Sometimes doing nothing is actually doing something--something good for your memory, that is. New research suggests that when trying to memorize new information, taking a break, dimming the lights and sitting quietly can reap benefits. This is known as reduced interference.
Of course, this is actually nothing new. In 1900, German psychologist Georg Elias Muller and his student Alfons Pilzecker conducted experiments on memory consolidation. When studying meaningless syllables, half the group was given a six-minute break. When tested 2.5 hours later, the group with the break remembered nearly 50% of their list, compared to 28% for the group with no break.
In the early 2000s, a study by Sergio Della Sala at the University of Edinburgh and Nelson Cowan at the University of Missouri. They followed Muller and Pilzecker's original study, but with a 10 minute break, and the participants with neurological injury (eg. stroke) improved from 14 to 49%, similar to healthy people. More impressive results came with listening to stories and answering questions. Without rest, they could only recall 7% of the facts; with rest, this jumped to 79% recall.
The process is not yet known, but generally memories, after encoding, are consolidated into long-term memory. This seems to occur during sleep, as communication between the hippocampus and the cortex build and strengthen the new neural connections for later recall. Perhaps surprisingly, Lila Davachi at New York University, in 2010, found similar neural activity during periods of wakeful rest, just lying down and letting your mind wander.
In terms of education, this could mean the difference between rapidly switching from once subject to the next, and giving students a five-minute break just to sit and contemplate and reflect on their learning (with dimmed lights), of course.
Source: David Robson, BBC Future, February 11, 2018
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.