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Laws Underlying Memory

The development of a good memory depends in no small degree on the

closeness with which we follow certain well-demonstrated laws.

THE LAW OF ASSOCIATION.--The law of association, as we have already

seen, is fundamental. Upon it the whole structure of memory depends.

Stating this law in neural terms we may say: Brain areas which are

active together at the same time tend to establish associative paths,

so t
at when one of them is again active the other is also brought into

activity. Expressing the same truth in mental terms: If two facts or

experiences occur together in consciousness, and one of them is later

recalled, it tends to cause the other to appear also.

THE LAW OF REPETITION.--The law of repetition is but a restatement of

the law of habit, and may be formulated as follows: The more

frequently a certain cortical activity occurs, the more easily is its

repetition brought about. Stating this law in mental terms we may say:

The more often a fact is recalled in consciousness the easier and more

certain the recall becomes. It is upon the law of repetition that

reviews and drills to fix things in the memory are based.

THE LAW OF RECENCY.--We may state the law of recency in physiological

terms as follows: The more recently brain centers have been employed

in a certain activity, the more easily are they thrown into the same

activity. This, on the mental side, means: The more recently any facts

have been present in consciousness the more easily are they recalled. It

is in obedience to this law that we want to rehearse a difficult lesson

just before the recitation hour, or cram immediately before an

examination. The working of this law also explains the tendency of all

memories to fade out as the years pass by.

THE LAW OF VIVIDNESS.--The law of vividness is of primary importance in

memorizing. On the physical side it may be expressed as follows: The

higher the tension or the more intense the activity of neural centers

the more easily the activity is repeated. The counterpart of this law in

mental terms is: The higher the degree of attention or concentration

when the fact is registered the more certain it is of recall. Better far

one impression of a high degree of vividness than several repetitions

with the attention wandering or the brain too fatigued to respond. Not

drill alone, but drill with concentration, is necessary to sure

memory,--in proof of which witness the futile results on the part of the

small boy who studies his spelling lesson over fifteen times, the

while he is at the same time counting his marbles.