Words, numbers, sounds, pictures (memory)

So how does your memory work?

I was watching the new TV show about memory the other day, only seen first episode so far, and participants were encouraged to use visualisations to remember pairs (or more) of otherwise random things...this is a standard memory technique, but has limited value if your memory is not visual.

Mine isn't. Which could be why I have difficulty identifying characters in a drama if they have similar hairstyles, or change their clothes etc.

But voices work much better for me....I will often recognise an actor from their voice alone. But I get thrown if they use a different accent to when I have seen them before.

So I believe my memory is mostly 'sound based'.....I could learn a list of words by repeating them out loud and remembering the sound. Even better for me (as a musician) is to make up a tune of the info to be learnt.....I find songs the easiest of all to remember.

Numbers are my biggest difficulty. I find it almost impossible to remember numbers for even a few minutes, unless I continually repeat them under my breath. So if I measure a window then go to the shop to buy fabric for curtains, there is no way I will remember the measurement unless I write it down.

Interestingly a few numbers that I HAVE learnt (like my childhood phone number) are with me forever. It seems I either have 'permanent' memory or no memory at all for numbers, nothing short term.

My current phone number I can 'remember' but only by remembering the sounds as I say it. I wouldn't easily recognise it if someone read it out with a different rhythm.

Comments

  • I also find that I have a poor visual memory, but a much better one for words and narrative. So I find verbal mnemonics helpful, but not techniques like the "rooms" one where you are supposed to visualise objects in different locations in your room or house.

    For some reason I have more-or-less been able to memorise the periodic table so I am trying to leverage this to remember numbers. So to remember a number like 38274632 I would break it into 38-27-46-32, which is Strontium-Cobalt-Palladium-Germanium or SrCoPdGe which might be "Strange Rabbits Congregate On Porton Down Getting Excited" or somesuch...
  • I'm very auditory. To the point I can recall voices of people I've not spoken to in many decades. Re numbers, if I say them, it can be like a song or poetry. Pi to 100 digits is a high school project but this isn't that interesting a number for me. It's got some musical sequences but there's a lot of filler- sort of like a boring drum solo.

    TT, without knowing your number being periodic table elements, I would have gone with 382 as a group of 3 digits because this is a pleasant sequence, with 746 as a counterpoint, while overstating itself with the 7 first, is common in many songs. The 4 and the 6 equalize out the overstatement. The 32 is a good dénouement.

    I've been accused/labelled with autistic thinking with this, but it's quite specific to numbers, music and voice quality. I do viscerally feel some sounds and voices, but can choose not to.
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited July 24
    I also have a very auditory memory and remember people’s voices and conversations from years ago. When I hear certain hymns they remind me of places and sometimes people; sometimes I hear the hymn as if they are singing it. I learn the lyrics of songs very quickly and love spoken poetry and reading out loud. If I am writing an essay or piece of work I plan it as a conversation in my head (I’m usually manic, life is a constant discourse in my head!) but I struggle to write it. When I mark a student’s essay I hear it in a voice (as I never meet my students, and sometimes haven’t even spoken on the phone to them, these are imagined from their names).
    I’m not a visual learner and can’t plan projects using things like Gantt charts, they just make no sense to me at all.
    I hate using phones and don’t know mine or my husband’s mobile number. But I still remember my grandmother’s number from my childhood as we did not have a phone at home and that was the number for emergencies that I had to learn in Brownies.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Mr F has a stunning memory for music and can identify any piece of serious music from the last couple of centuries, usually from a few bars. I otoh am the old person of Tring who can't tell God Save the Weasel from Pop Goes the King.

    But fragments of prose or poetry, plots, characters and incidents from a fair amount of eng lit - my mind is like an overstuffed bookcase. Badly organised but all there.

    I have good spatial awareness so can visualise how to make things, remember paintings, recognise periods and styles, and a fair few artists.

    People and faces I'm not all that great on and have often had the cordial conversations with people who know me but I haven't a notion who they are.

    Numbers - some, not others. I've had, before now, the request a new code for a debit card because I COULD NOT memorise the one originally supplied. Memorable numbers have to form a pattern or an image.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Sounds, definitely. I figure that's why when I type rapidly I often end up typing homophones for the words I want. My brain is serving up the sounds of the words first, then scrambling to find letters to match the sound.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    I have a very visual memory - like a video playing. I think more in pictures than words too.

    But I also find my memory is helped by speaking what I see - so not all visual.

    🙂
  • I have Aphantasia, so zero mind pictures. I do well with auditory memory, often still able to hear school lectures in my mind years later. I also have a long memory for poetry that I have memorized. When meeting a new person I think of a word connection to remember their name and say it out loud to myself a number of times. I do not do well with numbers, in fact, I carry my own land line home phone number around with me on a piece of paper.
  • When I hear a language other than my own I struggle to make out anything but noise. But if I have it printed in front of me while I listen, it's perfectly clear. That's how I learned French and made it my best subject in grammar school. I was so good at it that when we lived in Montreal and I did the usual written tests I got close to 100% all the time. But I can barely make out a word of the spoken language on the street and struggle to speak it at all. (I have to admit that Finnish defeated me completely when I worked in Finland).

    Auditory memory is a strange thing. I am likely to forget an entire sermon as soon as I have heard it, but if someone reminds me of one of the points later, I can usually reassemble it in my mind.

    Memory is altogether a complex subject, and I wonder if anything is completely lost - it just needs a key to release it. I once had a bad reaction to a general anaesthetic and a pain killer, and unleashed some very old visual memories in the form of hallucinations. After things had settled down and I could think about it objectively, I knew they were real, as they connected with other events that I could verify. So it may all be there, somewhere, which may not always be a good thing.
  • That's my theory as regards Alzheimer's--that it's all still there, but something is blocking the proper expression of it.
  • I have been somewhere in Europe (I can't remember where!) which marked each level of their multi-storey carparks with a number and a simple picture - orange carrot / blue rabbit / green frog / red flower. People can choose which way to remember where their car is parked - Level 3, or Green level, or rabbit level.

    I thought this was brilliant. I would find it much easier to remember "frog" than "four." In fact I find remembering locationms in a car park so difficult that I now photograph my car whenever I leave it, as an aide-memoir.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    When I hear a language other than my own I struggle to make out anything but noise. But if I have it printed in front of me while I listen, it's perfectly clear. That's how I learned French and made it my best subject in grammar school. I was so good at it that when we lived in Montreal and I did the usual written tests I got close to 100% all the time. But I can barely make out a word of the spoken language on the street and struggle to speak it at all.

    I always find it odd when people say they understand a spoken language but can't speak it.

    I can read and write Welsh quite well, speak it haltingly, but struggle to make out the most basic things people say. I've never mastered thinking in any language other than English; 'aller' or 'mynd', they only mean "to go" to me once my mind has translated them into English. People speak too fast for me to do that.

  • A Glaswegian response to a similar comment was, "It's no' me talkin' too fast - it's you listenin' too slow!" I think he may have been right.
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    edited July 24
    I hve the problem of being able to hear and understand faster than I can compose an answer. And that's the problem right there, for me; I can recognize at near-lightning speed (particularly after I get past the stage of translating word-by-word into English in my head), but I cannot find the various parts of an original sentence in anything like similar timing. It's like standing in front of a wall of Lego bins, looking for six or seven properly interlocking bits. Though if it's a set phrase like "You're welcome," I can do that.
  • My memory is switching from visual to sonic more and more as I get older. I have the "typing homophones" problem now, where this was vanishingly unlikely when I was twenty. And while I can visualize some things (places, mainly), I cannot visualize people from the neck up. My prosopagnosia means I get a grey blur where the face should be. It's always been so.

    When it comes to memory work, I find making it kinetic helps me. Act it out, dance it, add some physical movement to go along with the recitation.
  • I have been somewhere in Europe (I can't remember where!) which marked each level of their multi-storey carparks with a number and a simple picture - orange carrot / blue rabbit / green frog / red flower. People can choose which way to remember where their car is parked - Level 3, or Green level, or rabbit level.

    I love this idea! I would find the object the easiest to recall followed by the colour then the number. The number has more intrinsic meaning though....so when I knew I was parked towards the lower end I could take a guess at the floor number in a way that wouldn't be possible with the other identifiers.
  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    I haven't watched the programme - I read a book on the Art of Memory a while ago, and tried a few things, but they didn't work. People's names tied to an image of an animal - not a hope. Except Mr Brock, whom I remember because the IT department used "badger" as a password. Tried using the room method - my entrance hall. One thing has the barometer - but it isn't connected by an image. I've just remembered it.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    I'm in the visual camp, and my number line is extremely visual. 1-40 forms an odd sort of circle, with groups of ten either rising and falling, and each group of ten being bound to a street where I grew up (10-19 is the high street, 20-29 is the abortive dual carriageway past Sainsbury's, 30-39 is the residential street at right-angles to this). From 40 to 100 the number-line rises with each ten and forms a plateau to the next ten and is less pictorial.

    None of that, however, actually helps me remember numbers. I used to have to check a bunch of reports that all had four-digit reference numbers. After a year I could remember about three of them.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    That's my theory as regards Alzheimer's--that it's all still there, but something is blocking the proper expression of it.

    AIUI this actually reflects current medical opinion - the hard drive is still intact, it's the wiring to the processing unit that's worked loose.
  • Nice to know!
  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    That's what my friend has since the weird flu* the other year. He knows it's there, he can "see" it, but it doesn't get through easily. When he does get it, thank goodness, it stays got. Mostly, you wouldn't know. Vocabulary only.
    * He wouldn't see a doctor. The one who visited his mother suspected small stroke from the aphasia. I didn't on account of the green slime that got coughed into the bath.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    I don’t do pictures, but I prefer them to numbers, so I might remember the green frog rather than Level 3 of a car park, except that level 3 is logical, whereas there is no reason for a Green frog. I don’t remember faces but all frogs look the same to me. But I avoid multi-storey car parks anyway.

    After about 6 years I have finally learnt my mobile phone number, to the astonishment of MrPuzzler when we were on holiday and needing to sign in at various places for Test and Trace, not having the ap.

    As for music, I can recognise a piece I know from about two notes, but these days, I struggle to put a name to it, which really bothers me.
  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    I have never had a good memory for names. My visual memory is pretty good, so there are a LOT of people that I know (whose images I recall) whose names are a constant mystery to me. Such as my across-the-street neighbors: one is Joseph and the other Phillip, but I can never remember which is which.

    I seem to have a good memory for concepts. For example, dealing with legal precedents, I can remember the legal principle articulated in extreme detail...but I can't recall the name of the case.

    In some ways, it is the same with parking lots. If I am in a strange lot, I look around (visual memory) but I am also memorizing the spatial location so that, when I am way from the car, part of my mind is always remembering where the car is in relation to me. As I move around, I have a concept of where the car is from that point.
  • Tree BeeTree Bee Shipmate
    I can’t remember numbers either. Give me your address and I’ll remember it all apart from your door number and the numbers in your post code.
    But, I do know my old home phone number, mainly because it was just 3 digits to which 3 more were added later, then a local prefix so I gradually learned it.
    Also I sort of know my library card number as I use it regularly. I can type it into the website but ask me to recite it and I can’t.
  • I visualise words. I visualise names spelt out, so it makes a difference to me if someone is a Catherine or a Kathryn or any other variation. To me they are different names. Last month I was listening to an audiobook of Anne of Green Gables. Early on she introduces herself to the people who will adopt her and they have the following dialogue:
    But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E."

    "What difference does it make how it's spelled?" asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

    "Oh, it makes such a difference. It looks so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.
    I thought, "Yes! Someone else has that!"
  • I have been somewhere in Europe (I can't remember where!) which marked each level of their multi-storey carparks with a number and a simple picture - orange carrot / blue rabbit / green frog / red flower. People can choose which way to remember where their car is parked - Level 3, or Green level, or rabbit level.

    Interesting. Is it made clear anywhere that "rabbit", "green" and "3" are equivalent? 'Cause if you told me that my car was parked at three green rabbits, I'd assume that green rabbit was a section of level 3. Number refers to the level, animal denotes a block in the north-south direction, and colour denotes a block in the east-west direction - that kind of thing.

    So I'd expect to find 3 Green Rabbit next to 3 Green Frog, 3 Blue Rabbit, and so on.
  • Yes, it's very clear that the number, colour and motif are equivalent. Each multi storey in the city or possibly wider area uses the same colour and object, so it's a uniform designation.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host, 8th Day Host
    I have a pretty good memory for names and numbers -- I can remember a lot of birthdays of people I knew years ago; I still have a lot of phone numbers in my actual memory even though my phone's memory stores so many of them now; I know my license plate number, credit card, and SIN number without having to look them up. And I think I get names wrong, or forget them, less often than most people do.

    I have a poor memory for visual things generally -- I never know what someone was wearing, or how someone had their living room arranged the last time I visited, or what piece of art was on the wall. Faces are worst -- I am slightly face-blind so I have difficulty recognizing people even if I've met them a few times, as all people in general broad categories (middle-aged white woman with blond hair; young Black man with glasses; burly man with shaven head, etc...) look very similar to me.

    My cousin and I, when we lived together and hung out a lot, used to be a great double act in remembering people (as long as we had time to consult with each other) because she was the more typical "good with faces, bad with names," so if we saw someone and neither of us could place who it was, she could say "It's that woman who's friends with Helen and came to our writers' group three times two years ago," at which I could say "Oh! Jane Bloggs!" but neither of us would have been able to put that all together without the other.

    Now that I have lived in the same small city for most of 56 years, everyone looks vaguely familiar all the time, but I almost never know where I know them from.

    My auditory memory is better than visual (more likely to recall what someone said than what they were wearing, for example), but when I remember, say, a telephone number or a name, I do see it written out in my head AND hear it as well, so the visual memory works for alphanumeric things.

    My memory is also terrible for actual practical "what I'm supposed to do" things. For me, the "walk into a room and wonder why I'm here" phenomenon is not just one of age but something I've been doing my whole life. My most classic example of how my brain works was once in college I got a bike late in the autumn, only used it a few times before winter, locked it with a combination lock and didn't take it out again until a nice day in April. I went to the bike rack, dialed up the four-digit combo without even thinking about it -- the four digits had just stayed in place in my brain all over the winter. Then rode across campus to the men's dorm to visit a friend, hung out for awhile, walked back to my own dorm, and only the next morning wondered, "Whatever happened to my bike?"
  • Penny S wrote: »
    That's what my friend has since the weird flu* the other year. He knows it's there, he can "see" it, but it doesn't get through easily. When he does get it, thank goodness, it stays got. Mostly, you wouldn't know. Vocabulary only.
    * He wouldn't see a doctor. The one who visited his mother suspected small stroke from the aphasia. I didn't on account of the green slime that got coughed into the bath.

    Hmm, what weird 'flu is that? At the beginning of May I had a high temperature and then couldn't form sentences for a day or two. I was hospitalised but brain scans were normal. It was about a week after my first Covid shot so it seemed possibly connected with that. But are you saying that there is a "weird flu" going round with aphasia as a symptom?
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Weird flu causing aphasia would be more like meningitis...
  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    Nope, it was a year before covid, a very cold day, and he came down from London, and then crouched over the bath coughing up Exorcist green slime, no headache, no meningitis symptoms - we're only calling it flu for lack of anything else. He couldn't think of the word "tissues" at that point but could describe where they were and how they were used. Now it's no different from what I get. The odd word here and there. I'd have spotted meningitis.
  • At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam the car parks are designated as L. Cniht suggests. They use Dutch themes like tulips, clogs, windmills etc to help you remember how far along level 2 you parked.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Trudy wrote: »
    I have a pretty good memory for names and numbers -- I can remember a lot of birthdays of people I knew years ago; I still have a lot of phone numbers in my actual memory even though my phone's memory stores so many of them now; I know my license plate number, credit card, and SIN number without having to look them up.

    I had a friend at university who used to say the problem with having Internet access in the library was that it tempted him to go and buy things.

    "Couldn't you just leave your bank card in your room?"

    "How would that change anything?"

    "Well, you wouldn't be able to type in the card number."

    " ... What, you mean most people haven't memorised their 16-digit card number?"
  • Leorning CnihtLeorning Cniht Shipmate
    edited July 27
    Ricardus wrote: »
    " ... What, you mean most people haven't memorised their 16-digit card number?"

    No, 'cause I don't buy much online, so I rarely type it anywhere. I recognize it, but I can't remember it. (Similarly, I don't know my mobile phone number, because I never type it anywhere. I have to look it up on my phone. I don't know my SSN either, although it's another number that I'd recognize if I saw it out of context.)

    But I know my library card number, which is of similar length, plus an array of id numbers and passcodes that I type on a more regular basis.

    And I know the phone number that my parents had when I was a child, which hasn't been their phone number for somewhere between 35 and 40 years.

    ETA: quite a lot of passwords and passcodes are things I remember by their shape. I once worked in an office building with a 2x8 hex keypad to enter a passcode. I remember the shape of the button presses, but couldn't tell you the number unless I was standing in front of the keypad. Many of my computer passwords I remember by the shape my fingers move in: when I have to enter them on my phone, because they keyboard looks different, I have to imagine a real computer keyboard to recall the pattern.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host, 8th Day Host
    I've recently started using a phone number remembered from childhood, combined in various ingenious ways with the name and/or initials of the person whose number it was, as a password. It feels like it should be pretty secure as the phone number was never officially associated with that person's name in any way, and has been out of use for many many years, but it's etched forever in my memory.
  • A very good friend who often had my children over to play with hers know my children's medical insurance numbers by heart. I on the other hand never learned them.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    edited July 29
    I recommend the book Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer to my students. A variety of different mnemonic devices work depending upon what wants to learn. Some of these devices might be visual and others might be auditory depending on the material trying to be learned and accessed. Some psychologists argue that everything we have ever learned is stored in our brains if only we could access. The older I get the more I set traps for memory especially placing items I need to remember in places in which I will trip over them.
  • I heard the name of Iolo Morganwg in a documentary this evening and immediately recalled a song, "Men of Morganwg" (a quite different Morgan) that I had learned in primary school about 65 years ago and had never heard again. There was just one Google hit for it when I looked, and it turned out that I remembered the song perfectly, word for word. But I am not surprised - our music teacher still rates as one of the two or three most influential teachers in my life; a lovely man and a memorable singer. And this is why I am passionate about exposing our young people to memorable music in church - it will be with them for ever.
  • AravisAravis Shipmate
    Not everybody remembers songs that easily from long ago. I do, but my husband and daughter don’t.
  • MarthaMartha Shipmate
    I remember my credit card number, but then I always have to find the card to check the expiry date.

    Postcodes are a funny one; I remember them fine when I'm living in a place, but as soon as I move to a new house, the old postcode deletes itself from my memory. It's very annoying when you get one of those forms which ask for your last 3 addresses.
  • @ Martha, Ah yes old addresses. It is why I save the front page of old tax forms from each place we have lived. I should just type them into some list to save and throw away the forms, but I am lazy.
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