18 Aug Want to remember new information longer? How stress and your cycle can help
Ever wished there was a way to make it easier to store new information into your memory banks so you could remember it later, for instance, when learning new vocabulary words in a foreign language or when your boss is giving you instructions for a new way of doing a task at work?
Researchers found an interesting–and relatively simple–way of sending new information to your brain’s long-term memory banks so you’ll be more likely to remember it: You purposely stress yourself out immediately after learning the information.
So, say you’re learning new vocabulary words. Right after you study your list, you do something that sends your stress soaring, for instance, by watching a scene in a really gory movie, playing pinball or a fast-paced game of Tetris, asking a friend to yell at you drill sergeant-style or dipping your hand into a bowl of ice water for a few minutes (before it turns blue and falls off, of course).
Why does this work? Research (such as this study, this study and this study) suggests it’s because the stress tells your brain that what you’ve just learned is really important to remember, so it should hold onto it longer. Scientists believe this is one of your brain’s survival tactics–it wants you to recall important information quickly in case it’s something that could save your life later on.
So, why am I bringing up this sort of odd–but, let’s face it, pretty darned useful (and I know you’ll be trying this yourself)–study in a Hormonology newsletter about your hormones?
Because there’s a new study that links this memory tidbit to your monthly cycle, of course!
In a new study from Ohio Northern University, researchers found that overall you’ll remember more details when you experience post-learning stress.
However, they also discovered that women remember certain types of new information longer–both when experiencing post-learning stress and not experiencing it–depending on where we are in our menstrual cycle. So, how we can use this stress tip becomes a bit more complex.
Here’s how it shakes out:
> When you’re in the first half of your cycle (your Week 1 and Week 2, which lasts from the first day of your period through ovulation):
You remember more emotionally-arousing details when you stress yourself out after learning them.
But, you remember more non-arousing details when you don’t stress yourself out.
> When you’re in the second half of your cycle (your Week 3 and Week 4, which lasts from the day after ovulation to the day before your next period):
You remember more non-arousing details when you stress yourself out after learning them.
But, you remember more arousing details when you don’t stress yourself out after learning them.
What’s this mean for you?
If you’re learning something that’s fairly dull and, therefore, non-arousing–like someone is giving you instructions for building a bookshelf–take a look at where you are in your cycle. You’ll probably remember the instructions better when you don’t experience post-learning stress in the first half of your cycle, but do stress yourself out after learning them in the second half.
Learning something emotionally-charged, for instance, how to do CPR? You may remember the details more when you stress yourself out after learning them in the first half of your cycle. But, you’ll probably remember more when you don’t stress yourself out after learning them in the second half.
You can learn more about how this study was conducted and about the science behind this interesting phenomenon thanks to the researchers who made their full paper available here.
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[Photo: Flood G.]