July 31, 2012

Memories: How to Improve Them

Memory is a fascinating topic, certainly to seniors – like me -- who sometimes wonder what our minds are doing or going.. I love to read, do internet research, play bridge… and I like to think that these activities are somehow warding off dementia. But my main concern is my increasingly poor memory. To combat this, I've told myself to pay more attention at the time I'm receiving new information. But a new study indicates that it's what I do after getting that new information that can make a difference.

A Little Wakeful Resting Can Go a Long Way
The study suggests I might just want to sit quietly for a few minutes after I learn something new, in order to recall it clearly later. University of Edinburgh psychological scientist Michaela Dewar and her colleagues told two short stories to 32 normal adults, aged 61-87. Immediately after, the researchers asked the participants to retell the stories in as much detail as possible.

Here’s where things got interesting. The listeners were then divided into two groups. The first group spent the next ten minutes in “wakeful resting,” sitting in a darkened room, with eyes closed, quietly thinking about whatever they wanted… or nothing. The second group, on the other hand, was shown a series of photo-pairs and asked to spot the differences between them. Each picture pair remained on the screen for 30 seconds.

Half an hour later – and then a week later in a separate test – the participants were asked again to retell the stories. The wakeful resters were able to recall significantly more story material than their game-playing counterparts.

Said study leaders Dewar, “Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds. 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.”

Dewar suggested that the moment at which we experience something is just the beginning of real memory formation, and that additional neural processes must occur in order for us to recall the full memory later.

Jeez, is it any wonder – with the constant bombardment of stimuli we encounter these days – that we think we sometimes forget more and more? I’d like to know how my own memories might improve if I lived in the woods for a few months – no TV, no radio, no cell phone, no internet, no Facebook, no freakin' Twitter! After the sylvan experience, I’d be able to recount in excruciating detail just how totally bored I was!

But this study does reinforce my dedication to mindfulness meditation, which I practice several times during the day. And it adds to my resolve to cut back on multi-tasking.

Here’s the July 23 press release about these memory findings from the Association for Psychological: Science: http://bit.ly/M6qRkA

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