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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 September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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