Author Archives: Caila Marie Landis

The Method of Loci

Chapter ten in our text book briefly describes a way to use images to improve memory known as the method of loci. Mental visual images are placed at different locations in a spatial layout so that they may be retrieved at a later time by our memory (pg. 286). This was first discovered according to a legend about a Greek poet named Simonides. The legend states that after Simonides had given a speech at a banquet the roof collapsed leaving many people dead, and some of their bodies left unrecognizable. Because Simonides had created a mental picture of the audience and where they were seated he was able to determine who had been killed by mentally scanning the banquet hall and remembering where each person had been seated (pg. 286). He later realized this technique could be used to remember other things, if he mentally placed images at the seats surrounding the table, and then mentally scanned the table as he had done before (pg. 286).

I had mentioned in an earlier post about how I am a server and a bartender part time, a job where I use my memory quite a bit. Sometimes writing down everything a customer needs can be very time consuming, and in the fast paced environment that the restaurant is, many of us try to save time any way we can. Although I am not sure that I use the method of loci at work I believe it is something that could help me save time, especially while I am bartending. Many people come to sit at the bar to simply order one drink, rather than an entire meal, so it is easy to get an order without writing it down. I could use the method of loci by placing a visual image of the drink each person ordered in the seat they are seated in, and then by scanning the bar mentally I could remember what each person would like. I could also use this method if people ask me for things like to go containers, extra sauces, more napkins, etc. By placing a mental image of what each customer asked for I could mentally scan the bar in my mind while I go to the kitchen, and hopefully this would help me to remember every item needed.

I believe the method of loci is something I could use to improve my performance while at work. Although it is not something I would use to remember larger orders, or if someone has very specific instructions, as it is better to get the order right then save time. However, for smaller less meaningful tasks, such as drink refills, extra sauces, etc. I would likely make less trips back and forth from the kitchen. Not only would it save me time but the customers would receive things faster, it sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

The attenuation theory of attention

The cocktail party effect occurs when you are listening to and attending to one message but also hear parts of an important message that is not being attended to, such as your name or other important words like “fire!”. Because of the occurrence of the cocktail party effect Anne Treisman developed a modification on Broadbent’s early selection model of attention which she called the attenuation theory of attention. According to the attenuation theory selection occurs in two stages, the first stage replaces the filter in Broadbent’s theory with an attenuator, and the second stage involves a dictionary unit (Goldstein, 2011, p. 85-6).

The attenuator analyzes incoming messages by not only physical characteristis but also by the language and meaning of the message, and the messages are then let through into the final output, the dictionary unit. The dictionary unit has stored words, each of which has a different threshold for activation, more important words have a lower threshold and can be detected easily. Treisman proposed that not only does the attended message get through but important parts of the unnattended message can get through as well (Goldstein, 2011, p.86).

I have noticed the cocktail party effect multiple times, mostly I have noticed this happening at my job. I am a server and bartender part time, which means a lot of multitasking and talking with a lot of customers throughout my shifts. When I am talking with one customer, whether taking an order or discussing their meal, my attention is focused on them, but I sometimes hear other customers talking amongst themselves. I am able to hear parts of other peoples conversations and pick out important words or phrases, while still listening to the message I am attending to. This allows me to adjust my service accordingly, because of this I am able to multitask and take care of many customers at once.

This relates to the attenuation theory of attention in the following way: the attenuator analyzes the messages, both for physical characteristics, language, and meaning, and then both the attended and unattended messages are pushed through to the dictionary unit. Although I am focused on listening to one message, parts of other messages catch my attention, due to the dictionary unit, words that are related to food service have a lower threshold for me then for someone who does not wait tables. Certain words or phrases include “overcooked” “I need a (refill, sauce, etc.)” “The food is taking long” or other phrases that indicate customers needing something. My dictionary unit has these words or phrases stored, and allows me to detect them even when they are not apart of the message I am focusing on.


Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Perception and Top Down Processing

Chapter three in our textbook discusses two types of processing that work together in order for us to perceive the world around us.  The first is called bottom up processing, and deals with the stimulation of the receptors of the brain.  When we see an image light is reflected sending signals to the visual receiving area of the cortex (Goldstein, 2011, p.50).  The second type of processing is what interested me more, top down processing, Goldstein defined top down processing as “processing that begins with a person’s prior knowledge or expectations (p. 52) . Top down processing allows us to perceive things more than just what we see, our prior knowledge and experience can cause us to have a different perception.

While I was reading this section in our book I found myself thinking of how I could see this in children as they grow and learn about the world, mainly how my daughter’s perceptions differ from my own.  My daughter is 19 months old, she has much less life experience than an adult, so I believe her use of top down processing would be much more broad than that of an adults.  Where I would see a truck and perceive that not only is it a truck, it is an 18 wheeler, perhaps based on the color or logo I may be able to tell what company it belongs to, and what it is likely to be hauling.  My daughter sees a truck and says something like “car, vroom vroom”. Because she has less experience, and possibly no prior knowledge of trucks she believes a vehicle on the road with wheels must be a car.

Another example of this is when she was learning about animals, although she now can name most animals she sees, there was a time when she called everything a cat.  We have a pet cat, and cat was actually her first word, and shortly after this she began calling every animal a cat.  Our pet cat was the first and only animal she saw for a long time, she had no knowledge of other animals, to her the only animal was a cat, and every animal was a cat. Her prior knowledge and experiences had her perceive every animal she saw as a cat.

Although I noticed her doing this before taking this class, I did not really ever think of it in this way, I thought it was more of a lack of language.  I believed she simply did not know certain words so she would use the few words she knew instead, I did not realize that she was actually perceiving things differently than I was.  Now knowing about the two different types of processing I can say that her top down processing likely caused this, her lack of knowledge and experience in certain situations caused her to perceive things differently.



Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.