Memory is the ability to store and retrieve information in our brain, but there are processes that go beyond that.
This is where it comes in metamemory, unique human abilities that allow us to push our memory capacities to the limit. Let’s find out what it is and how we can use this valuable skill.
What is metamemory?
We all have, to a greater or lesser extent, an idea of the processes that our memory goes through, distinguishing between the capacities we have to generate memories, relive them or simply keep certain data in short-term memory. This perception of our own memory capacities as well as the limits it has, would be what is called metamemory.
The concept is not topical, because everything related to metacognition (and metamemory certainly belongs to this field) has already been studied in philosophy, although in other words, since the time of Descartes. . However, it was already in the twentieth century that everything related to the processes of memory and metamemory was studied in depth and under scientific criteria.
A good metamemory is useful because it allows us to make the most of our skills as a we can become aware of the processes best given to usFor example, which way of studying allows us to better retain concepts, how long it takes us to memorize of varying quality, or how much data can we keep in a given time.
In this way, age is a key factorAs it has been shown that during childhood, children are believed to have much more powerful memory abilities than they actually are, so their metamemory would be overrated. Due to this error in their self-perception, they always tend to make sure that they are able to memorize much more than they can actually memorize, a conclusion that emerges from the results of the studies.
Components of this skill set
In metamemory we can distinguish between two well differentiated components. The first would be procedural knowledge, which would refer to the capacities set out in the previous point, with reference to our perception of our own memory capacities, which allow us to establish the strategies that suit us best to optimize the capacity to memorize data. .
Here comes into play another important concept, which would be learning judgment. It is the assessment that we make before being confronted with a task which involves the use of memory, and for which we estimate the time necessary to achieve it as well as the quality that we expect from this memorization.
The most obvious example would be the student who takes all the grades for a subject and automatically knows how much time he has to spend studying them if he wants to get a good grade on the exam, and even what the time is. minimum you would have. to study to get a single pass (although sometimes those estimates can be overly optimistic, as many people know).
On the other hand, it would be declarative knowledge. And is that metamemory is also useful for us to be aware of the quality and reliability of a memory of a past event, allowing us to realize at some point that the representation that we recall in our mind may not not be so close to reality. as we first thought or, on the contrary, we are reasonably certain that memory faithfully represents the event we experience in the past.
Declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge would complement each other to form, therefore, a metamemory. Neither component is more relevant or important than the other, but each refers to one of the skills that make up memory, so it is important to consider both if you want to study and improve metamemory under all their forms.
What we don’t know
The former US Secretary of Defense once left a sentence for history: “There are two things we don’t know: what we know we don’t know and what we don’t know we don’t know not.” After that kind of embarrassment, there is a question much more transcendent than it seems to fully understand the implications of metamemory.
And it is that another of the capacities which allows us to realize the metamemory is precisely recognize it instantly if we know or ignore a certain fact. Based on our knowledge of the subject, we can make a quick inference and anticipate whether it is possible that the answer is buried somewhere in our brain or, conversely, it is impossible for us to be able to give a reasonable answer.
This mechanism is called the signal familiarity hypothesis., And it works exactly as its nomenclature dictates. If our brain detects whether the data we are looking for can be found in our domain of knowledge, and if so, it will attempt to find the answer in memory (which may or may not be).
But another phenomenon can occur when we are asked about a specific problem: that we don’t remember the exact data but feel that it is indeed something that we know (“I have it on the tip of the tongue! ”). Here comes the accessibility hypothesis, a brain mechanism that tells us that, when we have this feeling, it is very possible that we have the knowledge stored in our memory, And the more clues we have, the easier it will be to access this data.
Feeling of knowing
We mentioned earlier the feeling of having something on the tip of the tongue, and this topic deserves a separate point, as it is another of the processes that characterize metamemory. This mechanism kicks in when we are not able to access the data in our memory, but we are sure it is there (although sometimes it is not and our metamemory has played a trick on us) .
In these cases, get peripheral information (related to the data itself) it can facilitate the activation of neural circuits where the information sought is located and that in this way, it becomes accessible again. Another method that works is that of identification. We may not be able to remember the correct answer to a question, but if we are presented with a list with multiple options, we will now recognize which one we were looking for.
The sensation of knowing and its relation to different physiological conditions have been studied in the laboratory. For example, alcohol consumption has been shown to affect memory itself, not the subject’s judgment about whether or not a particular problem is known. However, the altitude factor we are in has the opposite effect: it does not change the memory, but it alleviates the person’s perception of whether or not he knows a given.
How to improve metamemory
Once we have a perfectly clear question of what metamemory is and what its characteristics are, it becomes debatable whether there is any possibility of improving this ability. And the answer is yes.
For this, there are what are called mnemonics or mnemonic rules, strategies used to improve our memory, and therefore further develop our metamemory, because we will have a wider range of strategies to choose from.
The key to being able to learn and use these mnemonics is to understand how the brain makes associations when we are immersed in a learning process, then to take advantage of these shortcuts and to maximize them, by optimizing the resources of our memory.
There are many types of mnemonic rules that can be learned depending on the type of data we want to remember.. Some are very simple, like building a word with the initials of the list of words we want to remember, but others are extremely complex and require a lot of mnemonic training to be able to use them with some skill.
This is where mnemonists appear, who are those individuals whose memory and metamemory capacities turn red to those of other mortals, partly innate but above all thanks to impressive dedication and efforts to improve each. of these skills through the study of mnemonics, sometimes performing feats that seem more typical of a computer than a human, such as reciting from memory over 70,000 ft. decimal places.
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