Are you worried or anxious?
If not too much, it may be good for your memory.
Toronto: A new study has shown that there is an optimum level of anxiety that could help us remember things better.
In the new study, published in the journal Brain Sciences, researchers from the University of Waterloo recruited 80 students, who were assessed using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales. They were randomly assigned into two groups: a deep encoding group and a shallow encoding group.
Manageable levels of anxiety can actually help you remember more details of an event, the study claims.
The study of 80 undergraduate students also found that when anxiety levels got too high or descended into fear, it could lead to the colouring of memories where people begin to associate otherwise neutral elements of an experience to the negative context.
“People with high anxiety have to be careful,” said Myra Fernandes, professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
“To some degree, there is an optimal level of anxiety that is going to benefit your memory, but we know from other research that high levels of anxiety can cause people to reach a tipping point, which impacts their memories and performance,” said Fernandes.
For the study half of the participants were randomly assigned to a deep encoding instruction group while the other half were randomly assigned to a shallow encoding group. All participants completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales.
It was discovered that individuals high in anxiety showed a heightened sensitivity to the influences of emotional context on their memory, with neutral information becoming tainted, or coloured by the emotion with which it was associated during encoding.
“By thinking about emotional events or by thinking about negative events this might put you in a negative mindset that can bias you or change the way you perceive your current environment,” said Christopher Lee, PhD candidate at Waterloo.
“So, I think for the general public it is important to be aware of what biases you might bring to the table or what particular mindset you might be viewing the world in and how that might ultimately shape what we walk away seeing,” said Lee.
For educators, it is important to be mindful that there could be individual factors that influence the retention of the material they are teaching and that lightening the mood when teaching could be beneficial.
In memory research, shallow processing refers to the sounds and structure of language, whereas deep processing is when we hear a word and work out its meaning. This deep processing, called semantic processing, is how our brain connects words we just heard to other words with similar meanings, which makes us remember them better.
The participants were shown 72 words overlayed on pictures that were either negative or neutral — a car crash vs an orange boat, for example.
Those in the shallow encoding group were asked to look for the letter “a,” whereas those in the deep encoding group were asked whether the word represented a living or non-living object.
The results showed that manageable levels of anxiety aided participants’ memory, and they were better able to recall details. In the shallow encoding group, where participants were not as likely to remember words as well, those with high anxiety remembered words better when they were paired with negative images.