All of the important fragments of our memories that should be caught and preserved somehow just disappear. Now researchers have discovered all it may take for a person to ignite the memory is to simply sit and close their eyes for a few minutes.
In an article published in the journal Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientist Michaela Dewar and her colleagues show 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,” Dr Dewar says. “Indeed our work demonstrates activities we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affects how well we remember this information after a week.”
In two separate experiments, a total of 33 normally ageing adults between the ages of 61 and 87 years were told two short stories and asked to remember as many details as possible. Immediately afterward, they were asked to describe what happened in the story and then they were given a 10-minute delay that consisted either of wakeful resting or playing a spot-the-difference game on the computer.
During the wakeful resting portion, participants were asked to just rest quietly with their eyes closed in a darkened room for 10 minutes while the experimenter left to prepare for the next test. Participants could daydream or think about the story or go through their grocery lists.
It did not matter what happened while their eyes were closed, only that they were undistracted by anything else and not receiving any new information.
When participants played the spot-the-difference game, they were presented with picture pairs on a screen for 30 seconds each and instructed to locate two subtle differences in each pair and point to them. The task was chosen because it required attention but, unlike the story, it was nonverbal.
In one study, the participants were asked to recall both stories half an hour later and then a week later. Participants remembered much more story material when the story presentation had been followed by a period of wakeful resting.
Dr Dewar explained there was growing evidence to suggest the point at which we experience new information is “just at a very early stage of memory formation and further neural processes have to occur after this stage for us to be able to remember this information at a later point in time.”