What do you remember from the scene? Were there details that were easier for you to remember than others? Did you use any particular strategies to help you encode or recall as many items as possible? What you ultimately remembered likely depends on the strategies you used to encode the scene, or, in other words, the mental representation you used during the encoding process.
Dual-Coding is like a Double-Wide Trailer: Twice the space, Twice the Fun!So far, we have talked about a couple of different types of mental representations:
- Mental models are like little mental-simulations of the world;
- Declarative memories are verbally articulated facts;
- Procedural memories are a series of steps in a skill.
One property that’s common to all representations is that they are incomplete. This is precisely why representations are useful. Instead of encoding every bit of possible information, representations gloss over unimportant details. The reason for this is computational efficiency. If you had to consider every unique piece of information while running a mental model, then the simulation would go on forever.
Another property of representations is that some are better suited for specific tasks than others. Some tasks, perhaps like the one above in which you are trying to remember details of a visual image, are easier when we envision a mental picture. For other tasks, however, such as remembering items in a shopping list, it might be more useful to rely on verbal labels, either in written or acoustic form .
In many cases, it is possible to use more than one type of representation for the same thing. Concrete nouns, like ocean for example, can be represented in at least three ways:
- Orthographic Representation: a string of printed characters (e.g., in English: ocean or in Japanese: 海);
- Phonologic Representation: a sound (e.g., in English: |ˈōSHən| or in Japanese: |ooME|);
- Imagistic Representation: an image.
In its simplest form, the dual-coding theory proposes that an individual is more likely to retrieve information from long-term memory when the memory was initially encoded with multiple representations . I am more likely to retrieve facts about the concept ocean if I have multiple routes to that pieces of information in long-term memory. That’s why dual-coding seems to work. Thus, a great way to learn a new vocabulary word would be to experience all three representations simultaneously:
A STEM ExampleThe same strategy that works for learning new vocabulary words also applies to mathematical instruction. It’s not that we strictly need to present a picture, word, and a sound all at the same time for each new concept. Instead, we can use multiple representations that all target the same concept.
Let's take equivalent ratios as an example. According to Brian Wilson, there are roughly "two girls for every boy" in Surf City. How might we represent that ratio with an arbitrary number of boys? It turns out that ratios can be represented in (at least) three different ways.
First, the ratio can be represented symbolically: "2 girls : 1 boy" or "2 girls / 1 boy"
Second, the two numbers can be can plotted against each other on a double number line, like this:
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For More Information More on memorizing lists later. In a later post, we will talk about memorization strategies that are thousands of years old (e.g., the memory palace strategy).
 Paivio, A (1969). Mental Imagery in associative learning and memory. Psychological Review, 76(3), 241-263..