It’s 11. You’re sitting at home, drinking wine – the exams are done and you are feeling fine. Suddenly you realise, it was B all along. Why couldn’t you just remember this during the exams? Well, you probably shouldn’t have drunk that wine while you were studying too…
Forgetting is a major obstacle students face during their studies. The well-known view of Standard Consolidation holds that memories will be forgotten unless they are consolidated by the hippocampus to neocortical areas. A new approach called Contextual Binding proposes that forgetting is due to contextual interference. It suggests that the hippocampus binds contextual information together with item information which together form a memory. Context can be everything from a minute environmental detail like a certain smell to an association between mental objects.
We hypothesized that the similarity of items interferes with memory encoding and eventually memory recognition performance. This is because similar items share the same context info as the item to be remembered.The existence of retroactive interference, which is new memories interfering with the retrieval of older memories, has been established in numerous experiments.
The difference between Standard consolidation and Contextual Binding is that the latter also predicts proactive interference, which means that older memories can interfere with the retrieval of new memories. Occurrence of proactive interference would shift the importance of the hippocampus as a teacher in the Standard Consolidation theory to hippocampus as an associator of multi-modal information as it is predicted by Contextual Binding.
So next time you study, approach learning as providing more context to the knowledge you know. You can always try to give your brain a small boost by making your environment a context to retrieve your hard-gained knowledge. And obviously don’t drink while you study because according to recent research, all context matters.