Imagining an action/consequence relationship between two random objects may help you improve your memory, according to a new Canadian study published in the journal Memory & Cognition.
For example, if today’s forecast calls for rain, and you want to make sure you remember an umbrella, try to imagine the umbrella tip being stuck in your home’s door lock, blocking you from locking it.
According to the researchers, imagining this type of action between two objects (the umbrella being lodged in the door lock) and a potential consequence (not being able to lock the door) can help people improve their memory for relationships with several objects.
This particular finding is part of an in-depth study into a natural memory strategy known as “unitization.”
Better understanding of this strategy could allow it to be used in personalized memory rehabilitation to help older adults and those with amnesia bypass gaps in their abilities, said Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto.
“Previous research has shown that imagining two objects fusing into one will help people work around these memory deficits; but our work demonstrated that understanding the relationship between the two items is also important,” said Ryan, who is also a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto.
“We know that cognitive function is impaired during aging and this strategy could be one workaround for minor memory problems, depending on what you need to achieve.”
For the study, the researchers analyzed the performance of 80 healthy older adults (between the ages of 61 to 88) on a memory task. The participants were first trained and tested on the task to gather initial results. Then they were taught one of the three individual features of unitization (fusion, motion, action/consequence) or the overall unitization strategy.
After learning these new techniques, the subjects were tested again to see if their memory performance improved.
The findings show that participants who were trained to improve their memory using only the action/consequence feature of unitization saw the greatest memory improvements.
“We are trying to understand what’s important to unitization and what people need to learn in order to benefit,” said Ryan. “There is no single strategy that will fix your memory, but one method may be more be suitable than another.”
Next, the researchers plan to investigate how the brain’s systems support different memory strategies. With additional funding, researchers could explore incorporating this memory strategy into a personalized brain rehabilitation program for older adults.