The "bookmark" phenomena

Your reading; you set a book down having marked the page in some manner but having made no effort to pinpoint the exact place.

You come back 10 minutes later and go right to that spot and begin reading again.

You pause wondering if you are in the right spot… you stop and go to the previous paragraph…low and behold, you were in the right spot!!

Surely I’m not the only one to experience this.

General questions…

  1. Is their a term?
  2. Has it been studied?
  3. If I just made up the term, can I document it such that mankind will be in my debt?

I’ve noticed this too and it is nothing mysterious. If you have a book opened at a specific page for some time, the binding material at the back of the book (glue usually) gets a bit bent and it will be a bit easier to reopen the book at that specific page than other pages.

It sounds like the OP is talking about using a bookmark but then automatically returning to the same place on the page that you were at when you stopped reading – like your brain automatically remembers where to pick up reading again when you see the page.

Can’t say I’ve ever noticed myself experiencing that, but I’ll be paying attention next time I come back to a bookmarked page to see if it works that way for me, you better believe it…

Your conscious mind is confused and distracted. Your subconscious mind is like a computer that has every bit of life data stored within. It remembers where you left your keys. It remembers that you poked Billy in the eye when you were 3. And it remembers where you left off on the page you were reading. If you EVER knew it, your subconscious still remembers.

I have learned to trust and even turn to my subconscious mind. If I misplaced something, I can relax, and pull up the info. (As long as it was ME that lost it.) While doing crossword puzzles, an answer will pop into my head for a question I had no idea I knew the answer to. Its always right. Turns out, I must have heard it once, somewhere.

Its a handy tool. We all have one, but most people don’t know how to use it.

I heart my subconscious!

That is nonsense. (The techniques you describe might work sometimes, but that is not because your subconscious remembers everything.)

With respect to the OP’s question, I think this effect probably has to do with the difference between what psychologists call recall memory and recognition memory. We are much better at recognizing things that we have seen before than we are at recalling them to mind when we are not actually seeing them again. I think what is happening is probably that when you look at the page again, your recognition memory for its visual layout kicks in and you quickly home in on where you were, even though, if you just tried to think about it without looking, you would not be able to recall the appearance of the page. A normal person’s visual recognition memory is pretty darn powerful, way better than recall.

I think I experience much the same thing as the OP, though I can’t say I have ever paid it much attention. What I have noticed is that if I am working on writing something and I leave it alone too long it is very difficult to pick it up again, even if I have continued to think about the topic, and even specific issues of wording, in the meantime. I am pretty sure this is because, after a few days I forget the visual appearance of the page, and where (literally, spatially where) particular ideas and words occur. I can retain my recognition memory for this layout for a day or two, but after that it fades away (or is overwritten by memories of other pages).

I disagree with the above poster; my experience suggest 4everkid is likely right.

I do this almost every single time I pick up a book. I long ago realized it’s too consistent to be coincidence. And it’s completely unconscious; if I think about it first, I can’t do it.

The argument isn’t that the subconscious doesn’t have something to do with what is happening. It is that it doesn’t remember everything that ever happened. Not even your subconscious memory is that good. It just happens that, given the right context clues, it remembers exactly where you were. The memory is there, you just didn’t know it until you sat down and used it.

I propose you can prove this to yourself. Try picking up a book you set down from years ago, and remembering exactly where you left off. You’ll be much more likely to be off.

We could also set up a more scientific version if you want, but it would require two copies of each book (unless you can think of a variation that would require equally as little thought). You’d mark where you left off in one, and bookmark the same page in the other. You’d come back at predetermined yet varying time periods, and mark in the unmarked copy where you think you left off, and compare.

BTW, I would propose that the effect is self-confirming. You don’t know for sure you didn’t read part of it, and, even if you did, you’re more likely to remember when you got it right.

Since this is GQ, unless you provide some credible cites to back this up, I say it sounds more like pseudoscience to me. From what I know, not all memories are retained indefinitely just waiting to be retrieved. Besides the difference between short-term and long-term memory there’s a physical process behind memory creation and this process can be disrupted or broken. So just because you once knew something does not mean you can necessarily recall all the details.

As to the OP, sometimes I remember where I left off in my reading (with or without bookmarks) and sometimes I end up re-reading material. That’s fine with me since the re-reading gets me back into the flow of the material again.

This explanation sounds the best to me. I was thinking about it a little more and figuring that it had to be kind of a “spacial” thing. In my scenario, I’ve made no effort at all to lock in where I left off… I simply set the book down.

Exactly the same for me. I’ve always done it. It’s odd enough to stand out.

Yes, maybe we have a photographic mind for any experiencial phenomena. The look of the words is not the meanings. The look maybe is part of life’s experience, categorically, and does not require thinking to recongnize. Like your car or the sidewalk being recognized, or you remembering breakfast or that your son was in the room with you a few minutes ago. I think I heard life memories are easily recalled, but memories requiring studying take more work, or analysis. Maybe you jst get the place and the pattern. Maybe you can test it by asking first if you recall the meaning and then looking. Probably you don’t recall the last sentence without looking.

It does happen to me.

There is another bookmark phenomena I know about. A parent I know puts names of people on her paper bookmarks to equate them with marked passages, as a form of cursing. She is not that kind or wasn’t.

I read a lot, and I can sometimes even feel a page and open an unmarked novel I am reading or book, or even ask a question and wish for a subject, and open to it without contents.

I apologize. My answer was not based on science fact, but on personal experience and my own theory of what’s going on. I have become so accustom to trusting these pop-up memories that I have come to believe its my subconscious mind retrieving them.

If I try to find my keys and search everywhere, I have no luck. But if I relax and quit obsessing, the memory resurfaces. If I ignore the answer that pops to mind when I am doing a crossword, and reason that there is no way I could possibly know that… well I’m wrong, and the pop-up answer was correct after all.

My theory is probably based on what I have witnessed while assisting a Licensed Clinical Social Worker during hypnosis sessions. For instance, to see a man in his 50’s regressed to when he was 5, able to recall every minute detail of a particular day in his young life that he had no conscious memory of, makes me recognize that the subconscious mind at least seems like a memory database. (Before anyone asks, there were no leading questions. Only things like “And now what do you see?” or “What happened next?”)

Whether its the subconscious, recall or recognition memory, or some kind of voodoo magic… I will leave that to the greater minds here to figure out. I will keep an eye on this thread so I will know what to call this phenomenon. But whatever it’s called, it works for me and I have learned to just go with it.

Well, I tend to put aside my book at the end of a section or a chapter. So it’s easy to know where to pick up again. There are occasions where I have stopped reading in the middle of a page, but usually when that happens I am tired and have to go back and reread a bit anyway.

It’s called your memory. You don’t have to make a conscious effort to remember something for recall later.

In this case, the phenomenon is called “short-term memory.” Memory is well-studied and poorly understood. “Bookmark memory” is probably too specific a term to make you famous, since it is a tiny example of a much broader phenomenon.

When we learn something, we create new connections and pathways among the dendrites and their synapses in the brain. The theory is that some of those patterns are relatively weak and temporary, and some become relatively fixed. The fixed ones are longer-term, although not necessarily permanent. None are definitely accurate for the actual event, which makes for a lot of fun (and occasional tragedy) when someone is positive their incorrect memory is correct.

The brain has a variety of various functions, obviously, and at any given moment is juggling a bunch of them. It is not the case that trying to remember something always precipitates an organized, consistent algorithm as if a computer were searching a database. Instead, stuff is filed in various places (visual v smell v text v long-term v short-term…you get the idea) and when you try to “remember” something how well you can retrieve it depends on the quality of your brain function, how something was stored, how permanently those dendrites got hooked up and how interconnected the pathways are to other triggering pathways.

As an example, you might not be able to recall arbitrarily the menu for your 8th birthday, but when something else triggers a parallel memory (the jello that splattered on the balloons), then the rest of the pathways which have survived are accessible and you remember the whole menu. This is the phenomenon that people are talking about when they say they just relaxed and let their subconscious take over. They are using “subconscious” as a crude term to mean that some other part of the brain where the item was stored was activated to produce the memory, and the memory was not accessed by pathways connected to their active effort to pull up the memory.

Great post CP…thanks!

Would you say that since “where I left off” is a general and ongoing issue during the reading process, my brain is making an effort to register it even if I make no conscious effort to do so each time I set the book down?

Let me suggest a simple metaphor.

The nerve pathways in your brain are a paths in a meadow.

If the path has been tread a hundred times it is well-worn and easy to find.
If you have walked it once there may be traces for you to follow a second time, and on average, the closer in time you do that to when you just walked it the more likely it will be that you can follow that path.

When you read words in a book, the words you read create a neuronal pathway. For most people (like any other ability, our brains are essentially products of our genes) that path is only lightly imprinted. Various factors can affect that: how well were we paying attention to the paragraph when we read it, for instance; how good is your particular brain at making new connections; how is your particular brain storing that information (as a visual picture; filed away with some other similar memory; as brand new information)?

When you come back to the book and re-read a paragraph to find your place, that pattern is overlaid on top of a path already trod–even once. Weak and impermanent as those connections are, they are stronger than nothing, and so you remember them. Perhpas not well enough to recite the paragraph, but with enough connections to trigger the memory of having been there before.