Understanding Elaborative Rehearsal in Psychology

Definitions, Examples, and Research

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Elaborative rehearsal is a way to memorize information more effectively and maintain it in your long-term memory. This method of memorization connects information you already know with new information.

Research has found that by making associations between what you're trying to learn and what you already know, your brain process the new information in a more in-depth way.

This article explains how elaborative rehearsal can be used as as a memory aid and how it compares to maintenance rehearsal, another method of memorization.

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What Is Elaborative Rehearsal?

Long-term memories are those that span from days to decades. Short-term memories, on the other hand, include those from a few seconds to a few days.

There are two types of memory rehearsal: maintenance and elaborative. Both involve repetition to move new information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. However, each kind of rehearsal works differently.

Maintenance rehearsal is the straight repeating of information to memorize it. This type of rehearsal is also called rote rehearsal. This type of rehearsal can be mental, where you're thinking about and repeating the information in your mind. It can also be verbal, where you're speaking and repeating the information aloud.

Repeating the digits of a phone number until you dial them is an example of maintenance rehearsal.

Elaborative rehearsal is more complex than maintenance rehearsal. It uses different encoding strategies to link new information with information you already know.

Strategies may include:

  • Organizing information
  • Thinking of examples
  • Creating an image in your head
  • Using a mnemonic device

What Is a Mnemonic Device?

A mnemonic device is a learning technique that uses different strategies to encode and retrieve new information. It is based on the idea that your mind can recall relatable details. Using acronyms and rhymes to help memorize new information are examples of mnemonic devices.

Does Rehearsal Work?

While everyone benefits from using rehearsal to help remember things, some groups may find it particularly helpful, including:

Multiple research studies have evaluated the effectiveness of rehearsing information to recall it later.

For example, a 2015 study found that rehearsing details of video clips immediately after watching them improved recall of the videos weeks later. Participants in this study were not directed on how to rehearse. Therefore, this study demonstrated the effectiveness of rehearsal in general, rather than that of a specific type.

However, evidence suggests that maintenance rehearsal is primarily effective at placing information in your short-term memory. Elaborative rehearsal is more effective at encoding it into your long-term memory.

Dementia

Much of the research about elaborative rehearsal is related to students. However, some research has also evaluated how this method may be helpful in the early stages of dementia.

Memory is often one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia. Some research has shown that elaborative rehearsal strategies can help.

In a study published in 2016, researchers found that using a simple mnemonic technique helped compensate for memory deficits in people with mild cognitive impairment and improved mental functioning in early dementia.

Elaborative Rehearsal Strategies

There are many different elaborative rehearsal strategies you can draw on to memorize new information.

Translate Into Your Own Words

After reading something new, try rephrasing the information using words that are already familiar to you.

For example, suppose you read that atherosclerosis is the deposit of fatty plaques on artery walls (but plaques is a new term for you). You might reword this to: Atherosclerosis is when fat and cholesterol harden inside arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart.

By doing this, you translate new information to already stored knowledge. Your existing understanding of cholesterol helps you remember what plaques are. This helps you both build your vocabulary and your ability to grasp new concepts.

You can take it a step further and explain the concept to someone else in your own words.

Use Imagery

Say you want to memorize the names of different types of clouds. Using imagery can help you remember the name and shape of each type.

For example, a cumulus cloud is puffy with rounded towers. To remember both the term and the form, you may think:

  • Cumulus sounds like accumulate.
  • I can build a tower of building blocks if I accumulate enough of them and place them on top of one another.

You can then draw on an image of a tower of building blocks to help you remember a towering cumulus cloud.

In addition, you could use color to help you. For example, assigning the color yellow to nimbus clouds may remind you of your yellow rain boots. This can help you recall that these clouds carry rain.

Grouping

Grouping, also called "chunking," is an effective strategy that groups smaller categories into larger ones to make them easier to recall. This is especially effective for remembering lists of things.

For instance, let's say you're packing for a trip and you need to remember toothpaste, snacks, shampoo, headphones, deodorant, a book, a sleeping bag, and a pillow.

Think of how these different items are related and break your list up accordingly. So, in this case, you may bucket the items as follows:

Toiletries:

  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo
  • Deodorant

Sleep:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow

Travel activities:

  • Book
  • Headphones
  • Snacks

Grouping builds on information you already know because it relies on established connections and associations in your memory.

Use Mnemonic Strategies

Mnemonic strategies can be beneficial in learning names or terms, and in following directions and completing tasks. Some examples of mnemonic devices include:

  • Keyword cues: A new word makes you think of an existing word in your vocabulary.
  • Music: Sing new information to a familiar tune.
  • Acronyms: Each letter stands for a word.
  • Acrostics: A sentence helps you remember information.
  • Rhymes: For example, to remember which way to turn a screw, you might say "righty tighty, lefty loosey."
  • The method of loci: This involves visualizing yourself picking up pieces of new information in a familiar room.
  • Peg method, or linking words with numbers: For example, let's say you're going grocery shopping and need apples and cheese. You might use a common rhyming example—one=gun, two=shoe—to help you remember your list. Apples are your first item. Think 'one gun can shoot an apple across the room.' Cheese is your second. Think 'a shoe is as stinky as a wedge of Limberger.'

Summary

Elaborative rehearsal is one of two types of memorization. It uses many different strategies to commit new information to longer-term memory.

It relies on connecting information you already know to new information. Mnemonic devices are commonly used in elaborative rehearsal.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are two types of rehearsal?

    There are two types of rehearsal: maintenance and elaborative. Maintenance rehearsal (also known as rote memorization) involves repeating information (out loud or in your head). Elaborative rehearsal is more elaborate and involves additional memory aids like mnemonic devices.

  • Which type of rehearsal strengthens long-term memory?

    Elaborative rehearsal is more effective for long-term memory retention. By using memory aids—such as grouping, using images, or quizzing yourself on the information you need to learn—you are more likely to have a stronger long-term retention rate than you would if you used maintenance rehearsal.

  • Does research support elaborative rehearsal?

    Yes. Studies have demonstrated that elaborative rehearsal is an effective way to retain information.

  • Is elaborative rehearsal more effective than maintenance rehearsal?

    That depends on what information you need to remember and for how long. While elaborative rehearsal is effective for the information you want to remember long-term, there may be cases (like remembering a phone number) when maintenance rehearsal may be appropriate.

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Additional Reading
  • Goldstein EB. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. 5th ed. Cengage Learning; 2019.