Why is it that some people seem to have better memories than others? This is a question that has plagued everyone from a young age as we struggled to remember material for tests in school. In fact, this is also a puzzling question for neuroscientists and behavioral scientists. A team of scientists from Stanford sought to find the answer to these questions, and recently reported that frequent attention lapses may be one of the causes for poor memory.
These scientists enrolled 80 young adults and tested their ability to complete a memory task while simultaneously measuring any attention lapses they may have. When your mind wanders, your brain activity changes and your pupils are more likely to constrict. Therefore, these scientists measured attention lapses by monitoring both of these changes during the task. They found that attention lapses early on in the task is strongly correlated with ultimately failing, while attention lapses later on is not. This suggests that early engagement is necessary for a good memory — our brain needs to be prepared before we even try to remember.
Additionally, through a survey of the participants, the team of scientists also found that people with increased attention lapses during the task tend to be heavy media multitaskers, i.e. they often perform two or more media-related activities at once, such as reading, watching videos, or listening to music. There have been many previous studies showing that heavy media multitasking is associated with reduced short-term and long-term memory. This study further corroborated that by showing that heavy media multitaskers are more likely to have increased attention lapses and, consequently, poorer memory.
As the world is relying more and more heavily on media and technology, this study warns of a possible troubling trend of deteriorating memory. Our decreasing attention span and increasing familiarity of short tweets and TikTok videos may lead to a worsened ability to remember down the road. More research is needed to determine the exact mechanism of media multitasking, attention lapses, and poor memory, so that appropriate intervention efforts can be made before we all fail to remember anything for tests.
Kevin P. Madore is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology at Stanford University.
Managing Correspondent: Wei Li
Press Article: Researchers link poor memory to attention lapses and media multitasking
Original Scientific Article: Memory failure predicted by attention lapsing and media multitasking
Image Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay