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Psychologists who study the mental process of thinking, as well as perception, learning, memory and language, work in the area of cognitive psychology. Thinking is probably one of the most difficult processes to describe, as we think in three ways. We think in words and meaning: semantic thought, we think in images by making mental pictures: iconic thought and enactive thought based on impressions of actions, such as tying a shoelace. Our memory provides us with the ability to remember the past and things that we have learnt in the past. On a daily basis we are overloaded with information, so how do we process it?
Firstly, we can organise our thoughts by involving and using mental images which helps us memorise better verbal and written information. So, we think about things by making a mental picture in our mind.
When starting to learn the a new language, mental images are very helpful to learn the basic vocabulary. A very good example of this is the key word technique. To explain this further, imagine a picture of a bell with a lid on it, which has a nasty smell, the French word is “La Poubelle”, and is pronounced pooh-bell, which means “bin” in English. You can then make a mental picture of yourself lifting the lid off of the bell shaped bin and saying “pooh”. This key word technique created by Michael Raugh and Richard Atkinson, who experimented on two groups of participants, who were asked to learn a list of 60 Spanish words. The group that used the key word technique, when all participants were tested, scored an average of 88% and the group that did not use these key words scored 28%.
This proves that the use of mental images help us remember things, and we can develop different memory stagegies such as mnemonics, which are an aid or verse to remember facts. An example of this is, to aid us when setting up a snooker table with the different coloured balls. Most of us know all the red balls go in the triangle, and the location of the black, pink and blue balls. However, we do forget the order of the green, brown and yellow because they are placed in a row of three next to each other. An easy mnemonic way to remember this order of balls is: God Bless You.
Second, another important way we can organise our thoughts is by putting them into categories. This is known as concept formation and is the process of developing mental representation by developing categories of a group of objects or events that share similar properties. For example, the concept of “animal”, this concept contains other sub-concepts and then further sub-concepts. You divide animals into birds, fish and mammals. Then, divide birds into robins, sparrows and owls etc. Using our concepts we can define the features that we associate with birds, such as wings, feathers, beaks, flying.These defining concepts of a bird, do not have to be applied rigidly, as certain birds cannot fly, such as penguins and ostriches.
Weston Bousfield conducted an experiment where participants were asked to learn a list of sixty words that could be divided into four categories. Example: furniture, fruit, clothing and flowers. Although the words were presented in a random order, the participants tended to remember them in groups which belonged to the same category,so if they remembered apple, they would remember peach, lemon and strawberry.This shows us that the information was available, but without the category clues given above, we cannot access all of this information. Now, when we try to recall this information that has been arranged in to categories. Each piece of information then cues the next in turn, as it has been stored in our mind in an structured way, as opposed to a random and arbitrary way.
Finally, schemas are a vital way to organise our thoughts, as they allow us to remember information about particular things. A schema is mental framework of knowledge developed as a result of experience, that can help us recall information that has been stored, and so provide more cues to prompt our memory. Hence, we file our knowledge about objects, situations, groups of people and ourselves into a large filing cabinet in our mind.
The term schema (plural schemas or schemata) that was used by Jean Piaget an influential Swiss psychologist, who spent over 50 years, investigating the way children developed their thinking and cognitive skills, learning and memory.This was done by developing schemas which built up and developed by their result of experience in the world. Simply this means that our memory is a large filing cabinet and each file in the cabinet is a schema. If you opened a schema labelled ” going to the cinema” it would contain all your knowledge about trips to the cinema. Buying a ticket, seeing a film, sitting in the dark and eating popcorn. So, if you went to a cinema that you had not been to before, you would open up your “cinema schema” file in your memory and this would lead the way.
John Bransford and Marcia Johnson conducted an experiment, which illustrated the role of schemas.They asked participants to read a passage from a book and recall it as accurately as they could. Half the participants were given the title of the passage and the other half without the title of “washing clothes”.The title provides a schema, so that the information can be set aside and remembered more easily.
In conclusion, we have explored the ways that we think and the ways that organising our thoughts our can improve our memory. So, mental images give us pictures, concept formation puts information into groups of categories, and developing schemas, allows us to construct and remember mental packages about relevant information.Therefore, our memory is the key to how we function and who we are.