Monday, March 19, 2007

Why is it so easy to remember the number of your hotel room?

Who's asking: Bill Walsh, Washington, DC

"Or is it just me?" he asks.

It's not just you, Bill, but I do think it's something that gets harder when you're traveling a lot. I have friends who spend three months or more on the road every year, and not all of them are as good about remembering hotel room numbers as they'd like to be.

That said, it is easy for most people to remember the number of their hotel room, because it's a convergence of a few key memory-enhancing elements.

First off, the hotel room is your temporary shelter, which puts it right near the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Shelter's a physiological need, but the hotel room is a security need as well -- we always feel a little uncertain when we're traveling, and the hotel room represents a place of safety.

Second, a three- or four-digit hotel room number is the ideal size for the memory storage process called "chunking." Psychologists have established that the human brain stores information most efficiently by breaking it down into small, manageable pieces (chunks). We remember phone numbers not as seven digits (or ten digits), but as three digits plus four digits. Poetry is easier to memorize than prose because we remember it one phrase or line at a time, not in complete sentences.

Finally, think about the way you remember your hotel room number. Do you just remember the digits, or do you visualize the number on the door itself? If you visualize the number on the door itself, this is imaging, another aid to memory. Most people remember images and other direct sensory input better than they remember words or numbers. People with exceptionally good memories for words and numbers usually say they "see" the words and numbers in their minds (which is why we call that a photographic memory).

Yesterday's drive back from Montreal was a little harrowing. The weather was fine when I left the island, but turned ugly by the time I got to southern Quebec, and the drive through Dixville Notch was something I'd really not rather do again. It's spring, dammit! Why is it still snowing?

My latest Mystery Bookstore podcast interview, with Robert Crais, is now online. You can subscribe by clicking any of the four buttons in the upper right-hand corner of The Mystery Bookstore's website.


Linda said...

Quit bragging about winter -- I'm mad that we haven't had rain in ages out here. I feel as parched as a dead ol' Joshua tree...

The Crais interview sounds great! Now we need to start plotting for April, and particularly for the Festival!


Running from my House said...

I'm good at remembering the first hotel room of the month, but I've definitely hit last weeks floor at this week's hotel in the elevator

Bryce Cordry said...

There is one hotel I went to that not only doesn't tell the person their room number, they also don't write it down. They print a sheet out with all the signature lines on it, and after the person is done signing, they point to the room number which is in light 8 pt font, and say (exactly, word for word) "remember this, as you will not have any access to this at any other time during your stay. Then they tear. The bottom half with the signatures gets filed away, and the top half with the room number on it gets shredded. Should you forget your number, ou have to go through a long tedious process to verify that it is indeed your room. They also do not allow any discussion of anything related to room numbers (including reminding yourself of your number) in any public place such as the lobby, the elevators, and the hallways.