Thursday, 5 June 2008

Movement and Memory

Well I'm back from vacation in sunny southern Spain. The majority of time was spent relaxing, gazing at the view above, a bit of swimming, reading and generally moving as little as possible. One day, my son Gus (aged nine) and I (a lot older) decided that the mountain needed climbing. So we did. Took us seven hours and required lots of moving...up and down rocky trails mainly. We were fortunate to bump into Ibex, numerous lizards of various sizes and shapes, and thousands of butterflies and, on arriving at the top, were rewarded with some tremendous views across the Spanish coast and even out to North Africa. We had a great day - it was hard work at times but were left with a real sense of achievement (especially for Gus as that was his first proper mountain). We will recall many memories of that journey for years to come.

So it was particularly resonant for Cognitive Daily to re-post an article citing how body position affects the memory of events.

According to the study:

Holding your body in the right position means you'll have faster, more accurate access to certain memories. If you stand as if holding a golf club, you're quicker to remember an event that happened while you were golfing than if you position your body in a non-golfing pose.

Regardless of their age, the study volunteers' memories were reported significantly sooner when the volunteers' body position matched the memory being asked for.

Dijkstra's team believes that the effect may be due to the way memories are stored in the brain: one theory of memory suggests that memories are composed of linked sensory fragments -- odors, sights, sounds, and even body positions. Simply activating one or more of those fragments makes the entire memory more likely to be retrieved. In any case, if you're trying to recall a particular incident in your life, putting your body in the right position might help you remember it faster and more accurately. The key appears to be your body position when the memory occurred.


The implications for effective learning transfer are significant. To speed memory recall the learning event should closely mimic the context and physicality of the environment in which that learning is put into actual practice. Learning through doing, that closely simulates a real situation means that the experience gained (the memory of the practice) can be readily and meaningfully recalled when a similar situation occurs.

It follows that the multisensory experience of games and virtual simulation are much more likely to achieve meaningfull recall if you are free to move about in the way that mimics the "real" environment you will perform these skills in. So until the Wii came along, sitting still in front of screen, in a largely sedentary and still position is not congruent with achieving effective recall of practice memories to use in real world situations. The military, aerospace and the world of sport all know the value of consistent, spaced, repetitive practice that closely simulates the real often highly stressful (and in some cases life threatening) situations in which they need perform.

A lot of face to face training and e-learning fails to take this into consideration. But that will change as we become less and less bound by walls and desktop PCs and become fully mobile learners. It will be intriguing to see how we then design learning experiences that effectively align our physical and cognitive performance.

Wii Fit may be leading the way...

1 comment:

Donald Clark said...

Nice post. This contextual recall has long been known but ignored in education and training.

A iteresting extension is the idea that your avatar also acts as a sort of virtual presence and identity promoting retention and recall. I have had this experience with my strong recall in games. Moving around an environment as a virtual person induces strong recall in my own memory. I can remember games and incidents within games going back 25 years from Lounge Lizard Larry to GTA, Halo and Haze. I can go back into a game and pick up where I left off, as well as recall the landscape, obstacles etc.