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BBC – Future – Five ways you could become a memory champion

Most of us wish we had better memories. If only we did not get to the shop, knowing we should buy three things, but only remembering two. If only we did not go upstairs, just forget why we went up there.

There are plenty of tried and trusted memory techniques, some of which have been around for decades – such as the use of the mnemonics and memory places. But what are scientists looking at now? (19659002) Walk backwards (19459004) Back to top of the page up there ^

We might think of time and space as very different things, but even in the way we talk there is more crossover than we might realise. We put events "behind us". We 'look forward' to the weekend. The exact way we do it varies with culture, but in the Western world most of us think of the future as stretching out in space in front of us while the past stretches out behind us

Researchers at the University of Roehampton decided to

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They showed people a list of words, a set of pictures or a video of a woman's handbag being stolen. The people were instructed to walk either forwards or backwards 1

0m (33ft) across a room in time with a ticking metronome. When they were tested afterwards on their memory for the video, the words and the pictures, in each test the backward-walkers remembered more

It was as though walking backwards in space encouraged their mind to go back in time and the result was that they could access their memories more easily.

It even worked when they just imagined going backwards rather than physically doing it. This 2018 research fits in with some intriguing research done with rats in 2006. When the rats learn to navigate their way around the maze, neurons called cell cells fire at each location. The researchers found that as the rats paused in the maze, the neurons associated with each location they had learned along the route, fire in reverse order.

And now brand new research has shown that when we remember a past event we rebuild the experience in our minds in reverse order. When we first see an object we notice the patterns and the colors first and then work out what it is. When we try to remember an object, it's the other way round; we remember the object first and then, if we're lucky, the details.

Do a drawing

How to draw your shopping list instead of writing the items down? In 2018, a group of young and older people was given a list of words to learn. Half were asked to draw each of the words, while the other half were instructed to write the words down while they learned them. Later the people were tested to see how many words they could remember. Even though some of the words were very difficult to draw, such as "isotope," the act of drawing made such a difference that older people became as good as younger people at recalling the words.

It's been known for some time that aerobic exercise such as running can improve your memory

When we draw something we are forced to consider in more detail and it's this deeper processing that makes us more likely to remember it. Even writing a list helps a bit, which is why when you get to the shop and realise you have left your shopping list at home, you can still remember more items than if you did not write a list at all. Doing a drawing takes it one step further.

And if those of you who are good at Pictionary are thinking this technique might work even better for you, you'll be disappointed. The quality of the drawing made no difference.

Do some exercise, but get the timing right

It's been known for some time that aerobic exercise such as running can improve your memory. Regular exercise has a small general effect, but when you want to learn something in particular then a one-off bout of exercise seems to help, at least in the short term.

But research suggests that if we get the timing just right, the memory boost might be even stronger. People who did 35 minutes of training time and a list of pictures paired with locations were better at remembering the pairs than those who did the interval training straight away

In future researchers will be working out exactly when exercise is (19659002) 4) Do nothing

When people experience amnesia as a result of stroke, they have been given a list of 15 words to memorize and then given another task to do, 10 minutes later, they could remember only 14% of that original list of words But if instead they sat in a darkened room doing nothing at all for 15 minutes, their score rose to an impressive 49%.

The same technique has been used in various studies since by Michaela Dewar at Herriot Watt University. She found that in healthy people a short break straight after learning something even made a difference to how much they could remember a whole week later. Now you may be thinking, but how do we know that the people did not spend that 10 minutes in a darkened room cunningly repeating the words to themselves so they did not forget. To prevent this Dewar cleverly people have a hard time memorizing words to pronounce words in a foreign language which they could not possibly repeat to themselves.

If walking backwards, drawing, exercising or even taking a break sounds too much like hard work, how about taking a quick nap?

These studies show us how fragile new memories are, so fragile that even a short break can make a difference to whether they hang around or disappear

Take a nap

If walking backwards, drawing, exercising or even taking a break sounds too much like hard work, how about taking a quick nap? Sleep is thought to help consolidate our memories by replaying or reactivating the information we've just learned and that sleep does not have to happen at night. Researchers in Germany found that when people were given pairs of words to memorize, they could recall more of them after a sleep of up to 90 minutes then after watching a movie.

But very recent research suggests this technique works best in people who are accustomed to regularly taking a nap in the afternoon. This led Elizabeth McDevitt and her team at the University of California Riverside to wonder if it was possible to train people to nap. So for four weeks the non-nappers took their beds for a daytime snooze when they could.

Unfortunately, for these people, the naps still did not boost their memories.

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