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Associating Ideas To Improve Memory

Jan 4, 2008
A short time ago I read that almost 48 million people had visited the New York World's Fair in 1939 and 1940. As I was reading, someone telephoned and asked me to send him some literature about my memory classes. He gave his address as 365 West 52nd Street.

How can I remember these two things? If I ponder the number for a little while, I realize that we have 48 states in the Union; and then it is easy for me to remember that each state, on the average, sent one million visitors to the Fair. The fact that there were probably many persons from other countries among the visitors and that some states were represented by millions and others by none is unimportant, since memorizing only the total number is the important matter.

When I think about my phone caller's address, I notice that the house number corresponds to the days and the street number to the weeks in a year. Having noticed this coincidence, I am very sure I shall never forget the address, even though the person's name is not Dayton or Weeks or Yearlie.

Of course, associations are not always so easy or so obvious as this.
In the case of the visitors, the number 48 million was new and had to be remembered. The number 48 was well known as the number of states in the Union and therefore convenient to serve as a hook for the number which was to be kept in mind.

In the case of the phone caller, the numbers 365 and 52 were new and had to be remembered. However, both figures were familiar in another connection and therefore suitable for serving as a hook for the address which I intended to keep in mind. So we may draw this conclusion: Whether a connection is obvious or not, the fact remains that the new always imposes itself on our minds through association with something already known.

When a man learns anything new, no matter what the subject matter, it is always learned and remembered through association with familiar knowledge.

But this confirmation of fact does not help us much. We must look further and try to classify our thoughts about the ways in which this association and relationship function. We cannot avoid this difficult task if we are to learn not merely how the memory works but how we can improve the functioning of our memories.

Returning to the items given above, I can obviously proceed in two different ways: I can visualize the map of the United States, picturing each state filled with one million persons; and I can visualize Mr. Dayton with a calendar under his arm, reminding me of the connection with his person and the division of the year.

On the other hand, I can reason, without forming a mental picture, that the United States consists of forty-eight states and I must multiply this number by one million. I can also reason, without the mental image of a calendar, that the year is divided into fifty-two weeks, or 365 days, and I can form a logical connection between this fact and Mr. Dayton. From these associational possibilities we establish this statement: Whenever we undertake to learn something new, we can either associate it visually with familiar facts or relate it logically through pure reason.

Of these two possibilities in association of ideas, the visual is by far the stronger, for most human beings remember events and other matters better when they have seen them happen before their very eyes than when they merely hear or read about them. That is why, in the study of physics, the pupils are called upon to make experiments themselves, because the teacher knows that experiments seen make a deeper impression than experiments read.

The pictorial always makes the best impression and a deep impression is always the aim and purpose of the advertiser.

Because pictorial impressions are the strongest, it is apparent that in memorizing and in remembering, in all that the memory retains, it is essential to make visual associations.
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