Human memory is more amazing than you think; it is how you know who you are. Human memories can last a lifetime and can be of infinite capacity. It is astounding how people remember very minor irrelevant facts of someone else’s lives with clarity, but forget their spouse’s birthday. How and why people forget is also fascinating in a myriad of ways. University provides opportunities for both gaining and acquiring certain memories.
Below are examples of the ways that memories can be enhanced and diminished:
Korsakoff’s syndrome is an illness caused by severe alcoholism. Symptoms include memory loss, confused memories (gaps in memories are filled in by wrong associations), apathy, and lack of insight.
However, interestingly enough, there is a study that showed the positive effects of alcohol on memory. Psychologists skillfully demonstrated that if a person hid something when drunk, they were able to find the thing easier when drunk. Unfortunately, this is an experiment on your physical state, as opposed to suggesting in any way that drinking more will help you remember better. What the experiment shows is that being in the same physical state prompts people to remember.
Suggestion: Drink in moderation (but if you do hide your possessions when drunk, it’ll be easier to find them when drunk again, so mindfully note the physical state you’re in).
Being in the same state helps people to remember. Memories are affected by both the internal state and the outside context. Psychologists have investigated context-dependent memories for decades. Here is one of the most well-known and creative studies: the researchers tested subjects’ memory for words learned on the beach and underwater (of course, where else do you usually study a word list, right?) The results showed that people remembered words better underwater if they’d also learnt them underwater.
However, your context or state can also hinder memories. For instance, the context could distract you. Imagine being in an exam and being placed in your usual classroom where you’d learnt various amounts of material. But before the exam, you’d crammed new knowledge into your head. The context of the room is going to trigger old facts you’d learnt there but not new facts that are useful for the exam, as you’d learnt them at home.
Suggestion: Study and have exams in the same room. Drink water when studying and when being examined.
Dedicated students like to stay up all night and sleep in the day. Or just not sleep. And that’s totally cool, part of the lifestyle, isn’t it? Research tells us that sleeping improves memory as memories are consolidated during sleep. Also, different types of sleep enhance different memories. Sleep deprivation, in its turn, has a negative effect on remembering, as shown in a study where word recognition was reduced after 24 hours of sleep deprivation but improved after getting enough sleep.
Suggestion: Get your seven hours of sleep if you can. If you can’t, have a power nap. It worked for Thatcher, don’t see why it shouldn’t work for students.
Caffeine has been shown to decrease depression and improve retention in rats (Attention: generalise to humans with caution). An interesting study on caffeine showed that caffeine and weed do not mix. After giving both substances to rats, their memories worsened. The caffeine made the memory-reducing effect of cannabis even stronger.
Suggestion: Drinking a cup of coffee a day is probably all right. Don’t take weed with your cappuccino. Feel like experimenting? Find some rats.
Dr Elizabeth Kaplunov is a chartered psychologist who evaluates projects about health technology for disabled and vulnerable people.
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