Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes the harder you try to remember something, the farther away from recollection it feels, and other times you can easily recall totally obscure moments of your life with perfect clarity. Now, researchers from Heriot-Watt University believe they’ve discovered a connection between how well we remember something and the conditions under which the original memory was formed, and their tips could help you bolster your own memory-forming abilities.
The study, which was published in Scientific Reports, attempted to determine whether the moments immediately following an event can impact the quality of the memory that forms from it. What they discovered was that calm surroundings contribute to much better memory retention than anything else, and that moments of silence actually help to galvanize memories and strengthen them, allowing them to be recalled with greater detail at a later time.
“We think that quiet resting is beneficial because it is conducive to the strengthening of new memories in the brain, possibly by supporting their automatic reactivation,” Dr Michael Craig, a research fellow who led the research, explains. “However, we don’t know exactly how this rest-related memory strengthening works. Specifically, it remained unknown whether quiet resting only allows us to retain more information, or whether it also helps us to retain more detailed memories.”
To test their theories, the researchers built a memory test from scratch. The test was designed not only to gauge how well a memory was stored in the person’s brain, but how detailed the memory itself actually was. They quickly discovered that quiet resting in the moments following the test allowed the participants to pick out tiny subtleties and recall them later, suggesting that the memory had been stored in greater detail than in those who did not get the benefit of resting after the test.
Going forward, the researchers plan to work on pinpointing the exact reason why rest seems to carve better memories. They plan to use an EEG to map the activity of participants’ brains during and after the test to determine which areas are responsible for this galvanizing effect, and see whether they can prove that the brain spontaneously “reactivates” memories during periods of calm in order to strengthen them.