The critical thing to optimize in spaced repetition memory systems is emotional connection to the review session and its contents

Many researchers are trying to make a more efficient Spaced repetition memory system, but I believe that the critical thing to optimize is emotional connection to the review session and its contents—and conversely, to ruthlessly minimize elements which provoke a sigh. These systems, left to their natural inclinations, naturally decay to produce dutiful sessions which feel disconnected from anything that matters to you: Memory system practice sessions are too disconnected from activities you actually care about

Part of this is writing good prompts: Important attributes of good spaced repetition memory prompts. But this isn’t enough. Review sessions need ongoing grooming to stay interesting. If you don’t add anything new for a while, your sessions will feel stale: Spaced repetition review sessions often become boring and detached without a steady stream of new prompts. If you often forget an answer, you must refactor the question or risk future eye-rolls.

For me, the most important type of maintenance concerns my shifting interests. I might stumble on a fascinating paper and write a few dozen prompts to help me internalize the details. Now fast forward six months. In the happy case, I’m thrilled when these questions recur because they reconnect me to the ideas of this fascinating paper, which now appear richer through the lens of my intervening experiences. Much of the time, I simply feel grateful to still remember the details. But sometimes, I no longer find the paper very interesting; the questions just feel like a chore. They’ve become “orphan prompts”—Avoid orphan spaced repetition memory prompts.

One possible solution: A “skip” mechanism may help spaced repetition memory system sessions remain emotionally connected.

Part of the Taking emotion seriously umbrella; related: How might we apply insights from the mnemonic medium to forms which focus on deep emotional connection?

Q. Most SRM researchers focus on optimizing the scheduler, but I think it’s most important to optimize…
A. Emotional connection to the review session and its contents


My Patreon post elaborating this topic: “Skip”: exponential-backoff deferral mechanisms and fuzzy inboxes | Andy Matuschak on Patreon

Last updated 2023-07-13.