How do we keep a memory in? How do we maximise the chances of remembering that mathematical formula? The answer, according to psychologists, lies in a period of mental rest right after the memory has been taken in.
How Does a Memory Form?
How long does it take to form memories and get them settled in our heads to become long-term memories? Researchers tried to study this by first narrating a story to a bunch of 33 participants and then dividing them into two groups. After ensuring that all participants had understood the story immediately after it was told, they were divided into two groups. The first group was told to play video games while the second was told to shut their eyes and think of anything they liked.
Had the memory been formed immediately, both groups of participants would have recalled the story well after a period of 10 days. However, it was found that participants in the second group performed much better at remembering the story than the first group. It is to be noted, however, that this result could also be arrived at if a majority of the participants in the second group simply thought of the story in the time they were told to shut their eyes. This would mean that there was a reinforcement of the original memory and says nothing about the formation of the initial memory. Until the methodologies involved in this experiment are declared later this month, this possibility cannot be discounted.
Storing Information Takes Time
“Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,” says Michaela Dewar, who headed this work. “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.”
This experiment adds further credence to evidence that the first moments after a new experience are just early times in memory formation. That a period of resting can aid this process is particularly relevant in this age of information bombardment, and may suggest that higher information density doesn’t necessarily lead to more knowledge, at least in the long-term.
You can read about this research here.