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Actors & Memory

Association for Psychological Science: 'To be or, or ... um ... line!'

Given my own undependable memory and the hand-hewn props I rely upon to shore it up, I was intrigued by this article/press release from last year on how actors are able to remember their lines (via boing boing):

According to the researchers, the secret of actors' memories is, well, acting. An actor acquires lines readily by focusing not on the words of the script, but on those words' meaning — the moment-to-moment motivations of the character saying them — as well as on the physical and emotional dimensions of their performance.

That resonates for me. I'm pretty sure that a lot of my own memory deficits start at the time of "encoding" because I haven't done more than try to shove the words into the right slots. This approach seems like a sensible and organic way to put the material in a more meaningful mental context.

For a good overview of memory techniques, try the Memory Improvement Tools section over on Mind Tools. I'd recommend starting with the introduction, which offers insight into further engaging your "whole mind" in the memory process:

By coding language and numbers in striking images, you can reliably code both information and the structure of information. You can then easily recall these later.

You can do the following things to make your mnemonics more memorable:

  • Use positive, pleasant images. Your brain often blocks out unpleasant ones
  • Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images - these are easier to remember than drab ones
  • Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
  • Give your image three dimensions, movement and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions.
  • Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image
  • Use humor! Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than normal ones.
  • Similarly rude rhymes are very difficult to forget!
  • Symbols (red traffic lights, pointing fingers, road signs, etc.) can code quite complex messages quickly and effectively
Randal L. Schwartz's picture

Perhaps you might be aware...

Perhaps you might be aware (or not) that a small portion of us suffer from a "mental blindness", which ruins visual mnemonic devices. Specifically, I cannot recall or create pictures in mind, at all. I didn't even know I was different until I was about 20, after asking a fellow keyboardist whether he memorized songs by the way they sound, or by the way his hands rested on the keyboard (the two ways I do it). He said "I can do that, but it's much easier to just see the notes and play those", and my jaw dropped. It had never occurred to me that people actually meant it when they said "see things" with their mind, and it started me on a continual quest to discover more about how differently everyone else related to the world.

And at age 44, I still cannot, in any way shape or form, see a thing. Everything I remember has to come to me in sounds or in body positions. As a result, I do break things down into meanings, and am unable to remember the specific words. I also remember people by simple words about what they are wearing, and if they later change clothes and come back into the room but don't speak (I can recognize their voice that way), I think I'm talking to a new person!

Oh, and forget computer icons. I have to name each icon, then associate the function with the spoken name. If I later pick a different name for the icon, I no longer know what it does. Most of the time, I find myself hovering for the tooltip so I can get a consistent name for the icon. Ugh. Takes far too long. (Keep that in mind when you are designing user interfaces, please!)

Anyway, just a datapoint about what some of us have to deal with.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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