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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

          More by this author

          Rebecca Beris

          Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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          Last Updated on January 21, 2020

          5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

          5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

          Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

          All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

          The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

          “Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

          The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

          “The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

          The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

          “The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

          So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

            Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

            1. Build a Memory Palace

              What is it?

              The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

              How to use it?

              Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

              “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

              Example

              An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

              • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
              • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
              • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
              • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
              • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

              You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

              2. Mnemonic

                What is it?

                A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

                How to use it?

                Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

                Example

                I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

                I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

                Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

                Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

                Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

                Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

                C

                J

                H

                D

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                P

                Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

                Cubs

                Just

                Hate

                Doing

                Push-ups

                Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

                3. Mnemonic Peg System

                  What is it?

                  According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

                  How to use it?

                  The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

                  Example

                  Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

                  0 = hero

                  1 = gun

                  2 = shoe

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                  3 = tree

                  4 = door

                  5 = hive

                  6 = sticks

                  7 = heaven

                  8 = gate

                  9 = line

                  Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

                  4. Chunking

                    What is it?

                    Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

                    How to use it?

                    In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

                    Example

                    Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

                    Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

                    081127882

                    Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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                    081 – 127 – 882

                    Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

                    “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

                    5. Transfer of Learning

                      What is it?

                      Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

                      “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

                      How to use it?

                      There are two specific ways to use it:

                      1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
                      2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

                      Example

                      I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

                      Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

                      The Bottom Line

                      The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

                      We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

                      Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

                      “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

                      More About Enhancing Memories

                      Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
                      [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
                      [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
                      [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
                      [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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