But I forgot.
I also forgot where I put the notes, and the research. But, I did remember the number for the Chinese takeout and to invoice early as per my client’s request.
What’s that about? Why do some of these must-do details stick in our memories, while others — which we had contemplated just moments before — don’t?
Psychologists say it is a result of attribute amnesia. We believe that when we see something we are going to remember it. But that simply isn’t true.
Instead, say researchers from Pennsylvania State University, if we want to remember something, we’ve got to flip the switch. To boost our memory we’ve got to turn it on.
Turning on Memory
“Whoa,” I said after reading the research published in Psychological Science. Could this harbor the explanation for why, when my husband goes to the store to get the milk, he forgets the milk? We do have a lot of cheese, though.
Or perhaps this research can unlock the mystery as to why I can remember the location of my daughter’s soccer game but never, ever the time of the match. Even after glancing at the schedule, I usually can’t recall it moments later.
Our memory is like a camcorder, says Brad Wyble, one of the researchers. It must be turned on in order for it to record. When we know we are going to be tested on the information, we are more likely to go in and flip that memory switch.
In the study published in Psychological Science, 100 participants were given sequences of numbers and letters and told they would be tested on the position of the letters. Later, during the exam, most people — more than 65 percent and nearing 95 percent in some cases — were able to accurately remember where the letters were placed.
But when the test was changed slightly and people were asked if they’d seen specific letters on the test, only 25 percent of them were able to remember correctly. They could identify the position of the letter, but not what the letter was.
Yet, with a simple prompt like: “this is what you’re going to need to remember,” you can put your memory into record mode and be more likely to remember the information.
Sleep and Speak to Remember
Scores of studies also show sleep is a powerful memory booster. While the awake brain can collect memories, the brain “optimizes memory consolidation” when we sleep, according to a 2013 report in the journal Physiological Reviews. During the slow wave sleep cycle, the memories collected during the day are integrated into our long term memories for later recall.
Smaller memory gains come when we actually vocalize or silently mouth the word we are trying to recall. Saying a word aloud, according to researchers, makes that word distinctive and something we are more likely to remember.
Chen, H., & Wyble, B. (2015). Amnesia for Object Attributes: Failure to Report Attended Information That Had Just Reached Conscious Awareness. Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/0956797614560648
Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About Sleep’s Role in Memory. Physiological Reviews, 93(2), 681–766. doi:10.1152/physrev.00032.2012
MacLeod, C.M., Gopie, N., Hourihan, K.L., Neary, K.R. & Ozubko, J.D. (2010). The Production Effect: Delineation of a Phenomenon. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 36(3), 671-685.