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Memory Overload: Testing your memory via your car’s dashboard

Do you think you have a good memory? I bet you that I can prove that it’s not as good as you think it is. Grab a blank sheet of paper and draw the instruments on your car’s dashboard from memory. That’s easy, right? Now go look at the dashboard of your car… I’ll wait.



*whistles patiently while waiting for you to return*



You weren’t even close were you?  If you were, congrats, you are one of the few. For a psychology course in high school we did this activity with us drawing the dash in the classroom and then headed down to the parking lot to compare our drawing to the actual thing. I wasn’t even close. Not many in my class were. I saw my Oldsmobile Alero’s dashboard every day, but I obviously didn’t have it as well-studied as I thought I had.

The main purpose of this activity is to test our memory of things we’ve seen a million times and probably on a daily basis. Another way of doing it is trying to draw a bicycle with all it’s working parts. You got your handlebars, your frame, your wheels and your seat and you’re good, right? Oh, shoot, we forgot the chain. Now what tire does the chain go to or does it go to both tires… this activity isn’t easy either. Velocipedia had 376 people draw a bicycle from memory over the course of six years and not too many drew a fully-functioning bike.

There are many things to learn from this.

One, we humans are not elephants, we don’t remember everything. I may know every word to every Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen and Beatles song, but, good golly, do I have issues remembering the multiplication table once you get over 75 percent of the way through it.

Two, we don’t even fully know and remember things we see on a daily basis. We see our dashboards virtually every day and we can’t draw that. Can you remember what apps are on the main page of your iPhone? Just yesterday, I realized that Ms. Pac-Man was still on my homescreen and I hadn’t played it in nearly two months. That’s something on a screen I see, most likely, hundreds of times a day.

Third, we are not perfect and we’re not really close to it. We should be able to remember these things, but we simply don’t. We only have so much space in our brains and mines filled up with song lyrics and the dialogue to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a fact that we sometimes, ironically, forget. We simply can’t remember everything.

So while we all go through our crazy lives, remember that it isn’t natural to remember everything. Write yourself some notes, put some sticky notes on your wallet, use the Notes app on your phone (hint: use this for your shopping list, you are much less likely to forget your phone before going shopping than a paper list) and ask people to remind you of things. We all have different memories and we all have different ways of remembering things. We need to remember a lot of things and we only have so much space on the hard drive that is our brain. We can all benefit from writing down a few things to help us out.

Note to self: remember to publish this on the website.

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