“of mice and men…”


“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men; gang aft agley.” – Robert Burns

Well if you “Remember, Remember” my last piece (& I’ll be delighted if you do) I promised you that we would start to consider aspects of memory; in particular how we remember and why we remember and what, perhaps most importantly what we might do to improve that process as we slowly lumber towards our end of term/year examinations where I am afraid however you choose to look at it (and pretty well whatever subject/s you happen to have chosen) memory plays a fairly substantial role.

But before we go into any specific exercises, tips, techniques etc. we might do well to understand a little bit more about memory itself. A dictionary definition:

“the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information…”

only gets us so far; let’s go a bit deeper but strap yourself in because, as you might imagine it is a hugely complex subject!!!


There is a general agreement (though not without some contention) that there are broadly two memory systems; the so called “dual memory model” of Atkinson and Shiffrin consisting of long-term and short-term memory systems. The bad news (for any last minute crammers!!!) is the short-term memory system only last for around 20 to 30 seconds; the good news (& you might even call it very good news) is the long-term memory system retains items indefinitely and has an almost unlimited capacity.

According to Atkinson and Shiffrin:

“When items are first presented, they enter short-term memory, but due to its limited space, as new items enter, older ones are pushed out. However, each time an item in short-term memory is rehearsed, it is strengthened in long-term memory. Similarly, the longer an item stays in short-term memory, the stronger its association becomes in long-term memory.”

Baddeley proposed a slightly more sophisticated model of short-term memory which might be represented as:608px-Working-memory-en

suggesting as you can see that short-term memory is essentially tri-modal; with language and visuospatial data being processed through parallel but not identical systems (hang onto that if you can as it will form the core of a later a post).

But for me the most memorable contribution to the subject has to come from this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine’s winner John O’Keefe; adding immeasurably to the subject’s richness by discovering the so called “place cells” in rats brains. It had been known for some time that London “cabbies” (taxi drivers) have significantly larger hippocampi (the hippocampus being the part of the brain where spatial memory is processed) than us mere mortals but O’Keefe’s team went on to discover a grid-like co-ordination system in the brain where complex behavioural patterns are processed and went on to confirm the vital role that sleep plays in processing memories; with the rats’ brains replaying the days new information through their brains as they sleep at rates up to 16 times faster than were actually experienced in real-time.

The knock on implications of this for our own understanding of the neurological processes underlying memory are vast and something I hope to revisit in subsequent posts; but before I completely overwhelm your short-term memory system & utterly lose your interest I’m going to hang up my “mouse” for the night and go and get some well deserved REM sleep.

Goodnight from Shanghai!!!

Mark is studying the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) by distance learning in Shanghai, China.


Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck 1937

Atkinson, R.C.; Shiffrin, R.M. (1968). “Chapter: Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes”. The psychology of learning and motivation 2: 89–195.

Baddeley A, Della Sala S (October 1996) “Working memory and executive control”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 351 (1346): 1397–403.

“Navigational-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers”; Eleanor Maguire et al: http://www.pnas.org/content/97/8/4398.full


3 Responses to “of mice and men…”

  1. rbngp10 says:

    Reblogged this on rbngp10.

  2. Reuben Mukavhi says:

    hie mark. you write like an educational psychologist.
    how far are you in the llb? i am in year 1.

  3. Mark Pummell says:

    Hey Reuben; yes also Year 1… well if you check some of my earlier posts I try to write in a variety of styles but in fact I am a practising psychotherapist/analyst so you’re not far wrong!!!

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