March 21, 2013 - Memory Day

I can't for the life of me find out why today is “Memory Day.” I can't see anywhere who declared it so, and for what reason. But many lists note that March 21 is Memory Day...

...and I happen to be very interested in memory...

So I thought I would just take “their” word for it (you know, that mysterious “they” we talk about when we don't know who) and declare:

Today is Memory Day!

Memory is a tricky thing. As much as we like to trust our memories—“Hey, I was there. I know what I saw; I know what I heard!”—studies have shown that all of us remember things surprisingly poorly.

  •  Eyewitness testimony is famously bad. If four people see a crime, for example, they almost never agree on exactly what happened or what the various people involved look like. 

  •  Sometimes people lose their memory and don't know even who they are. It is very rare for a person to have total amnesia, and even rarer for the memory loss to last a long time—but it does happen. What fascinates me most about amnesia is that a person who doesn't remember his own life, his parents, where he lives, even his own name still DOES remember things like how to walk and talk and how to do lots of other things. A fascinating documentary about a total amnesiac is Unknown White Male. Here are some clips from that movie. There is a bit in that movie when the amnesiac sees the ocean for the first time in his memory (but not actually the first time in his life). It's so beautiful he starts crying, and at some point he ducks under a wave, not knowing if he knows how to swim or not—and it turns out he does know how! Isn't that weird—“Do I know how to do this-and-such? Why, yes, it turns out that I do!”
  • Most people think that our memories are better than they are. They think that memory works a lot like a video camera, and that once an event finds its way into long-term memory, that memory is set and will not change. They think that people are bound to notice an unlikely or unexpected event, and that one's confidence in a particular memory is an indicator of the accuracy of that memory. Many people think that hypnosis can improve memory and can help bolster our confidence in a memory's accuracy. If you believe these myths, check out this article.

Play “Memory” or “Concentration.” All you need is a set of cards that has pairs of like objects. You can select pairs of cards from a regular deck of playing cards, such as two 10s, two Jacks, two Aces, and so forth. Shuffle the cards and lay them out upside down in a grid formation. Each player takes a turn flipping over two cards so that all can see the face. If they are a pair, the player takes the two cards out of the grid without moving any other cards, and continues his or her turn. If the flipped cards are not a pair, however, they must be turned back face-down again, and it is the next player's turn.

Another memory game is “What's on the Tray?” Have someone who won't be playing arrange 15 or 20 small items on a tray or table and then cover the arrangement with a towel. The players all get to see the uncovered tray (or table) for a minute. Then the arrangement is re-covered and whisked away while the players try to list as many of the items as they can remember.

PBS Kids offers more memory games

For more on memory, check out this earlier post. There is a link to a website that helps kids train their memory! 

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