How do we commit to memory what really matters? The secret, say experts at the Association for Psychological Science in the US, is to have a moment of quiet.
In the Association's journal, Psychological Science, psychological scientist Michaela Dewar and her colleagues show that memory can be boosted by taking a brief wakeful rest after learning something verbally new.
'Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,' explains Dewar.
'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.'
The study involved two experiments with 33 participants between ages 61 and 87.
The participants were told two short stories and told to remember as many details as possible.
They were asked to describe what happened in the story straight after they had heard it.
Next, they were assigned to either 10 minutes of wakeful resting or a computer game of 'spot-the-difference'. The game was chosen because it required attention but was non-verbal.
In one study, the participants were asked to recall both stories 30 minutes later, and then a week later. Those who had wakeful resting remembered more.
Dewar explains that there is growing evidence to suggest that the point at which we experience new information is 'just at a very early stage of memory formation and that further neural processes have to occur after this stage for us to be able to remember this information at a later point in time'.
Test yourself on how much you know about memory with this quiz.
1. What are the three basic types of memory that scientists differentiate by how long they are retained?
a. sensory, short-term, long-term
b. episodic, procedural, semantic
c. temporary, average, permanent
2. Typically, how many random items can a human short-term memory store?
3. A short-term memory is likely to become long term if it is related to:
a. sensory information
b. current or historic events
c. other personal long-term memories
4. Which of the following is an indication of a serious memory problem?
a. taking longer to learn new things
b. getting lost in places you know well
c. forgetting certain words or names
Answers: 1. a; 2. a; 3. all are correct; 4. b.