Psychology in Everyday Life: How to Effectively Learn and Remember
One way that the findings of psychological research may be particularly helpful to you is in terms of improving your learning and study skills. Psychological research has provided a substantial amount of knowledge about the principles of learning and memory. This information can help you do better in this and other courses, and can also help you better learn new concepts and techniques in other areas of your life.
The most important thing you can learn in college is how to better study, learn, and remember. These skills will help you throughout your life, as you learn new jobs and take on other responsibilities. There are substantial individual differences in learning and memory, such that some people learn faster than others. But even if it takes you longer to learn than you think it should, the extra time you put into studying is well worth the effort. And you can learn to learn—learning to effectively study and to remember information is just like learning any other skill, such as playing a sport or a video game.
To learn well, you need to be ready to learn. You cannot learn well when you are tired, when you are under stress, or if you are abusing alcohol or drugs. Try to keep a consistent routine of sleeping and eating. Eat moderately and nutritiously, and avoid drugs that can impair memory, particularly alcohol. There is no evidence that stimulants such as caffeine, amphetamines, or any of the many “memory enhancing drugs” on the market will help you learn (Gold, Cahill, & Wenk, 2002; McDaniel, Maier, & Einstein, 2002). Memory supplements are usually no more effective than drinking a can of sugared soda, which also releases glucose and thus improves memory slightly.
Psychologists have studied the ways that best allow people to acquire new information, to retain it over time, and to retrieve information that has been stored in our memories. One important finding is that learning is an active process. To acquire information most effectively, we must actively manipulate it. One active approach is rehearsal—repeating the information that is to be learned over and over again. Although simple repetition does help us learn, psychological research has found that we acquire information most effectively when we actively think about or elaborate on its meaning and relate the material to something else.
When you study, try to elaborate by connecting the information to other things that you already know. If you want to remember the different schools of psychology, for instance, try to think about how each of the approaches is different from the others. As you make the comparisons among the approaches, determine what is most important about each one and then relate it to the features of the other approaches. In an important study showing the effectiveness of elaborative encoding, Rogers, Kuiper, and Kirker (1977) found that students learned information best when they related it to aspects of themselves (a phenomenon known as the self-reference effect). This research suggests that imagining how the material relates to your own interests and goals will help you learn it.
An approach known as the method of loci involves linking each of the pieces of information that you need to remember to places that you are familiar with. You might think about the house that you grew up in and the rooms in it. Then you could put the behaviorists in the bedroom, the structuralists in the living room, and the functionalists in the kitchen. Then when you need to remember the information, you retrieve the mental image of your house and should be able to “see” each of the people in each of the areas.
One of the most fundamental principles of learning is known as the spacing effect. Both humans and animals more easily remember or learn material when they study the material in several shorter study periods over a longer period of time, rather than studying it just once for a long period of time. Cramming for an exam is a particularly ineffective way to learn.
Psychologists have also found that performance is improved when people set difficult yet realistic goals for themselves (Locke & Latham, 2006).You can use this knowledge to help you learn. Set realistic goals for the time you are going to spend studying and what you are going to learn, and try to stick to those goals. Do a small amount every day, and by the end of the week you will have accomplished a lot.
Our ability to adequately assess our own knowledge is known asmetacognition. Research suggests that our metacognition may make us overconfident, leading us to believe that we have learned material even when we have not. To counteract this problem, don’t just go over your notes again and again. Instead, make a list of questions and then see if you can answer them. Study the information again and then test yourself again after a few minutes. If you made any mistakes, study again. Then wait for a half hour and test yourself again. Then test again after 1 day and after 2 days. Testing yourself by attempting to retrieve information in an active manner is better than simply studying the material because it will help you determine if you really know it.
In summary, everyone can learn to learn better. Learning is an important skill, and following the previously mentioned guidelines will likely help you learn better.
· The first psychologists were philosophers, but the field became more empirical and objective as more sophisticated scientific approaches were developed and employed.
· Some basic questions asked by psychologists include those about nature versus nurture, free will versus determinism, accuracy versus inaccuracy, and conscious versus unconscious processing.
· The structuralists attempted to analyze the nature of consciousness using introspection.
· The functionalists based their ideas on the work of Darwin, and their approaches led to the field of evolutionary psychology.
· The behaviorists explained behavior in terms of stimulus, response, and reinforcement, while denying the presence of free will.
· Cognitive psychologists study how people perceive, process, and remember information.
· Psychodynamic psychology focuses on unconscious drives and the potential to improve lives through psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
· The social-cultural approach focuses on the social situation, including how cultures and social norms influence our behavior.
EXERCISES AND CRITICAL THINKING
1. What type of questions can psychologists answer that philosophers might not be able to answer as completely or as accurately? Explain why you think psychologists can answer these questions better than philosophers can.
2. Choose one of the major questions of psychology and provide some evidence from your own experience that supports one side or the other.
3. Choose two of the fields of psychology discussed in this section and explain how they differ in their approaches to understanding behavior and the level of explanation at which they are focused.
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