May 28, 2014


Do you remember what the pastor said last week?  It might be easier for you to recall what he wore and how his handshake felt.   If you think your memory is foggy, or mistakenly blaming it on daydreaming, don’t.  A University of Iowa study found that auditory memory is inferior to visual and tactile memory: that is we what we see, what we touch, will register far longer in our brain than what we hear.  Other studies indicate recalling smell also trumps calling to mind sounds.

The U of I findings, published recently in the journal PLOS One (see and search phrase “Achilles’ Ear?”), give credence to folk wisdom as in the old Chinese proverb “I hear, and I forget… I see, and I remember.”  Lead author James Bigelow was quoted, "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.”

Canadian audiologist Ning Hu of Surrey Hearing Care said, “It could be because auditory information is received sequentially one at a time, for example speech sounds, before it can be processed and understood as a whole by the brain, while visual information can be scanned over and over by the eye. Our short-term memory has a certain capacity to store auditory information for retrieval and recall within a short period of time before new auditory information comes in for processing. This cognitive overloading of information perhaps renders fewer mental resources available to commit auditory information to memory.”

Sounds that register more in one’s brain are those according to Ms. Hu which are “familiar as opposed to novel sounds, for example voices of family and friends versus strangers, ones own name being called, and sounds that are linked to some form of strong emotions like a favorite song or nails on chalkboard.”

Remember the song that you just heard, and now you find yourself singing the tune again and again – that is called a brain itch, or cognitive itch, or earworm.  Yes an earworm (talking of stimuli).   This often happens due to catchy repetitive lyrics.   The only way to scratch the itch off is to keep crooning the melody.  Women are more susceptible to brain itch.

What are the implications?

For Advertisers: Radio advertising which is pure auditory will work best the more frequent the commercial is aired. Don’t expect a week to do the trick. 
Print Advertising will strongly compliment other media because it "is there always" - not fleeting like radio or TV or online.  Seeing an Ad on print has stronger brain imprint = see
Paper Beats Digital In Many Ways, According To Neuroscience

For Speakers and Lecturers:  Use multimedia, role play, more mnemonic aids, or hands-on tasks to extend the life of the word/s in the brain, in other words multi-stimuli.

For Parents talking to Teens: Say their names first.

For You: Jot it down, the longer the downtime from the moment you heard the sound or words (e.g. in a classroom or church) the higher the chance you will require more effort to recollect.  Do not rely on your memory.  Other sounds will ultimately kicked out of your brain a good portion of what you heard unless there is repetition or emotional value or a looming due date.
So next time somebody tells you, “I just told you! You’re not listening.”  Perhaps.  Or at that moment your auricular memory space is full and you just don’t have room for more. Your response, "Sorry, no space."

Can you blame age for fuzzy memory?  “I am having a senior moment.”  Now that can be partly due to hearing loss which is another topic.

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