• Linda Pizzitola

How We Remember


The title literally called me out: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. I’m a designer. I’m into Psychology. Do I know this stuff? Do I need  to know it? Somebody thinks so.


Skimming through, I stopped at Chapter 21 about making information stick. The author, Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D., says we have to use information to make it memorable. She offers up two practical ways to do that:


#1 REPETITION

Information sticks if we repeat it enough times, thereby changing the brain’s wiring and creating new circuits. ‘What fires together wires together,’ forming new connective patterns between neurons, and moving information from working memory into long-term memory.


So what?  So what advertising executives say about the need to repeatedly expose a target audience to an unfamiliar new message may be true. People tend to resist new ideas. But repetition creates a ‘memory trace’ in the consumer’s mind, generally increasing acceptance of the idea over time, and impacting purchasing behavior. There does appear to be a point of diminishing returns though, and a message that draws a negative response the first time may be increasingly disliked with repetition.


#2  MENTAL MODELS 

So what?  If we know, or can guess at, an existing schema our target audience holds related to our message, we can reference that schema, suggesting where in their mental models of the world they might attach or plug in this new information. To help others absorb and retain our message, we can provide them with general background information that helps ‘frame’ or contextualize our specific piece of information … or we can remind them of what they already know. Abstract concepts are best built upon an already established foundation of relevant, concrete  information.


We are more likely to notice (some would say attract) things that fit into our existing schemata (plural for schema), and tend to re-interpret information that contradicts our pre-conceived ‘scripts’ or ‘frames’ or ‘worldview’ of how things are. We might ignore or forget new information that doesn’t fit or hang well on our existing framework … or we might see new conflicting data as an exception to the ‘rule’ … or we might distort the data to make it fit. When the new information cannot be ignored or revised to fit, existing schemata must be changed to accommodate it, or a new schema created. Schemata are resistant to change, even in the face of contradictory information. Many would rather live with inconsistencies than give up a deeply-held belief  or value.


Metaphor and story can help bypass this resistance by speaking to, not the analytical cognitive brain that creates and maintains these mental models, but to the emotional, visceral and subconscious parts of the brain that pre-date the neocortex by eons. But that’s a future post…

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