"It goes in one ear and out the other!"

We all know this because despite our best efforts, we can't remember everything that is said to us. But remember this: this well-known expression now has a scientific basis. It would seem that auditory memory has its limits. But there’s nothing to worry about: we just have to combine it with our visual and tactile memory.

At the University of Iowa (United States), researchers wanted to compare three of our senses, namely hearing, touch and sight, in order to make conclusions on the ability of each of these senses to aid memorization.

To do this, the study conducted by Amy Poremba (professor of psychology and neuroscience) used around one hundred student volunteers. During the first stage of the study, they were asked to receive simple visual, auditory and tactile stimuli: they had to listen to pure sounds, see red squares and feel vibrations. Then, after differing lengths of time, from 1 to 32 seconds, they were asked if each new stimulus was similar to or different from the original one. As you might expect, the results showed in the first instance that the longer the time between the stimuli, the fewer answers the volunteers got right regardless of the kind of stimulus. However the fall was faster for the sound category, suggesting that auditory memorization was less effective. Visual and tactile memorization were similar.

In order to be able to relate the results to everyday life, the participants were exposed to more complex and more familiar sounds during the second part of the study such as a dog barking, watching a basketball game (without the sound, of course), and holding a cup of coffee (without seeing it). Once more, touch and sight came out on top compared with hearing. Indeed, researchers have noted that between an hour and a week afterwards, the students found it more difficult to recall the sounds they had heard during the second phase of the study. The results obtained for the recall of scenes they saw and physical objects they touched were on the whole the same. As with the first phase, the gap between hearing and the other two senses got more significant as the gap increased between the stimulation and the moment they had to remember the events.

All of these observations reinforce the idea that the mechanisms of tactile and visual memorization are similar, but different from the mechanism of auditory memorization. These results could be very interesting, in particular for improving learning methods in the field of education. “[…] But if you really want something to be memorable you may need to include a visual or hands-on experience, in addition to auditory information,” explains Prof. Poremba.

The aim, however, is not to discredit the importance of verbal information, but to stress the need to combine all our senses to improve learning and achieve better memorization.
Source: Amy Poremba et al. Achilles’ Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality. PLoS One. February 26, 2014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089914

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