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Lecture 1: Factors related to ‘good memory’
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Lecture 1: Factors related to ‘good memory’

You will learn the factors that facilitate memory after this part.
Welcome back to the course Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry. Now we begin the second session of the course, which will focus on the issues of memory of dental patients. After this class, you will learn the factors that facilitate memory and help patient-dentist communication, and identify the situations that influence the credibility of memory.
Okay! I hope that you are not too discouraged by the theories and sciences of memory processing. Now we’re back to some real applications. In this session, I will show you some interesting ‘tricks’ to help patients to learn the important message. First of all, let’s go back to the idea of the capacity of short-term memory. I just said that most people can temporarily hold in their mind around seven digits. So a long series of numbers will be difficult to be kept. Such as the telephone number here.
You may find it less difficult to remember if you break these 12 digits into several chunks. For example, we have double 8, double 2, and triple zero in the end. In fact, a chunk itself has become another unit for remembering. So by breaking a long series of information into chunks, you actually reduce the number of digits to be remembered. Another interesting case is about the timing of communication with patients. The primacy and recency effect reveals that people will remember things more efficiently at the beginning and the end of learning. At the beginning of a course, we just start to fill in our empty mind with new information.
But minutes after, there could be too much information to handle, a bottleneck of information processing may occur. In contrast, the information given at the end of a course, just before a quiz, may be kept better because it has just been learned. Therefore, it may be a good idea to highlight the most important message to patients at the very beginning of your talk, and strengthen this point again by the end of your talk. This would be good timing for them to keep what you say.
Another method to help patients to remember what you say is to modify the way they think about information. When we chew the meaning of a message, we learn more and better keep it in mind. For example, here subjects are asked to memorize a list of words. In one condition, they are asked to judge if the words are capitalized or not. That means our brain is dealing with the perceptual information of these words. In another condition, they are asked to judge if the words relate to something alive or not. That means our brain is dealing with the semantic content or meaning of a word. Researchers found that people memorize better in the latter condition, which requires deeper processing of information.
Therefore, the levels of processing play a key role in memory. When we tell something to patients, it may be wise to have them chew the meaning by themselves. In fact, there is a special type of information that we will focus on and think about again and again. That is the information about ‘me’ myself. It is not uncommon that patients selectively remember the message referring to themselves. For example, smokers would listen to you carefully when you tell them ‘heavy smokers, just like you, have a higher risk of some oral diseases’. There is an effect to put the pronoun ‘you’ when you tell a patient something.
Instead, just telling a plain story from a third-person perspective, just like giving a lecture, would be less attractive to patients.
So here let us have a quick summary. There is a myth that if we give too much information to patients, they just cannot remember that much. It’s a myth because the amount of message may not play a definite role. As we have seen about the capacity of short-term memory, even a long series of digits can be memorized, as long as they are organized in small chunks. Therefore, what matters is the structure of information we deliver to patients. If they are grouped and structured well, with each chunk related to one another, they can be kept in mind efficiently. Next, the effect of level-of-processing suggests that patients need to chew the meaning of the message themselves.
The ‘deeper’ they think about the information, the better for memorizing it. It would be a good strategy to have some time left for patients, let them think about why and how things are going. And also try to relate what you say to the patients themselves. For example, an analogue from their own life experience is sometimes more persuasive than the ‘statistics’ from a textbook. Patients pay more attention to the self-referential message and would learn it by heart. Again, I want to highlight the self-reference effect on memory. People better keep in mind the things related to their personal issues.
When we discuss a treatment plan or simply a routine oral hygiene instruction, a very critical step is to individualize the patient’s own condition. That is to say, the message we deliver to patients is specific to their own conditions. And we should keep in mind that the ‘conditions’ include their psychosocial conditions. For example, patients with different occupations may have different dietary habits. Some eat and drink all the time and others just take a chocolate bar for their meal. The individual difference should be acknowledged and respected. Instead of an ‘official statement’ published by the hospital, our response to patients should be better related to their personal conditions.

Real Application

We hope you are still staying with us on the learning journey.

In this step, you will learn the factors that facilitate memory and help patient-dentist communication, and identify the situations that influence the credibility of memory.

We will show you some interesting ‘tricks’ to help patients to learn the important message, and, maybe, help them to remember what you say.

Next, we will look deeper into the self-reference effect on memory and how to individualize the patient’s own condition.

Do you agree that all the responses to patients should be better related to their personal conditions? Or it is more convenient and easier if we treat them as ‘one-size-fits-all’?

You are invited to share your ideas with us and other fellow learners.

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Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry

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