Methods of Association in Memory

A method of association involves thought tracking. When we are conscious and thinking over even a short span of time, we are likely using our working memory, defined as a mental workspace where short-term memory can be manipulated. Here is a way of experiencing. You only need a digital watch with a timed alarm function; your omnipresent cell phone can serve just as well. Have a friend set the alarm to go off at a time unknown to you several hours in the future. The only requirement is that you be awake when the alarm goes off and probably not at work, or otherwise responding to professional or domestic demands.At the instant that the alarm sounds, take careful notice of your thoughts. Try to recall the thought immediately preceding the alarm and then the thought before that one, and then the thought leading up to that thought and so on. Track the linkages as far back as you can. Don’t guess and don’t make anything up. All the thoughts that you recover are taken from discreet elements in your working memory. At first, you probably won’t be able to trace the content of your consciousness more than a few steps. But with practice you will be able to track back over a dozen or more associations. Your aim in this exercise is to increase your critical and observational powers, enhance your pattern recognition, bolster your synthetic and creative skills and, finally, improve your ability to communicate in ways that will be comprehensible to others. This chain of events can be started anywhere and tracked either backwards or forwards. You can begin anywhere in the chain of associations created by your brain.The nineteenth century psychologist William James described this process, “start from any idea whatever, and the entire range of your ideas is potentially at your disposal. . . . The entire potential content of one’s consciousness is accessible from any one of its points.”Another method of thought tracking involves writing down all the associations that occur to you in response to seemingly unrelated events, topics, or objects. As an example, here is a paragraph based on the linkages produced by my thoughts over a fifteen-minute period after paging through a magazine. I selected two pictures from the magazine at random taken from advertisements of seemingly unrelated products. One was a picture of sunglasses, the other a picture of lipstick. Here are the associative links that I came up with:A more formalized method of association is suggested by memory expert Tony Buzan.Start by drawing a circle on a blank piece of paper. Put a word in the empty circle. Now surround that circle with additional circles in which you have written words and images that are associated in your mind with that word. Think of some of the concepts that may be associated with it. Each of these words and images are part of your brain’s association network or “memory bank” concerning the word. By adding as many attributes that you can come up with, you will soon have constructed what Tony Buzan refers to as a mind map. This mind map increases the likelihood that you will successfully come up with the elusive word.