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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Information, Location

Research has shown some indication that places can be linked to people's thought patterns in hidden ways. For instance, in my Intro Psych class, the professor talked about research that found people do better on tests when they take them in the same environment (e.g. the same classroom) where they learned the information.

However, I have a suspicion that my brain is especially obsessed with physical location. In addition to being overly concerned with maps, finding my way around, and other aspects of geography, I seem to consistently connect thoughts with places. For example, yesterday at work I had occasion to insert a hard return in a cell in an Excel spreadsheet. As I did this, I involuntarily pictured myself in the place where I first learned to do this by pressing Alt-Enter -- a desk at my work-study job in college.

The locations aren't necessarily related in any discernible way to the idea. The concept of distinguishing between the words "insure" and "ensure" is connected to a spot in Guilford on Beaver Head Rd near where it intersects with Great Hill Rd. When I'm deciding which one is more appropriate to use, for some reason I tend to picture that place.

I guess it's hard to say if this is any different than what others experience. But I wonder what this tendency means for being in an environment where my consumption of many different kinds of information and ideas occurs in one physical place, seated at my computer? Do I retain less because my brain has no physical setting to map it to?

6 comments:

My Freakwentness said...

I think you learn faster now that you're in a more context-free environment. Saying that the connections to physical location are what cause you to remember things is like saying that sweat is what makes people overheat. Having to remember where you learned everything is a burden on your mental capacity. In evolutionary terms, this phenomenon, unless proved inherently useful, is probably just spandrel, however enjoyable.

lj said...

I certainly do that with some songs, but I don't think I do with other things. That's interesting.

Teague, I've got a countdown running until your blog post on a particular news item. Get with it.

teague said...

It may be that it's wasted mental effort. But not necessarily -- it could function as a subconscious mnemonic that helps my brain keep track of and recall things. Maybe how well I remember things I read on the internet can be the other half of the controlled experiment...

LJ, are you talking about the NYT article on Dutch bicycles and looking fashionable while biking?

lj said...

Oh, that's a good one, too! H pointed it out to me the other day. Between all the is-it-manly-enough crap, I think that article brings up an interesting point about mainstream culture including biking, versus Biking Culture.

But no, I had in mind something that Teague prefers, and apparently Obama is also keen on.

And now that you mention "subconcious mnemonic," I feel like I've read that our memory works by making connections. So the more connected to other things in your brain it is, the more likely you'll remember any particular thing. So I bet there is an evolutionary advantage to it.

teague said...

Hmm, I'm still not remembering a news item about Obama liking something that I also like. I do have a vague memory of saying "I prefer ____," but I can't remember what that was...

lj said...

You sang it to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus." It's the reason no one will ever pick you up from the airport.