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Scientists Reveal The Secret To Create Long-Lasting Memories

Scientists Reveal The Secret To Create Long-Lasting Memories

Have you ever struggled with a missing memory you’d like to recall but can’t seem to–the title of a book or name of an actor, for example?

Memory lapses can be scary and frustrating. However, long-term memories (the ongoing storage of conscious and unconscious information for a few days or for many years), naturally fade as we get older. This is completely normal. In fact, if you could count memories (which you can’t, by the way), you’d discover that more than half of what we experience is inaccessible to memory within a single hour. That’s because memories often start decaying as soon as they have begun to form.

Important information gradually moves from short-term memory (which has a fairly limited capacity; it can hold only about seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time) into the relatively larger capacity long-term memory. Unfortunately, we also lose the information in long-term memory over time as we age.

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However, just because memory loss is a natural occurrence that becomes more pronounced as we grow older doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to slow it down and expand our long-term memory. In fact, improving our long-term memory is simpler than you might think.

How you can create durable memories

According to a recent study from the University of Sussex in the U.K., rehearsing information immediately after being given it may be all you need to make it a permanent memory.

The study found that the brain region known as the posterior cingulate–an area whose damage is often seen in Alzheimer’s patients–plays a pivotal role in creating permanent memories. This region not only helps us to recall the details of an event, but also helps integrate the memory into our knowledge and understanding, thereby making details of the event more resistant to forgetting.

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The study involved a group of participants who were shown 26 short videos clips from YouTube. The clips were around 40 seconds long with a narrative element. For the first 20 videos, the participants were given 40 seconds after each video to relate (either in their heads or out loud) details of the video. For the remaining six videos, this rehearsal period was not given.

The researchers found that the participants were still able to recall many details of the videos they had rehearsed up to two weeks later. However, the participants had largely forgotten the non-rehearsed videos two weeks later. MRI scans revealed that the same area of the brain–the posterior cingulate–was most associated or linked with the benefits of rehearsal.

The researchers could even predict how well the videos were remembered a whole week later based on the degree to which brain activity matched when watching and rehearsing the videos.

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“We know that recent memories are susceptible to being lost until a period of consolidation has elapsed. In this study we have shown that a brief period of rehearsal has a huge effect on our ability to remember complex, lifelike events over periods of 1-2 weeks,” said Dr Chris Bird, the lead researcher of the University of Sussex study.

What this scientific revelation means

“The findings have implications for any situation where accurate recall of an event is critical, such as witnessing an accident or crime. Memory for the event will be significantly improved if the witness rehearses the sequence of events as soon as possible afterwards,” said Dr. Bird, whose research group is conducting further studies to investigate how these processes relate to memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.

This particular study, published on October 27th in the Journal of Neuroscience, appears to reinforce what German cognitive psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered in the 19th century. Ebbinghaus discovered that memories grow continuously weaker, but that the rate of “decay” lessens each time you review the information.

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Ebbinghaus’s “forgetting curve” explains why we so often remember nothing shortly after cramming intensely for an exam. It’s because all the learning takes place in a week or so and, if not subsequently reviewed, it begins to be forgotten after only a month. However, if reviewed, memory gets stronger and stronger. This discovery has become one of the few certainties of neuroscience.

So, review or rehearse memories after a few seconds, then after a few minutes, then an hour, a few hours, a day, a week, a month, a year, two years, five years and so on. This is known as spaced repetition, and is very effective for improving long-term memory and enhancing learning. It can keep your most precious memories intact and available for as long as possible.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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