Category: Memory

Study finds 4-year-olds are considerably better than adults at remembering rhyming verse

Child having smile in a studioBy Christian Jarrett

Many parents will attest to their young children’s remarkable knack for remembering rhymes, often claiming that their children’s abilities exceed their own. Can this really be true? In nearly all other contexts, adult memory is known to be superior to that of children, for obvious reasons, including the immaturity of children’s brain development and their lack of sophisticated mnemonic strategies.

A small study in Developmental Science has put pre-literate four-year-olds’ memory abilities to the test, finding that they outperformed their parents, and a comparison group of young adults, in their ability to recall a previously unfamiliar short rhyme: “The Radish-nosed King”.

“We argue that children are better than adults at recalling verse because they exercise the skill more in order to participate in the transmission of their culture through songs and stories, poems and taunts,” the researchers said.

Continue reading “Study finds 4-year-olds are considerably better than adults at remembering rhyming verse”

“I forgot” may (sometimes) be a credible excuse for breaking the speed limit

Motorcycle Officer Giving Speeding Ticket to MotoristBy Alex Fradera

When someone breaks the speed limit, we tend to explain it away as recklessness, machismo, or impatience. But new research led by Vanessa Bowden at the University of Western Australia, suggests that problems in memory, not temperament, may often be the culprit. According to a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, traffic stops and other interruptions can disrupt our ability to keep track of recent changes to the speed limit. But the research doesn’t entirely let us off the hook: when waiting at a stop, we can reduce these interfering effects by making sure we keep our attention on the road.

Continue reading ““I forgot” may (sometimes) be a credible excuse for breaking the speed limit”

Here’s a simple way to boost your learning from videos: the “prequestion”

WebinarBy Christian Jarrett

The “testing effect” is well-established in psychology: this is the finding that answering questions about what you’ve learned leads to better retention than simply studying the material for longer. Testing is beneficial because the act of recall entrenches learned material in our memories, and when we can’t answer, this helps us make our future revision more targeted. Less well-known and less well-understood is the effect of “prequestions”: questions pertaining to upcoming information that you attempt to answer before you’ve started learning that information. A new study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition suggests that answering prequestions may be a simple and effective way to boost your learning from videos and perhaps short lectures too.

Continue reading “Here’s a simple way to boost your learning from videos: the “prequestion””

People with higher working memory ability suffer more from brain freeze

Puzzled businessman scratching his headBy Christian Jarrett

Some fortunate people have more “working memory” than others. It’s as if they have an extra pair of hands available for mental juggling; extremely useful for doing arithmetic and similar tasks in your head. These folk with abundant working memory capacity also tend to fare well academically and in their careers. Little surprise that “brain training” games like Lumosity and Cogmed target working memory in pursuit of these knock-on benefits (though the evidence that the training brings such benefits is weak).

What is surprising is the discovery a number of years ago that mentally dextrous people with greater working memory capacity seem to be particularly susceptible to “brain freeze” or choking under pressure.

For a new study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, researchers at the University of Chicago and Michigan State University attempted to find out more about why this happens. Their results suggest that actually it’s only a subgroup of high working memory people who have this problem and it’s because of their high distractibility. These high ability chokers or brain freeze victims are “typically reliant on their higher working memory resources for advanced problem solving” but their poor attentional control renders them easily distracted by anxiety, causing their usual mental deftness to break down when the pressure is on.

Continue reading “People with higher working memory ability suffer more from brain freeze”

Could the way we talk to children help them remember their science lessons?

Little scientistBy Christian Jarrett

When a parent asks their child plenty of “who?”, “what?”, “when?”, “where?”, “why?” questions, encourages them to go into detail and includes open-ended questions, psychologists call this an elaborative style. Past research has shown that children with parents like this tend to remember more experiences from their lives (the opposite parental style is to ask fewer questions in general, and to ask questions that only need a short, basic response). More specific studies have found that parents’ elaborative chat can also help their children remember museum visits.

A new study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology is the first to apply this line of research to young children’s memories of a recent science lesson. The findings provide tentative evidence that conversing with a child in an elaborative way could help them remember more about their lesson.

Continue reading “Could the way we talk to children help them remember their science lessons?”

Researchers surprised to find abused children less suggestible

Thoughtful and sad little girlBy Christian Jarrett

A hugely controversial topic in psychology concerns how likely it is that some or many claims of abuse made by children are actually based on false memories, possibly implanted through the suggestions of therapists or leading questions from investigators. A related issue is whether going through the terrible experience of being mistreated makes it more or less likely that a child will be prone to forming false memories based on the suggestions or leading questions of others. In a small but important new study in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, a team led by Henry Otgaar at Maastricht University report that while a group of maltreated children were more prone to spontaneous false memories than control participants, they were in fact, to the researchers’ surprise, less prone to false memories based on suggestion. “This is a hitherto unreported finding,” they said.

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Brain training may be harmful to some aspects of memory performance

Brain lifting bar illustrationBy Christian Jarrett

Much attention has been focused recently on whether brain training programmes have the far-reaching benefits claimed by their commercial purveyors. Brain training usually involves completing exercises on computer to strengthen your working memory – essentially your ability to hold in mind and process multiple items of information at once (“cognitive training” would be a more apt name). The argument put forward by brain training companies like Lumosity and Posit Science, is that working memory is such a fundamental mental process that if you boost your working memory capacity through training, then you will experience wide-ranging benefits, even in ostensibly unrelated activities, such as in your performance at work. However, a comprehensive review published earlier this year concluded that there is in fact inadequate evidence to justify such bold claims. Now a study in Memory and Cognition brings even worse news for brain training enthusiasts – compared to control conditions, working memory training was actually found to worsen performance on a test of recognition memory. Continue reading “Brain training may be harmful to some aspects of memory performance”

“In-group infamy” – we have a lasting memory for colleagues who let the side down

Coworkers in a meetingBy Alex Fradera

Are we more likely to remember the good or the bad done by people on our team? In general, we favour our own group over outsiders, classically demonstrated by Henri Tajfel’s “minimal group” experiments, in which sorting people into groups by something as arbitrary as a coin toss resulted in higher positive ratings of traits of in-group members, and more negativity towards out-group members. You might expect, then, that we’re disposed to remember our colleagues’ good behavior. But new research in Cognition shows us that the opposite is true.

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For faster learning and longer retention, interleave study sessions with sleep

Teenage schoolgirl sleeping on deskBy Christian Jarrett

Some basic rules of effective learning, informed by psychology, are already well established. Testing yourself and relearning any forgotten items is beneficial,  especially so when this is done after a sufficient delay, rather than “cramming”. Sleep too is known to be incredibly helpful for consolidating new memories. Now a study  in Psychological Science has built upon these insights, showing how interleaving two study periods with sleep leads to particularly efficient and long-lasting learning.  Continue reading “For faster learning and longer retention, interleave study sessions with sleep”

It feels as though we learn better via our preferred learning style, but we don’t

By Christian Jarrett

The idea that we learn more effectively when we’re taught via our preferred “learning style” – such as through pictures, written words, or by sound – is popular with students and teachers alike. A recent survey found that 93 per cent of British teachers believe in the idea. But time and again laboratory tests have failed to find support for the concept of learning styles. In fact, the most effective learning modality usually depends on the nature of the material to be learned. So why does the myth of learning styles refuse to die? A new study in the British Journal of Psychology uncovers a compelling reason – when learning via what we think is our preferred style, it feels as though we have learned more effectively, even though we haven’t.  Continue reading “It feels as though we learn better via our preferred learning style, but we don’t”