Too often our memory starts acting like a particularly porous sieve: all the important fragments that should be caught and preserved somehow just disappear.
So armed with pencils and bolstered by caffeine, legions of adults, especially older adults, tackle crossword puzzles, acrostics, Sudoku and a host of other activities designed to strengthen their flagging memory muscles.
But maybe all we really need to do to cement new learning is to sit and close their eyes for a few minutes.
“Memory can be boosted by taking a brief wakeful rest after learning something verbally new—so keep the pencil for phone numbers– and that memory lasts not just immediately but over a longer term,” says psychological scientist Michaela Dewar and her colleagues at the University of Edinburgh.
“Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,” adds Dewar. “Indeed our work demonstrates that activities that we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affect how well we remember this information after a week.”
In two separate experiments, a total of thirty-three normally aging adults between the ages of 61 and 87 were told two short stories and told to remember as many details as possible; one story was followed by a 10-min period of wakeful resting, and the other was followed by a 10-min period during which participants played a spot-the-difference game.
In Experiment 1, wakeful resting led to significant enhancement of memory after a 15- to 30-min period and also after 7 days.
In Experiment 2, this striking enhancement of memory 7 days after learning was demonstrated even when no retrievals were imposed in the interim.
Participants remembered much more story material when the story presentation had been followed by a period of wakeful resting.
The bottom line: In a world where we're bombarded with crazy amounts of new information, the best advice for holding onto these memories is a little peace and quiet.
The above story is based on the July 23, 2012 news release by Association for Psychological Science (APS)
The research is published in the APS journal Psychological Science:
Dewar, M., Alber, J., Butler, C., Cowan, N., & Della Sala, S. (in press). Brief wakeful resting boosts new memories over the long term. Psychological Science, 2012
Published online before print July 24, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0956797612441220