Sight, touch help us remember better than sound
A new study by researchers at the University of Iowa found people don't remember what they hear as well as things they see and touch. Findings were published this week in the journal PLoS One.
"As it turns out, there is merit to the Chinese proverb 'I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember," says James Bigelow, study lead author and UI graduate student.
"We tend to think that the parts of our brain wired for memory are integrated. But our findings indicate our brain may use separate pathways to process information," says Amy Poremba, associate professor in the UI Department of Psychology and corresponding author on the paper. "Even more, our study suggests the brain may process auditory information differently than visual and tactile information, and alternative strategies -- such as increased mental repetition -- may be needed when trying to improve memory."
Bigelow and Poremba exposed more than 100 undergraduate students to a number of sounds, images and (touchable) items. Out of the three, students were least likely to remember what they'd heard. And while memory "declined across the board" due to time delays, the greatest decline involved sound.
Poremba likens this to trying to remember a phone number that wasn't written down.
"If someone gives you a number, and you dial it right away, you are usually fine. But do anything in between, and the odds are you will have forgotten it," she says.
The study is the first to show that our tactile memory is about equal to visual memory. Previous studies have found primates to be more adept at visual and touch-related memory tasks than auditory tasks, leading Bigelow and Poremba to believe human weakness for remembering sound is rooted in primate brain evolution.