you could not answer.
Somewhere in the recesses of the mind, perhaps, but as to immediate awareness of it, there was none. We may try to think of retention in terms of nerve cells and say that at the time when the material was first impressed there was some modification made in certain nerve cells which persisted. This trait of nerve modifiability is one factor which accounts for greater retentive power in some persons than in others. It must not be concluded, however, that all good memory is due to the inheritance of this trait. It is due partly to observance of proper conditions of impression, and much can be done to overcome or offset innate difficulty of modification by such observance.
We are now ready to examine the third phase of memory—Recall. This is the stage at which material that has been impressed and retained is recalled to serve the purpose for which it was memorized. Recall is thus the goal of memory, and all the devices so far discussed have it for their object. Can we facilitate recall by any other means than by faithful and intelligent impressions? For answer let us examine the state of mind at time of recall.
We find that it is a unique mental state. It differs from impression in being a period of more active search for facts in the mind accompanied by expression, instead of a concentration upon the external impression. It is also usually accompanied by motor expressions, either talking or writing. Since recall is a unique mental state, you ought to prepare for it by means of a rehearsal. When you are memorizing anything to be recalled, make part of your memorizing a rehearsal of it, if possible, under same conditions as final recall. In memorizing from a book, first make impression, then close the book and practise recall.
When memorizing a selection to be given in a public speaking class, intersperse the periods of impression with periods of recall. This is especially necessary in preparation for public speaking, for facing an audience gives rise to a vastly different psychic attitude from that of impression. The sight of an audience may be embarrassing or exciting. Furthermore, unforeseen distractions may arise.
Accordingly, create those conditions as nearly as possible in your preparation.
Imagine yourself facing the audience. Practise aloud so that you will become accustomed to the sound of your own voice. The importance of the practice of recall as a part of the memory process can hardly be overestimated. One psychologist has advised that in memorizing significant material more than half the time should be spent in practising recall.
There still remains a fourth phase of memory—Recognition. Whenever a remembered fact is recalled, it is accompanied by a characteristic feeling which we call the feeling of recognition. It has been described as a feeling of familiarity, a glow of warmth, a sense of ownership, a feeling of intimacy. As you walk down the street of a great city you pass hundreds of faces, all of them strange. Suddenly in the crowd you catch sight of some one you know and are instantly suffused with a glow of feeling that is markedly different from your feeling toward the others. That glow represents the feeling of recognition. It is always present during recall and may be used in great advantage in studying. It derives its virtue for our purpose from the fact that it is a feeling, and at the time of feeling the bodily activities in general are affected. Changes occur in heart beat, breathing; various glandular secretions are affected, the digestive organs respond. In this general quickening of bodily activity we have reason to believe that the nervous system partakes, and things become impressed more readily.
Thus the feeling of recognition that accompanies recall is responsible for one of the benefits of reviews. At such a time material once memorized becomes tinged with a feelingful color different from that which accompanied it when new.
Review, then, not merely to produce additional impressions, but also to take advantage of the feeling of recognition.
We have now discussed memory in its four phases and have seen clearly that it operates not in a blind, chaotic manner, but according to law. Certain conditions are required and when they are met memory is good. After providing proper conditions for memory, then, trust your memory. An attitude of confidence is very necessary. If, when you are memorizing, you continually tremble for fear that you will not recall at the desired moment, the fixedness of the impression will be greatly hindered. Therefore, after utilizing all your knowledge about the conditions of memorizing, rest content and trust to the laws of Nature. They will not fail you.
By this time you have seen that memory is not a mysterious mental faculty with which some people are generously endowed, and of which others are deprived.
All people of normal intelligence can remember and can improve their ability if they desire. The improvement does not take the form that some people expect, however. No magic wand can transform you into a good memorizes You must work the transformation yourself. Furthermore, it is not an instantaneous process to be accomplished overnight. It will come about only after you have built up a set of habits, according to our conception of study as a process of habit formation.
A final word of caution should be added. Some people think of memory as a separate division or compartment of the mind which can be controlled and improved by exercising it alone. Such a conception is fallacious. Improvement in memory will involve improvement in other mental abilities, and you will find that as you improve your ability to remember, you will develop at the same time better powers to concentrate attention, to image, to associate facts and to reason.
READING AND EXERCISE Reading: See readings for Chapter VI.
Exercise I. Compare the mental conditions of impression with those of recall.
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