A little shut-eye helps consolidate new memories

Give me a minute, I'm trying to consolidate.

Next time you fall asleep at your desk, just tell them you are trying to make sure you remember everything from the meeting.

In an article to be published in the journal  Psychological Science, Michaela Dewar and colleagues demonstrate that memory can be enhanced by taking a brief wakeful rest after learning something verbally new, and that memory can last long-term.

“Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,” says Dewar in a press release. “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.”

A total of thirty-three adults between the ages of 61 and 87 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. 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.”  It didn’t 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 were 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 full week later. Participants remembered much more story material when the story presentation had been followed by a period of wakeful resting.

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.”

Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and let those memories consolidate.

Excerpts from materials provided by the Association for Psychological Science.

  1. Lucia Catone

    Hi…..will the above help in remembering names, or lenghty instructions? I have difficulty
    in remembering peoples names(really try) and/or their children’s names when we are
    socializing. I get so embarrassed and feel really old. I am only 63yrs.young.

    Please reply….Lucia

Leave a Reply: