Strengthen Your Memory By Taking a Break

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Jan 30 2010 - 1:39am

When studying for an important exam or preparing for a presentation to the company board, many people use repetition as a method for remembering information, but there may be a better way. New York University researchers have found that by taking an active break after learning new information, memory may be preserved longer. The study is published in the January 28th issue of the journal Neuron.

Lila Davachi, assistant professor of psychology at NYU, tested the memory of 16 study participants by showing participants a series of images, each one pairing an object and a face. Each was then asked to associate the object with the person in the picture, but was not told they would be tested on the information later. The participants then rested while brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

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The part of the brain that is involved in long-term storage of memories is between the brain’s hippocampus and the neocortex. Activity between the two regions suggested a replay of the visual learning experience, suggesting that memories were being cemented. The memory test was repeated after the rest break and the subjects who had greater correlation between the two brain areas had a better associate memory.

Previous studies have suggested that sleep is crucial to the consolidation of memories and learning. The brain replays memories during sleep to help consolidate what it has learned during the day. For example, those who take a nap after learning a new task remember better. The NYU study is one of the first to measure the brain’s retention of information during waking, but restful, hours.

The researchers hope the finding will help individuals trying to improve their memory. “Taking a rest may actually contribute to your success at work or school,” says Davachi. She suggests doing an activity such as taking a walk after studying to allow the brain to absorb the new information.

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