When we try to memorize a text, it is easy to assume that the more mental effort we make, the more imprinted the information will be in our memory. But perhaps all you need to memorize information is to turn down the lights, enjoy a period of relaxation and meditation ranging between 10 and 15 minutes, and you will notice that your ability to retrieve information after relaxation is much better than if you spend the same period of focus and repetition.
And new research indicates that it is best to refrain from thinking as much as possible during the relaxation periods that follow the acquisition of a new skill or information, and this means that we avoid any activity that may interfere with the process of forming memories, such as busy with any tasks, reading e-mail, or surfing the Internet on the internet. Smartphone, so that the brain has the opportunity to restore its activity without distractions.
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Although this discovery represents an opportunity for the lazy student to evade studying, at the same time it may alleviate the suffering of people with memory loss and some types of dementia, because it suggests new ways to take advantage of latent abilities, but they were not discovered before, for learning and remembering. The importance of relaxation periods in consolidating memory was first documented by German psychologist Georg Elias Müller and his student Alphonse Pilzker in 1900.
In one of their many memory-fixing experiments, they asked participants to memorize a list of meaningless word syllables. After giving the participants a short period to learn it, half of the participants received the second list immediately, while the other half took a six-minute break before continuing to memorize.
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After an hour and a half, they tested both groups, and noticed that the rested participants remembered 50 percent of the information in the list, while the other group only remembered 28 percent of the information. This result indicates that the new sensory information is more likely to be lost after the process of converting it into codes that can be stored in memory, in what is called the coding process. Therefore, it is easy to be confused and interfered with by more recent information.
However, this finding was not echoed until the turn of the century, through a pioneering study conducted by Sergio Della Sala of the University of Edinburgh and Nelson Cowan of the University of Missouri. The team was interested in exploring the effect of the intervals between the acquisition of new information and the preservation of old information on the memory of people who have suffered brain injuries, such as a stroke.
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The team followed the same steps as the original study by Müller and Pelziker. Participants were given a list of 15 words and then given a quiz 10 minutes later. In some experiments, the participants were preoccupied with some perceptual tests, and in others they were asked to lie in a darkened room to avoid falling asleep.
The effect of short periods of relaxation or engaging in other activities has exceeded all expectations. Although two of the participants who were all suffering from severe amnesia did not show any improvement, the number of words remembered by the other participants tripled, from 14 percent to 49 percent, and this rate is almost the same as the words remembered by healthy people. .
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Participants were also asked to listen to stories and answer questions after an hour. Participants who did not take a break remembered only 7 percent of the events, while the rest remembered 79 percent of the events, an 11-fold increase in the number of information they remembered.
The researchers also noted similar, albeit less pronounced, benefits in healthy subjects, as the ability to retrieve information after the relaxation period increased by between 10 and 30 percent in this experiment. Michaela Dewar, from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, led a team of researchers to conduct several studies complementing this study, and they reached the same results in different contexts.
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In one study of healthy participants, they noticed that short periods of rest improved spatial memory, and helped participants remember the locations of different landmarks in a virtual reality environment, for example. More importantly, they were able to retrieve information and skills a week after learning them.
This feature seems to benefit adults and children alike. They also noted that periods of relaxation had similar benefits for stroke survivors and those with early- and moderate-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
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In all cases, the researchers asked the participants to sit in a quiet, dimly lit room, without cell phones or similar distractions. “We didn’t give them specific instructions on how to relax, but most of the participants, as indicated by the questionnaires at the end of the experiments, preferred to swim in their imagination,” says Dewar.
However, it is also not desirable to fully indulge in daydreaming, as one study found that participants who were asked to imagine events from the past or the future during the rest period, weakened their ability to retrieve newly acquired information.
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Therefore, it is better to avoid any mental effort during the rest period. It is known that sensory information, after being encoded, goes through a stabilization stage through which it becomes entrenched in long-term memory. Scientists believed that this process mostly occurs during sleep.
When the connection increases between the hippocampus of the brain – where memories are initially formed – and the cerebral cortex, this process is responsible for forming and strengthening new connections between neurons, and these connections are necessary for information retrieval later.
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Memory The improvement in our ability to learn just before bed may be due to the increased activity in the brain during the night. But a new study conducted by researcher Leela Davashi at New York University in 2010 found that neural activity in the brain also increases during periods of relaxation during wakefulness.
The study participants were asked to memorize pairs of pictures, then allowed to lie down and let their imagination run wild for a short time. Davashi noticed an increase in connectivity between the hippocampus and some areas of the visual cortex during the rest period. The greater the connection between these areas, Davashi says, the better the ability to remember information.
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It is clear that neurological disorders make the brain more likely to forget information because it interferes with new information. Therefore, having a rest period after acquiring new information helps stroke survivors and Alzheimer’s patients in particular to retrieve information.
These results have aroused the interest of many psychologists. “Most of the studies that have been done today on this topic have come to the same conclusions,” says Aidan Horner at the University of York. “That’s fantastic.” Horner believes that these results may contribute to finding new ways to help people with intellectual disabilities.
Horner points out that it may be difficult for people with disabilities to obtain sufficient relaxation periods to improve their ability to retrieve information daily in general, but relaxation periods may help the patient memorize important new information, such as the name of the new caregiver, or facial features.
Dewar says that she heard of a patient who, thanks to a short period of relaxation, was able to learn the name of her granddaughter, but she confirms that this evidence is not documented. Thomas Baggioli of Nottingham Trent University, UK, also notes that some Alzheimer’s patients are advised to practice mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and improve overall health.
“Some of these techniques help with relaxation, and it is useful to also explore whether their effect on memory is due to the interference between information or other reasons,” says Bagioli. But he adds that these findings may be difficult to apply to people with severe dementia. However, both Baggioli and Horner agree that taking regular breaks throughout the day without any distractions will help cement the new information in memory to some extent.
Although the improvement recorded by these studies ranged between 10 and 30 percent, this means for many students an increase of one or two degrees from the normal rate. “If you take a 10-15 minute break every now and then during the review period, your ability to retrieve information may improve later,” says Horner. Perhaps it is worth remembering, whenever we recharge our mobile phones, that our brains also need regular periods of rest to rejuvenate.