The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Many of us have trouble remembering dates, such as a friend's anniversary or the year he was born. This is partly because the dates are so arbitrary: Unless you believe in astrology, there is no obvious relationship between a date and the event it represents.

One way to improve memory for dates is to find a way to make them less arbitrary and more meaningful.

For example: suppose you have a friend-let's call him Adam-and you want to remember that he was born in 1951.

First, spend some time thinking about what was happening in 1951. If you were born before 1951, perhaps you can remember what you were doing then. If you finished high school in that year, it should be easy to remember that Adam was born in the year you graduated. Also in 1951, CBS transmitted its first color television show and the New York Yankees beat the New York Giants in the World Series. If none of those events are memorable to you, try remembering that 1951 was the 10th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and exactly 10 years before the United States entered the Vietnam War.

Now try linking the historical memory to Adam: Imagine Adam as a newborn infant at the site of the event-the more comical the image, the better, since associating a fact with an emotion will make the information more memorable. So, for instance, picture Adam in his diapers cheering for the Yankees.

Next time you need to remember Adam's birthday, think of him as an infant. If your image was vivid enough, you should remember the historical event, and can use that prompt to help you remember the year he was born.