How to Boost Memory when Learning New Information
Previous research has shown that people retain more new verbal information when they rest for a few minutes after learning rather than if they continue learning or carry out another task.
It is hypothesised that new memories are consolidated, i.e. strengthened, better during rest than during periods of sensory stimulation.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh set out to examine if this was true for more complex learning:
If rest boosts human memory by promoting hippocampal replay/consolidation, then the beneficial effect of rest should extend to complex (hippocampal) memory tasks, for example tasks probing associations and sequences
The researchers recruited 36 participants and asked them to complete several memory tasks over 2 sessions. The memory tests included:
(i) associative (landmarkdirection) memory
(ii) cognitive map formation
(iii) temporal (landmark) order memory
(iv) route memory
Once the research team analysed the information that they had collected they found that some complex memory tasks were improved with a rest period:
Our results demonstrate that rest boosts the retention of at least some types of complex hippocampal-dependent memories over the longer term
Specifically, a few minutes of rest, relative to a spot the difference game, improved the retention of associative (landmark-direction) and temporal order (landmark 1, landmark 2, landmark 3…) information. In both cases, this memory boost persisted for at least 7 days
This supports the idea that rest promotes the consolidation of new information.
While more research may be needed to further examine this effect, findings like these may influence learning advice and guidelines.