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Memory and memory formation: when emotions and procedures take over (Part 1)

Memory is not infallible and sometimes it does not record the information that one would like. Discover the role of emotional and procedural memories in information retention.

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“Come on, I forgot again! »Is this a sign of old age? Overwork? No, it is a sign that my memory is working well and that it is working like all other memories! Now that doesn't mean I can't help her a little ...

Every day, we are solicited from all sides by an impressive amount of stimuli. It is impossible to remember everything. Usually our memory does a good job of selection and allows us to remember the important elements (picking up the children from daycare for example) and allows us to forget some less crucial elements (where did I put my pencil? red?!?).

This memory is not infallible, however, and sometimes it does not store the information one would want. For example, a few weeks ago, I went to talk to my assistant director to talk to her about three topics. After settling the second topic, I couldn't remember the third. I remembered, however, that it was important, and that I had written it down in my diary, but the key element escaped me. Is this a sign of old age? Overwork? No, it is a sign that my memory is working well and that it is working like all other memories!

Emotional and procedural memories explained

Memory retention is not always done as you would like. I would have liked to remember my third subject, but my memory decided otherwise. It was my emotional and procedural memories that took on this task without consulting me, with the result that I remember that it is important, that I wrote it, but not of what it is.

Indeed, emotional memory (did I like that?) And procedural memory (the actions taken) are almost automatically called upon when we create memories. In order to illustrate it, I suggest a small exercise. Take a few seconds and remember a dinner with friends you went to last summer (outside and two meters away of course). 

Do you remember the details of the place (the name of the restaurant, the decoration, the color of the walls)? Anything that has been served to you on the menu? Of all the topics discussed? Of all the guests present? In the order of arrival of the guests? Where did you park your car from? How were you dressed? Probably not. But do you remember if you had fun? Of a particular activity you did (swimming or singing around a fire, for example)? From the dish you cooked and brought? From a person with whom you enjoyed chatting? These latter memories have a procedural or emotional connotation, so they are more likely to have been recorded, but in the "category" of emotion or action.

Ways to help your memory

Knowing this, how can we help our memory to correctly discriminate information? In my opinion, the first step is to recognize that our memory does not always work well. It is therefore important to find ways to overcome it without devaluing yourself. No, it's not abnormal to forget. 

It is therefore important to find ways to overcome it without devaluing yourself. No, it's not abnormal to forget. 

Now that we know this, how can we avoid this trap? For my part, I adopted the sticky notes, these little papers where I write the important elements so as not to trust my memory to remind me of them at the right time. I then paste them in the appropriate places in my diary. When I leave without my diary, for example when I stop at the grocery store on my return from work, I take the note and stick it on my phone.

But what about the students? They too encode information the same way we do. It is very inefficient to classify grammar rules by order of preference or even by type of associated activities in class (dictations with gaps, reading, lists of words, etc.). In the next post, I suggest some strategies that will only take a few seconds or minutes of your class time, but that will help a lot in the retention in semantic memory of your students.

Watch the second part of this column.

About the Author

Mrs Prof
Mrs Prof
She holds a bachelor's degree in education and is currently a candidate for a master's degree in education. She is involved with various organizations in order to equip teachers and improve the various facets of teaching and learning in Quebec.

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