Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? It's the situation where you come across a person that you're almost certain that you've seen somewhere before but can't quite place where. Believe it or not, there's a deeper explanation for that scenario. You're aware of your long-term and short-term memory, yes? Well, there's a shorter-term memory called your sensory memory.

Sensory memory is designed to store bits of information in your brain for literally milliseconds at times. Are you familiar with that sensation you feel whenever you're walking through a crowd and someone catches your eye? That's your sensory memory firing off. Now, here's the interesting part: most of the time, your brain deliberately ignores a lot of the info that's stored there; however, there are times where that info can actually slip into your long-term memory without you even being aware of it being processed! In essence, some of the people that you've felt like you've met before are probably people that you've simply passed by at some point. Even more interesting still is the fact that these people can even show up in your dreams (it's usually as those people that you don't know, but you can clearly identify).

There are several types of tests for your sensory memory that you can try with a friend. Try this one: Create sets of several numbers. Have the first set with only a few digits, stopping at usually three or four. For the following sets, increase the numbers in the set by only one or two. When you get to the last set, make sure that it's at least 11 digits or more (try not to go too overboard with it; I promise that 11 will do the trick). See if they freak out when they get to the 11th digit. So, use this as an example:

  • 1, 5, 6, 8
  • 4, 2, 9, 7, 5, 6
  • 3, 5, 4, 2, 1, 0, 9, 4, 3
  • 8, 7, 9, 1, 6, 3, 0, 7, 8, 4, 1, 6
See, your sensory information is only designed to hold about 12 items at one time. You're actually being bombarded with about 11,000,000,000 items per second, but your brain is only going to store the information that's need for some later use. There are also different types of sensory memory that's associated with different senses, but I'm not going to get into that because this is only a blog post and my attention span can only stretch for so long. :D However, if you'd like more information about sensory memory, there's a Wikipedia page on the subject (Wikipedia: Sensory Memory) and there are several other websites available as well. The information I've placed on here is all stuff from my human development class. GO, LEARNING!


  1. I have had those moments and I get mad when I can't figure out who the person is. I learned this in psychology class before, its interesting. Another test is remembering a set of words, if they all have a certain relationship we remember them more than just random words. If eye contact is made or if we say hello then they can easily slip into our long term memory.

  2. I have this problem way too often. I constantly forget who people are, and the situation is usually embarrassing. Thank you for sharing this interesting trick. I will probably find myself trying it with out realizing it. Also this trick almost reminds me of how you can jog your memory with a related words play.

  3. This happens to me all the time. It's like my mind can only remember a certain amount of people and the others are just forgotten. I've learned a lot about sensory memory and how the mind works in my psychology class this semester. So I can also relate this to writing. Sometimes I'll be thinking of a great blog post but by the time it's time to post it I will have forgotten it. All because of sensory memory huh? O_o Lol