The Quick and Easy Way to Improve Your Memory

Here’s my confession: I talk to myself. In fact, I talk to myself a lot—a personality quirk that’s really only made worse by the fact that I work in total isolation in my home office.

I read articles aloud. I chat through the items listed on my to-do list. I give myself verbal reminders of the people I need to call or the tasks that I need to follow-up on.

Now that I’ve effectively described myself as a certifiably crazy person, let me get to the point: I don’t talk to myself because I’m lonely or because I enjoy those concerned, side-eyed glances from the person at the next table over in my local Starbucks.

No, I say things aloud to myself for one very big reason: It helps me.

I’m no scientist, but there’s something about vocalizing my thoughts and reminders that makes them stick in my brain better.

Fortunately, actual science exists to help back up my own amateur hypothesis.

Is Reading Aloud Actually Helpful?

The findings come from a study that was conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada and published in Memory.

Researchers Noah Farrin and Colin MacLeod worked with 75 students to test their memory using different tactics.

To kickoff the experiment, each student was recorded saying 160 different words—with the knowledge that they’d be back in two weeks (although, they didn’t know what for).

After those two weeks, the students returned to the lab and studied half of the words that they’d recited earlier in preparation for a memory test. But, here’s the tricky part: The researchers revised the words in several different ways:

  • 20 of the words were to be read silently
  • 20 of the words were played using a recording of someone else’s voice
  • 20 of the words were played using the recording the student had done at the previous session
  • 20 of the words the students read aloud to themselves

After that, it was time to take the test—made up of the 80 words they’d just studied and the other 80 words that were used two weeks earlier (of course, researchers assumed the students would forget those).

When presented with a word, the students had to indicate whether it was one they had just reviewed or not. This exercise would help the researchers pinpoint which methods of study were most effective.

The winner? You guessed it—reading aloud to themselves, which yielded 77% correct answers. Interestingly enough, this method was closely followed by hearing the recording of themselves (with just a 3% gap in performance!).

That’s Magic! How Does This Work?

Are we all just self-obsessed ego monsters who love to hear our own voices? What sort of witchcraft and trickery is behind this?

“In discussing these results, the researchers used the term ‘the production effect,’” explains Bradley Busch in his article about the experiment for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, “This describes the memory advantage one obtains if you say things aloud instead of just hearing the information.”

As Busch reports, the researchers concluded that reading aloud is effective because of three different factors:

  • Reading aloud is a more active process, because it involves motor processing.
  • Reading aloud also requires visual processing, which can lead to deeper learning.
  • Reading aloud means you refer to yourself, which makes the information seem more noteworthy.

Using This Memory Trick to Your Advantage

Alright, so all of that science is great. But, what exactly does this mean for you?

Well, it’s simple: You might want to consider joining the ranks of us crazy people who are constantly muttering to ourselves—because it can actually help you.

That important deadline you need to remember to jot down on your calendar? Repeat it aloud to yourself. That statistic that you want to share in your team meeting? Say it under your breath while you’re walking into that conference room.

Sure, it may feel a little counterintuitive to chatter on to yourself (and, if you’re in an open office, you’ll want to remember to be respectful about your volume!). However, as science says, looking a little nutty might be well worth the benefits.

Want to give me a brief respite from murmuring to myself? Tweet me and let me know if you gave this trick a try!

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