Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Grabbing Attention

  • The more attention that the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded and retained. Interest and importance are inextricably linked to attention. Our brains first need to be alerted to something, gather information about it, then decide what to do about it. Emotional arousing events tend to be better remembered. Memory is also enhanced if you can create associations between concepts. Experts have their knowledge organized around core concepts rather then randomly stored.
  • When it comes to paying attention, there is no such thing as multitasking. We are not capable of processing more than one attention-rich input at a given time. People who appear to be multitasking are just switching their attention from one thing to another. Such interruptions result in all tasks taking longer along with more frequent errors. A cellphone user, for example, takes a half a second longer to hit the brakes. They also miss more visual cues. For teachers, however, the most common communication mistake is trying to relate too much information with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. John also notes that for college lectures, students attention generally falls off after ten minutes. What he suggests is to switch concepts after ten minutes, and try to add some emotional hook.

Short-Term Memory

  • Declarative memory involves something you can declare. It involves the steps of encoding, storage, retrieval, and forgetting. In classroom settings people usually forget most of what they learn rather quickly. Repetition helps and the best kind of repetition is spread out over time. When you encode new information, you turn it into code that is stored in a fragmented manner in various part of your cortex. Some information is automatically encoded while others require specific attention and effort. If you want to remember something, you first need to understand it. Also, the more meaning something has, the more memorable it becomes.
  • Anything that is more elaborate, complex, or more personal will also be easier to remember. Context is also key. Teachers should make liberal uses of real-world examples imbedded in the information, and as many examples as possible. Information can be more readily processed if it can be associated with information already present in memory. Introductions are everything. The initial moments of a presentation should take advantages of the principles given here. Finally, environment and mood matter. You are more likely to remember something if you are in the same environment and mood you were in when you first encoded it.
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