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New Research Helps Us Understand How We Develop Memories

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New research has given us a better understanding of how we develop our memories. Is it possible that we need some quiet reflection in order to remember them more fully?

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When it comes to my memory, I either remember everything – down to the last detail including scent, time of day, and even the song that was playing at that moment.  Or, I’m a complete space case, and I only remember vague bits and pieces.  Not to get too morbid, but I have an incredibly specific memory when I found out that a family member had passed away.  Again – I remember the song that was playing because we were listening to music.  It was our Sunday morning routine growing up.  I remember what my brother and I were doing exactly at that moment – it was Thanksgiving so we were preparing for family to arrive. I remember my Dad’s words.  I remember the time of day, the smell of the air outside. And all of this happened over 20 years ago.

But if you ask me what I had for lunch yesterday, I will have to trace my steps back for the last 24 hours and there’s a good chance that I still won’t be able to tell you.  Which is why they say that memory is such a funny thing.  Now, researchers from Heriot-Watt University believe they’ve discovered a connection between how well we remember something and the conditions under which the original memory was formed, and their tips could help you bolster your own memory-forming abilities.

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The study, which was published in Scientific Reports, attempted to determine whether the moments immediately following an event can impact the quality of the memory that forms from it. What they discovered was that calm surroundings contribute to much better memory retention than anything else, and that moments of silence actually help to galvanize memories and strengthen them, allowing them to be recalled with greater detail at a later time.

To get back to my original example – that morning was particularly calm.  Yesterday, however, wasn’t.  What followed during that morning was a lot of quiet.  No one was really talking.  We don’t tend to talk in my family or have emotions, really, but for probably 2 or 3 hours that day, we were silent.  No words were really spoken. We were just processing what had happened.  I wonder if that is why we tend to remember “bad” things more than good memories?  I mean, when you find out something bad has happened, you don’t tend to want to talk about.  I think, in general, you go into some kind of shock and you just sit there stunned.

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The research believes that quiet resting is beneficial because it is conducive to strengthening new memories in the brain, and possibly support an automatic reactivation.  That said, they don’t really know how this rest-related memory strengthening actually works.  To test their theories, the researchers built a memory test from scratch. The test was designed not only to gauge how well a memory was stored in the person’s brain but how detailed the memory itself actually was. They quickly discovered that quiet resting in the moments following the test allowed the participants to pick out tiny subtleties and recall them later, suggesting that the memory had been stored in greater detail than in those who did not get the benefit of resting after the test.

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