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Why I’ll remember what I’ll remember

I want to talk about psychology, something that my co-blogger Matt would be better suited to talk to you about. In the field of psychology there is a theory known as the serial position effect. This effect was first introduced by Hermann Ebbinghaus, as he did the research on, oddly enough, himself. The serial position effect states that if I give you a set of data then ask you to repeat it back to me, you’ll be more inclined to remember the data that I presented first and last.

In human terms, we are more inclined to remember things that happen at the beginning and the end. It’s easier for us to remember the beginning of our favorite movies and the closing credits. This is the reason you always remember the beginning of that annoying song in the radio, before abruptly changing stations. See, psychology can be helpful.

The idea that Ebbinghaus presented can be broken into a few smaller ideas: the primary effect and the recency effect. These effects break the data that is being looked at into three parts: the beginning, middle and end.

The primary effect looks at the beginning. This is where you are most likely to remember any part of the data. It’s always easiest to remember the beginning; it’s the starting point for any journey.

To me, the primary effect is freshman year. To look back three years ago is bittersweet for me. But it’s remarkable how well we can remember things from that long ago, as if they happened last week. I remember the friends that I went to class with and late-night study sessions with them.

More recently, I’ve noticed the recency effect. This is the idea that the data near the end will also be easier to recall and remember. This is me in the now. My senior year is the end of my undergraduate career, and the end of this given set of data. I’m sure looking back I will be able to recall a lot about this year.

Sophomore and junior years fall in between, and this time period can be hard to remember. The time begins to blend together and you get caught up in your classes and scheduling and going to the rec and you feel like you are getting pulled in every direction. Take a step back and do something memorable. The “future you” will be appreciative.

Inevitably, we will remember what we choose to remember. Hopefully it will be good times with good friends, the perfect papers and the tests that you aced. Whatever you do, don’t forget all the data. Without it, your graph of life will never be complete.

Jake Slease, Class of 2013, chemistry

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