The Secret to Improving Working Memory

So, if you decided to read this article, you want to improve your working memory, right? We all use working memory in our daily lives. Working memory, previously (and inaccurately) used to be called short-term memory. This type of memory is the storage system for information you’re actively working on, which means it’s easily accessible when needed. An example of working memory is reading a paragraph and remembering what the last sentence said as you’re reading the next sentence. Another example is when you’re playing Simon, a game where you have to remember the sequence of the colors presented and then press the colored buttons in the correct sequence. See how important working memory is? Well if you want to improve your working memory-look no further! All you have to do is stimulate your brain with electricity! It’s that easy!

As reported by PsyPost, researchers at Imperial College London studied the effects of applying an electrical current to someone’s brain, which affected a person’s oscillatory activity (a fancy term for brain waves) to where the electrical current and a person’s brain waves synchronized. Previous research mentioned in the research article, Externally induced frontoparietal synchronization modulates network dynamics and enhances working memory performance, (yikes that’s a mouthful), that the frontal and parietal brain regions control working memory. A person’s brain activity operates between 4-8Hz in these regions. This research hypothesized that if you apply an electrical current of this ideal range, it would result in a better functioning and therefore improved working memory.

The researchers tested their hypothesis on 10 participants to study the before and after effects of applying an electrical current when performing cognitive tasks, one of which was a verbal N-back task. This task is when participants are presented with a sequence of stimuli one at a time. Then, participants must say if the current stimulus is the same as a stimulus presented N trials ago. This task is basically what we use to remember what we just saw or heard (you can think of it as the “not as fun” version of Simon). When researchers applied the ideal electrical current so that the current had the same rhythm and timing as the participant’s brain waves, they found a significant improvement in reaction times on these cognitive tasks. If they applied an electrical current that was out of sync of the participant’s brain waves, then performance significantly decreased.

So what should you do when you want to remember the answers to a test you quickly crammed for or all the items on the grocery list you forgot at home? Just electrically stimulate your brain! If you do it at the correct Hz range, I see absolutely no downsides to this fool-proof technique!

Warning: The writer of this article is not liable for any injuries as a result of someone who tries to DIY brain electrodes to achieve an improved working memory

(Also, if you don’t know what Simon is, here’s a YouTube video of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YhVyt4q5HI)

Link to News Article: http://www.psypost.org/2017/03/buzzing-brain-electricity-can-boost-working-memory-48291

Link to Research Article: https://elifesciences.org/articles/22001

4 thoughts on “The Secret to Improving Working Memory

  1. Autumn Trower

    I found the article as well as your response to be very interesting. I am always ( as I’m sure many of us are) looking for ways to improve my working memory. Whether I’m simply trying to remember what items my mother asked me to get at the grocery store, cramming for an exam, or just generally trying to improve the quality of my memory. Though the electronic shock method is a little extreme for me personally, I did find it interesting that if the wave applied was not perfectly in sync the performance of the participants significantly decreased. I would have thought it would be more of a subtle-medium decrease.

  2. chrise

    I also found this article interesting. I have been plagued my entire life of having a working memory, that was notorious for not living up to its name. Though I am highly skeptical of using a electroshock as a way of improvement. I have herd and read about some of the negative affects of electroshock therapy, and though I am aware of the differences between the two, I don’t want to chance it. I have, however, started to see the benefits of my spontaneously non-working working memory. I’ve notice that it often short circuits in times that I am stressed, big eye roll I am sure. But it is during these times that I reap the most benefits from this quirk. I’m sure we are have herd the saying that time heals all wounds, but I think that momentarily forgetting information might also have some therapeutic affects as well. I hope to have the time to research my hypothesis, but I fear that spontaneous non-working working memory might not let me. 🙂

  3. emilybusbee

    While realistically this advice may not be as “easy” to recreate as this article suggests, this is a very interesting article. The idea that such a small difference in the synchronization of the wave would affect the participants performance as much as it does is very cool. I am always trying to improve my working memory, it seems like every time someone asks me to remember something for them, I will somehow automatically forget it.

  4. mmalapit

    I found your article to be super interesting. In sync brain waves that get shocked result in better reaction time and cognitive tasks. Now that is very interesting. I, as well, am looking to improve working memory. Just throughout college I thought my brain would shut down because of all of the knowledge I end up filling it up with- even in just a semester. Improving working memory would really come in handy. If I could have a physical device that would electrically stimulate my brain before I took a quiz or a test that would be great. Except I’m also curious about electroshock therapy. I know some patients in a Psyc Ward voluntary ask for electroshock therapy (especially those who endured a traumatic event). It’s supposed to help them forget it so they can move on with their lives. I’m guessing this is when the brain waves are not in sync and it ends up erasing memory rather than help it?

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