Expert memory

22 Jun

We have a box at the Chautauqua Post Office.


And here is our Post Office Box


We live just outside of Cleveland and there is a ten month gap between our visits to the Institution. so remembering information over that gap is a problem. How do you remember the number of a Post Office box that you only need to know during the summer?

I am able to remember the box number 1239 using the D.O.M.O.N.I.C mnemonic system invented by Dominic O’Brien. This system assigns letters to each of the numbers zero to nine. Then every pair of numbers is remembered as the initials of some memorable person. For example, the system assigns the letter “C” to the number 3 you might remember the number combination 33 as Chelsea Clinton.

In the case of my P.O. box I use Annie Bessant (12) and Carrie Nation (39). The people you choose should be memorable to you, and everyone’s list will be different.

I use a similar to mnemonic to remember the box’s combination, but I think it might be unwise to share it on the Internet.

However, the most interesting memory story I have from my visit to the Post Office is that the mail clerk, who hasn’t seen me for ten months and handles thousands of pieces of mail for thousands of customers, remembered my last name.

I believe that this is a case of expert memory, people have better memory for areas in which they have deep experience. For example, cocktail waitresses have better memory for drink orders than matched controls. Actors have superior memory for learning dialog. Chess experts are better at remembering chess positions and mail clerks may have better memory for the names of patrons.

When you develop and expertise in an area you build a deep knowledge of that subject or activity. In turn, your deep knowledge makes its easier for you to learn new material; as your knowledge grows you have more opportunities to associate new information to your expanding knowledge base.

This suggests that the more you know the easier it is to learn new material. This observation has important consequences for memory improvement.

4 Responses to “Expert memory”

  1. teresa June 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    No matter how hard I try, I cannot get the darn P.O. Box open,
    Any suggestions? (your loving wife)

    • jecgenovese June 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      I’ll show you next time we go to the post office.
      Love JG

  2. khrabik June 27, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    Interesting approach but I think a simpler way to remember the number is count 1..2..3.. X 3 = 9 or 1239.

    • jecgenovese June 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      Thank you for your comment.

      The best mnemonics are ones you invent for yourself and the P.O. Box numbers lend themselves to that, often we have to learn number sequences that lack any obvious pattern. Dominic O’Brien’s system allows us to impose a memorable order on number sequences when self invented methods don’t work.

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