The Purpose of Memory Structures

Memory strategies depend, in part, on the mental structures which organize our memories so that we can locate knowledge when we need it. It is implausible to believe that we activate every structure in memory every time we try to answer a question. Instead, our memories use organizational structures which help them figure out which knowledge is relevant when. While we could not keep track of the enormous number of things we know without such structures, they are not always perfect. Have you ever had the experience of knowing that you know something, but not being able to bring it to mind? Or the experience of having to use a circuitous route to remember some piece of information?

The classic example of this is when you mislay your keys. How do you find them? One good strategy is to mentally retrace your steps. The reason this strategy works is that in the process of retracing your steps, you activate additional memory structures. You may not be able to retrieve "on top of the kitchen counter" when you first want to locate your keys. But when you retrace your steps, you activate your memory structure for being in the kitchen and that structure allows you access to the memory for your act of putting the keys down on the counter.

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