Most of us are familiar with the expression ‘My memory is like a sieve’, meaning that important information that should be captured and remembered just simply disappears somehow. Millions of adults, especially older people, religiously do crossword puzzles, acrostics and Sudoko every day in an effort to enhance their failing grey cells.

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that all people really need to do to improve their memory and learn new things is to sit and close their eyes for a few minutes. Michaela Dewar and her team have discovered that a short, wakeful rest after learning something verbally new can boost people’s memory in the short- and over long term.

Dewar states:

“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’s team conducted two separate experiments involving a total of 33 normally aging adults aged between 61 and 87 years. The participants had to listen to two short stories and told to remember as many details as possible. The team subsequently questioned the participants to describe the story and either asked them to take a 10-minute break of wakeful rest or play a computer game of ‘spot-the-difference’.

Those assigned to rest were asked to just sit quietly with their eyes closed in a darkened room for 10 minutes whilst the person who read the story left to “prepare for the next test.” The participants were told they could daydream, think about the story, or just let their mind wander, as long as their eyes were closed and they weren’t distracted and did not receive any new information.

Those assigned to the ‘spot-the-difference’ game were shown picture pairs on a screen for 30 seconds each and were told to locate and point out two subtle differences in each pair. The researchers selected the task as it requires attention and because it was nonverbal in contrast to the story.

In the first study, the participants were asked to recall both stories half an hour later and again after a full week. The team observed that those who listened to story followed by wakeful resting remembered a lot more of the story.

According to Dewar, there is mounting evidence suggesting 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.”

We live in an age of constant bombardment with new information, which blurs the information we acquired recently. Processing memories requires a bit of time but more than time it requires a peaceful and quiet environment.

Written by Petra Rattue