Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

How is it I can remember the words to songs that were popular when I was in middle school… even when I haven’t heard them in years…

But forget to pick up the toilet paper Karen asked me to get 5 minutes before I walked out of the house?

I have a theory about that.

Well, in truth… it’s not MY theory. A 19th century German psychologist by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus gets the credit.

He believed there was a finite time at which something is forgotten once it’s learned.

This time is called the forgetting curve.

To come up with this theory, Ebbinghaus did memory tests on himself.

And he found that initially this curve is steep.

So, if you learn a bunch of new things all at once… like names of people you just met at a party… you probably won’t remember most of them the next day.

But the curve does taper off, so the names you do remember will stick with you for a while.

With his research, Ebbinghaus also figured out you could soften the downward slope of the forgetting curve by repeating the new info at different intervals.

It’s called “spaced repetition.”

And it might explain why I can remember those songs of my youth so well.

I probably heard them so many times when I was 13… playing them over and over on my cassette player… that they’re now ingrained in my memory.

Today, there are so many things to remember, our brains are overloaded.

Names of people, grocery store lists, and passwords. So many passwords.

If you’re an in one ear, out the other type of person, take heart.

There are ways you can remember better.

You could try Ebbinghaus’s spaced repetition… and repeat the words over and over.

Maybe set the words to a tune and sing it over and over again?

“Chunking” is another memory tool… that’s when you group similar items together.

An example would be remembering your grocery list according to the aisles n the store.

Acronyms are another popular way to help you remember.

Anyone else learn PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally) to remember the order of operations in math?

Parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction.

It’s stuck with me all these years.

I’m going to try some of these memory tools myself, so I don’t keep on disappointing Karen when I walk in the house empty-handed… without that toilet paper.

About Jeff Reagan, Editor, Jeff Reagan's Daily Health Newsletter for Conservatives

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