Remembering information about what occurs within the course of a day is an essential element of the human experience. Whether we are trying to put names to the faces we’ve encountered throughout the day or simply trying to remember directions to a friend’s house, we all rely on our ability to accurately remember and recall events. Further, remembering events is influenced by many variables, making memory failures a fact of reality and a common issue faced by everyone at one point or another.
Memory lapses can occur within very minor or very important contexts and our ability to recall what we think we know in both scenarios depends upon the same mental structures. But how can we exert control over what we remember? Additionally, how does memory recall work and how can we improve our ability to remember events and avoid memory failures? The answer to these questions lies in thoroughly rehearsing newly acquired information and giving yourself ample time to consolidate the information at hand.
Bird et al. (2015) performed a study to assess participant’s capacity to remember complex life events by manipulating how they rehearsed the information. Two experiments were carried out, both of which instructed participants to watch 21 short videos on the internet. In experiment one, each participant was asked to watch a video and then verbally recall as many details as they could remember. In experiment two, participants watched the same videos and were asked to silently recall the content of the video to themselves. In both experiments, after watching a video, the participants were shown a checklist of details about the video and the researchers disclosed the information that they successfully recalled or missed.
To measure the amount of information that the participants remembered from the videos, they were tested on the content of the videos at different times over the course of a month. The results revealed that active rehearsal, both verbally and mentally, produced much higher rates of recall from the videos compared to the control groups who did not rehearse the information from the videos. Specifically, within a seven day period, participants in experiment one (the verbal rehearsal condition) recalled twice as many details compared to those who did not rehearse the information. In experiment two (when the rehearsal was mental) participants recalled three times as many details than those who did not rehearse the content in the video. The researchers also discovered that the brain region involved in the rehearsal process was the posterior cingulate cortex. Specifically, the posterior cingulate cortex played an important role in linking the information gained from an event with prior knowledge already stored in ones memory. Thus, an experience is first encoded and by rehearsing the information, an individual is able to solidify certain details making the memory more accessible and vivid.
The rehearsal process is clearly a fundamental function within the process of remembering and can subsequently impact our day to day interactions. By simply paying attention to the details of an event and giving yourself ample time to think over what just happened or by saying the details of an event out loud, the memory can last longer and stay much more vivid.
Citation: Bird, C., Keidel, J., Ing, L., Horner, A., Burgess, N. (2015). Consolidation of complex event via reinstatement in posterior cingulate cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35, 14426-14434. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI:1774-15.2015