Repetition has been a part of our repertoire of memorization skills since childhood. You could say that repetition has been repetitious throughout our lives – and it would be true! All through school we study for tests and exams, cramming all of the information into our brains through one main technique: repetition.
Reading the same notes over and over again, bouncing study information back and forth with your study partner – these things are good examples of repetition. Those who aren’t in school any more still do it – how many times have you caught yourself repeating a phone number or a grocery list over in your head in the hope that you won’t forget it?
Repetition certainly works, but today we’re going to discuss why it works, and why it’s so important to the human memory.
Why is repetition so important?
In a funny way, repetition is ubiquitous because of itself. It’s a popular and well-understood method for improving memory simply because we’ve all been repeating the act of repetition for most of our lives. But why does it work so well?
Repetition works well because it helps your brain solidify connections that are used to recall memories. When you learn something new, your brain instantly attempts to associate it with something that you already know through a process of assimilation. This association process is basically the brain building a new connection between a new idea and a previously understood idea.
This new connection can be observed physically, as well. When your brain makes a new connection, your neurons actually create new neural pathways to accommodate the new information. While you won’t be able to trace a path between a brain cell storing a memory about apples and one holding onto a memory of apple pie, the new synapses will improve your ability to think. These new connections allow for a higher level of communication between the different areas of your brain, which can improve your memory recall in general.
Assimilation and repetition
Learning new things is, in its own way, still a form of repetition. Learning something new requires that you assimilate that information, or attach it to an idea that you already understand. This in itself is a form of repetition, because it solidifies the idea that you’re already familiar with.
You can use this to remember new things more easily. If you can’t build an immediate connection to an idea, make yourself find one. For example, if you learn a new idea about quantum entanglement that’s out of your comfort zone, attach it to something you know. Quantum entanglement … entanglement … tangled … tangled in vines. If you associate the two ideas, you can recall a memory or an idea of being tangled up in vines, and that will lead you to a more complete recall of what you learned about quantum entanglement.
What can repetition help you remember?
There are several everyday things that repetition can help you with. Some of these things you may already know and use repetition for unconsciously.
- You can use repetition to remember people’s names. Have you ever been introduced to someone at a party and had them repeat your name to you three or four times? This is a very effective form of repetition, and almost a foolproof way to remember someone’s name.
- You can use repetition to remember numbers. Many people use this technique for remembering phone numbers, by repeating the number until they’re able to reach a keypad and punch it in. You can also combine the chunking technique with repetition. If you break a number into smaller components, then repeat each of the individual components to yourself instead of the entire number, you’re more likely to remember all the numbers.
Does repetition really work?
If you haven’t already convinced yourself through years of using repetition yourself, don’t worry – science has proven repetition to be an effective method of boosting memory.
The University of Texas hosted a study on repetition. In this study, subjects were instructed to use repetition to commit things to memory. The study observed several of the most important regions of our brains in regards to memory.
The group that was using repetition consistently showed improvement in many areas of the brain. This is probably because of the new neural pathways that are strengthened during the use of repetition.
Connections that are repeatedly used not only become stronger, but they become more durable. This means that they are less likely to fall into disuse, even after long periods of time. This particular fact is very useful for long-term memory recall. If you strengthen your neural pathways to the point that they don’t degrade, you’ll have a much easier time recalling information – even from a long time ago.
Learning new things can help you remember old things, as we’ve mentioned, through assimilation. This means that one of the keys to developing and maintaining a healthy memory is to continue learning as much as you can.
Not only should you learn about things you’re interested in, but you should study a variety of topics. Learn abstract ideas. Associating new or abstract things to what you already know forces your brain to build strong new pathways to relate these ideas, and this improves not just your memory but your general cognitive function.
This works because it expands your sphere of reference. If you learn something new and only have one idea to relate it to, you can imagine it as if there were only one connection built to that idea. Learning more and more things, and building more and more connections, allows you to pull things out of your long-term memory more easily.
The human memory is an amazing thing, and what’s even more amazing is that we’ve learned to understand it in enough ways that we can “hack” it for our own benefit. Certainly, repetition itself is a great technique for remembering things. However, knowing that you can combine repetition with other memory-related techniques will provide more benefits than either of these skills would on their own.
Hopefully we’ve been able to teach you some new stuff today. Repetition is a very basic technique, but it’s not one to be underestimated. If you use this technique to your benefit, you will certainly notice some significant improvements to your short- and long-term memory.