Memory

by Len Horridge

Mnemonics

A mnemonic is simply another word for a memory aid. This usually takes the form of a specific retrieval cue encoded with the information to be remembered. Cues of this type can be images, colours, sounds or, indeed, anything that you can remember easily, which can then be used to retrieve more complex information by association.

Mnemonics are used extensively in education and serve to help students learn lists of data. They are often rhymes or poems, or words where each letter in the word is a memory retrieval cue. Some can be quite bizarre, but that can make the mnemonic itself more memorable.

The mnemonic must be simple enough to be easily remembered by rehearsal. It often works better when you make up your own mnemonics rather than using somebody else’s. This is because a mnemonic that is tied to your personal semantic associations will work better in your own unique neural network. Remember, though, that making up a highly complex mnemonic may seem clever, but usually does not help memory.

Example

The colours of the rainbow, in order, are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. You could use any of the following mnemonics or make up your own:

  1. The name Roy G Biv
  2. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
  3. Run Off Young Girls, Boys In View

The eight planets in our solar system, in sequence, are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune (Pluto has been demoted): ‘My very elegant mother just served us noodles.’

The sequence of the natural classification or taxonomy system is kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, which might be ‘King Philip came over for good spaghetti.’

Stalagmites and stalactites – which is which? Think of Ground and Ceiling, with the letters G and C: stalagmites are on the ground and stalactites are on the ceiling.

A curious characteristic of many memory systems is that mnemonics work despite being (or possibly because of being) illogical, arbitrary and artistically flawed.