Researchers find that imagining an action-consequence relationship can improve memory

August 11, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The next time you hear about the possibility of rain on the weather forecast, try imagining the umbrella tip being lodged in your home's door lock, blocking you from locking it. This mental exercise could prevent you from leaving home without an umbrella.

Imagining an action between two objects (the umbrella being lodged in the door lock) and a potential consequence (not being able to lock the door) may help people improve their for relationships with other objects, according to a recent Baycrest Health Sciences study published in the Memory & Cognition journal.

This finding is part of an in-depth study into a natural memory —termed "unitization"—that was used by an individual with amnesia, D.A., who was able to create new memories despite his condition.

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, says Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute.

"Previous research has shown that imagining two objects fusing into one will help people work around these ; but our work demonstrated that understanding the relationship between the two items is also important," says Dr. 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."

The study evaluated the performance of 80 healthy older adults (between the ages of 61 to 88) on a memory task. The group was first trained and tested on the task to gather initial results. They were then either taught one of the three individual features of unitization (fusion, motion, action/consequence) or the overall unitization strategy. After learning these new approaches, participants were tested again to see if this helped their performance.

Older adults 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," says Dr. Ryan. "There is no single strategy that will fix your memory, but one method may be more be suitable than another."

Next steps for the research will be to explore how the brain's systems support different memory strategies. With additional funding, researchers could explore incorporating this memory strategy with a personalized brain rehabilitation program for .

Explore further: Long-term memories made with meaningful information

More information: Maria C. D'Angelo et al, Breaking down unitization: Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?, Memory & Cognition (2017). DOI: 10.3758/s13421-017-0736-x

Related Stories

Long-term memories made with meaningful information

June 20, 2017
When trying to memorize information, it is better to relate it to something meaningful rather than repeat it again and again to make it stick, according to a recent Baycrest Health Sciences study published in NeuroImage.

Study shows dementia-related brain changes are identifiable even before problems are noticeable

May 11, 2017
Researchers at the University of Toronto and Baycrest Rotman Research Institute (RRI) have discovered a potential brain imaging predictor for dementia, which illustrates that changes to the brain's structure may occur years ...

Memory insight may prove beneficial for those with brain damage

May 16, 2017
Scientists have discovered that there is more than one way to strengthen your memory, opening up the possibility of new treatment strategies for brain damage.

Baycrest creates first Canadian Brain Health Food Guide for adults

March 15, 2017
Baycrest scientists have led the development of the first Canadian Brain Health Food Guide to help adults over 50 preserve their thinking and memory skills as they age.

How we create false memories: Assessing memory performance in older adults

November 4, 2011
A new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, published online October 26 addresses the influence of age-related stereotypes on memory performance and memory errors in older ...

Research finds hope for more accurate diagnosis of memory problems

July 30, 2014
More accurate tests could be created to diagnose diseases such as Alzheimer's or memory problems stemming from head injuries, leading to earlier intervention, according to new findings from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Recommended for you

A brain system that builds confidence in what we see, hear and touch

September 25, 2017
A series of experiments at EPFL provide conclusive evidence that the brain uses a single mechanism (supramodality) to estimate confidence in different senses such as audition, touch, or vision. The study is published in the ...

Brain guides body much sooner than previously believed

September 25, 2017
The brain plays an active and essential role much earlier than previously thought, according to new research from Tufts University scientists which shows that long before movement or other behaviors occur, the brain of an ...

Touching helps build the sexual brain

September 21, 2017
Hormones or sexual experience? Which of these is crucial for the onset of puberty? It seems that when rats are touched on their genitals, their brain changes and puberty accelerates. In a new study publishing September 21 ...

Gene immunotherapy protects against multiple sclerosis in mice

September 21, 2017
A potent and long-lasting gene immunotherapy approach prevents and reverses symptoms of multiple sclerosis in mice, according to a study published September 21st in the journal Molecular Therapy. Multiple sclerosis is an ...

Neuron types in brain are defined by gene activity shaping their communication patterns

September 21, 2017
In a major step forward in research, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today publish in Cell a discovery about the molecular-genetic basis of neuronal cell types. Neurons are the basic building blocks that ...

Highly precise wiring in the cerebral cortex

September 21, 2017
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the cerebral cortex of mammals, where, among other things, vision, thoughts or spatial ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

robweeve
not rated yet Aug 14, 2017
I've been doing this for years. for once I'm ahead of the curve.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.