Despite your best efforts, sometimes your memory simply fails you. Your brain safely stores some helpful experiences and information but completely forgets others. On a mission to find a way to hack memory and recall, scientists at Stanford have discovered an easy way to do this.
“As we navigate our lives, we have these periods in which we’re frustrated because we’re not able to bring knowledge to mind, expressing what we know,” Anthony Wagner, the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences said.
“Fortunately, science now has tools that allow us to explain why an individual, from moment to moment, might fail to remember something stored in their memory.”
As well as exploring why people sometimes remember and at other times forget, the researchers wanted to find out why some people have better memory recall than others and investigate whether media multitasking might be a factor.
By conducting this research into memory and recall, the scientists also hoped to learn more about conditions like Alzheimer’s.
“We have an opportunity now to explore and understand how interactions between the brain’s networks that support attention, the use of goals and memory relate to individual differences in memory in older adults both independent of, and in relation to, Alzheimer’s disease,” Wagner said.
A group of 80 participants aged between 18 to 26, had their brain waves monitored by an electroencephalogram while they worked on recall tasks. Researchers also observed how engaged participants were while using multiple media sources at the same time. For example, texting while watching TV. After these assessments, the scientists compared the performance of the participants’ memory.
The data showed that those who were frequent “media multitaskers” also had a lower ability to sustain attention performed worse on memory tasks. But, the researchers still aren’t sure if this necessarily proves that one thing causes the other.
“We can’t say that heavier media multitasking causes difficulties with sustained attention and memory failures though we are increasingly learning more about the directions of the interactions,” study lead author Kevin Madore, a Stanford postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Memory Lab said.
The researchers noted at the end of the study that memory heavily depends on goal-directed cognition, which means we essentially need to be ready to remember, be engaged with our attention and even have a memory goal in mind. This should help us retrieve our memories when we want to.
“While it’s logical that attention is important for learning and for remembering, an important point here is that the things that happen even before you begin remembering are going to affect whether or not you can actually reactivate a memory that is relevant to your current goal,” said Wagner.
Some of the factors affecting memory are actually in our control, which according to the researchers includes “conscious awareness of attentiveness, readiness to remember and limiting potential distractions allow individuals to influence their mindsets and alter their surroundings to improve their memory performance.”
As mind body green pointed out, while the scientists might not label it as such, the memory methods they have mentioned sound very similar to the principles of mindfulness. Being present in the moment and engaged with your attention is a key component of practising mindfulness, which in turn, should improve your ability to recall and remember.