Visual Memory More Flexible Than We Thought
When you read about memory and learning, you will eventually come across the idea of "chunking", which is a strategy our brains use to help remember information. You will also learn that for information that relates to numbers and words, our brains can remember 7+/-2 items (which means between 5 and 9) items easily.
Visual memory was often thought to rely on the same kind of 7 +/-2 items, but new research (published in the journal Science) suggests that visual memory is much more flexible than scientists have previously thought.
In this study, participants were asked to remember several objects from a computer screen. The screen went blank, and then the participants were shown the objects again, and had to state if the objects had changed position from the initial presentation. Participants found it more difficult to determine placement of items when the number of items increased, but they never had trouble identifying which items they had seen before.
More simply, this means that they knew they had seen the objects before, even if they couldn't figure out exactly where on the screen they were. They were able to remember seeing more than 5 items, which would not be expected if visual memory were limited to 7 +/- 2.
Researchers conclude that working visual memory tends to take in the whole scene, and then remember a few important details. Our visual memory tends to be flexible in how many elements it remembers, based on our level of interest and focused attention.
This is an important finding because it suggests how we can help improve memory- maybe through using visual methods rather than verbal or written words. What do you think?