Monday, February 26, 2018 by David Williams
The human memory is a fragile and often misunderstood thing. It’s well-known that the brain is the organ that is largely responsible for its formation and consolidation, although there is clearly so much more to it that experts still need to learn. A new set of studies helps make sense of the fact that some people tend to memorize some things better than others — and the difference may be a lot simpler than you think.
According to a report on studies on human memory, simply taking some occasional down time — that is, doing absolutely nothing at all — can do wonders for your memory. As the report states, all you’d have to do is just to dim the lights, sit back, and relax for about 10 to 15 minutes.
The researchers of these studies suggest that people should aim for “minimal interference” — purposely avoiding any and all activity that could get in the way of memory formation — in order to achieve the best results. That means even performing the simplest tasks such as tapping a few buttons on your phone to check email, browsing social media, or surfing the web should be postponed for later. The brain really needs to be left alone in order for it to function at its highest level.
The first researchers to ever prove that this method works to improve memory were Georg Elias Muller, a German psychologist, and Alfons Pilzecker, a student of his. It is said that they uncovered the remarkable memory-boosting benefits of undisturbed rest in a study they conducted in 1900. The researchers were said to give test participants a list of meaningless syllables to learn, but were divided into two groups: one group had a second list to learn immediately, while another was given a six-minute break before continuing.
The research results showed that the group that was given a break remembered almost 50 percent of the syllables on their list, while those who had been tasked with learning a new set of syllables right away only remembered about 28 percent of them. Based on this, experts concluded that human memory for new formation is especially fragile, mainly after it has just been encoded, which means it is highly susceptible to interference from new information.
In later studies, other experts were able to find that these sorts of breaks were also able to improve the brain in other ways, namely increased spatial awareness, as well as improvements to the brain condition in Alzheimer’s patients. It’s not exactly clear how the method works to improve the brain’s ability to form memories, but some experts theorize that the downtime is used by the brain to further cement the new knowledge that it had just acquired for later usage.
For students, researchers say that these benefits could lead to increases in their grades, which may be crucial during certain periods. Just like electronic devices that need to be recharged, it seems that the brain needs some rest to function as well as it can, too.