PEARTREE LIFE: Experiencing Languages

Memory - an important base for studying

The memory is a complicated process which is very important when we are learning something new, for example, a new language. Did you know that the brain actually grows when a person uses their memory?

The researchers Maguire et al. (2000) studied English taxi drivers and scanned their brains to see if their hippocampi (a part of the brain thought to be used for remembering) differed in size when compared to ‘regular people’. It was found that the taxi drivers’ hippocampi were in fact larger compared to the non-taxi drivers and it was believed that this was because of the drivers’ extensive use of their memory processes.

It is important to understand that differences in brain size are not biologically predetermined but rather are something that can change during a person’s lifetime. This has also been shown by Rosenzweig and Bennet’s study on rat brains and environmental stimuli in 1972.

 Another interesting thing about the memory is the psychology research which discusses Schema Theory. It is said that when we learn new things, we categorize the knowledge in our brains in order to access it more efficiently. So, rather than having a chronological list of the information we have received, we store it in subject-related schemas.

What the information in our brains would look like without schemas:

  • 1st of January: The sky is blue
  • 2nd of January: Cucumbers are green
  • 3rd of January: The sun is in the sky
  • 4th of January: Yellow and blue makes green
What the information in our brains look like with schemas:

  • The sun is in the blue sky.

  • The colour of cucumbers is a mix of yellow and blue.

Without schemas, it would take us much longer to ‘find’ information in the brain, as we would have to go through the list on the left to find what we are looking for. On the right, we can find the colour of the sky by looking for things associated with it - such as the sun.

In 1972, the researchers Bransford and Johnson studied Schema Theory. They divided a group of people into two smaller groups and told one of them that they were going to hear a text about washing clothes. The other group did not know what the text would be about. After hearing the text, the participants were asked about the things they remembered from it. It was found that the people who knew what the text was about remembered more than the ones who didn’t know. This is a good example of Schema Theory, as the participants who knew about the text’s topic could store the information in an already existing schema for washing clothes and therefore remembered more. The people who were unaware of the topic of the text were forced to create a new schema in their mind and lost a lot of information due to this.

As stated before, the memory is a very complicated matter. But it is also very interesting. If you want to read more about the role of memory in psychology, I recommend looking up the following studies:

  • Bartlett: Cultural schemas and memory (1932) 
  • Rosenzweig and Bennet: Environmental stimulation, brain plasticity and memory (1972) 
  • Martinez and Kesner: Acetylcholine and memory formation (1991) 
  • Loftus and Palmer: Alteration of memories (1974) 
  • Brown and Kulik: Flashbulb memories (1977) 
  • The case of H.M.: Hippocampus and memory 

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About Peartree Languages

Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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