Pinning down the right digits

In a recent survey by chip and PIN, an initiative in the U.K. to get smart chips on credit and debit cards, most respondents said they are comfortable about remembering their personal identification number (PIN), and less than four per cent said they felt they have terrible memories. But that didn’t stop one expert from offering suggestions on how to improve PIN recollection.

The research, conducted with 1,814 people across the country, showed that men think they have better memories than their female counterparts. Out of male respondents, 5.6 per cent said they thought they have “brilliant” memories, compared to 4 .3 per cent of women, and surprisingly high numbers of both sexes — 17.1 per cent of men and 14.7 per cent of women — said they never forget anything important. Just 3.2 per cent of respondents think they have “appalling” memories.

This all bodes well for chip and PIN, which by 2005 aims to have the majority of plastic card transactions in the U.K. verified by card holders entering a secret four digit PIN rather than signing a receipt.

However, as the new technology rolls out, users might become concerned about remembering their PIN when they reach the till — especially if they’ve got more than one card, chip and PIN said in a press release.

According to Donna Dawson, a psychologist specializing in personality and behaviour, card users can improve their memories by using a few simple tips and tricks. She says it all comes down to engaging both sides of their brain instead of just one when they’re trying to recall those four digits.

“On the surface, numbers appear to relate only to the logical parts of our brains,” Dawson said in the statement. “To make them more memorable, numbers must appeal to the creative side of our brains as well.”

Dawson recommended using methods of association such as visualizing numbers as objects relating to their shapes, linking them to important dates, or rhyming them with other words to help recall PINs.

“Using these methods, the vast majority of people will be able to remember more than one four-digit PIN simply and quickly,” she said.

She suggested one method called the “number shape” system where you imagine every number as an object related to its shape.

“For example, you could picture a zero as a football, the number one might be a pencil and the number two a swan or a snake. Once the associations are made, you can create a story to remember a sequence of numbers, like a four-digit PIN. If, for instance, your PIN was ‘2021’, you would imagine a snake (2) playing football (0) with a swan (2) who was writing down the scores with a pencil (1).”

If it all sounds a bit strange, Dawson explained that’s part of the goal. “Believe it or not, the crazier the story, the stronger the chance of remembering it,” she said.