Story Telling Students Enhance Recall
February 6, 2017
who are given information and tell someone about it immediately recall
the details better and longer — a strategy which could be a plus come
test time, says a Baylor University researcher.
“This has to be actively replaying or re-generating the information —
for example, by telling someone the particulars, as opposed to just
simply re-reading the textbook or class notes and studying it again
later,” said Baylor psychologist Melanie Sekeres, Ph.D. She is lead
author of the study, published in the journal Learning & Memory.
“A week later, the memory was just as good,” she said. “Telling someone
else about what you’ve learned is a really effective way for students to
study instead of just re-reading the textbook or class notes.”
In the study, students were shown 24-second clips from 40 films over a
period of about half an hour. The study focused on their retention of
both the general plot of the films as well as such details as sounds,
colors, gestures, background details and other peripheral information
that allow a person to re-experience an event in rich and vivid detail,
said Sekeres, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in
Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
Researchers also found that giving students a brief visual cue from the
movie later — even a simple glimpse of the title and a sliver of a
screenshot taken from the film — seemed to jog the memory.
“With a cue, suddenly, a lot of those details will come back,” Sekeres
said. “We don’t permanently forget them, which would indicate lack of
storage — we just can’t immediately access them. And that’s good. That
means our memories aren’t as bad as we think.”
Much research on memory examines how brain damage or aging affects
recall, but “we wanted to look at the normal course of forgetting in
healthy brains — and if anyone should have a good memory, it’s healthy
young adults,” Sekeres said. “While the strategy of re-telling
information — known as ‘the testing effect’ — has been shown to be a
really effective study technique time and again, this study is novel in
looking at how our memories change over time for a specialized group.”
Researchers studied three groups of undergraduate students, each with 20
participants, who were on average 21 years old. After viewing the film
clips, researchers asked what they remembered about the films after
delays ranging from several minutes after the showings up to seven days
“We chose mostly foreign films and somewhat obscure clips that we
thought most undergraduates would not have seen,” Sekeres said. “The
clips all contained brief scenes of normal, everyday events that
mimicked the kind of events you might experience in a day, such as a
family having dinner or kids playing at a park.”
Researchers found that:
•Not surprisingly, all participants recalled less about both the
details and the substance of the films over a longer gap of time. But
they forgot the perceptual or peripheral details from the films more
quickly, and to a greater degree, than the films’ central themes.
•Significantly, the second group of students, who were given cues before
being asked to recall the films, did better at retrieving the faded
memory of the peripheral details. However, their retention of central
information was not much different from the first group, who did not
have such cues.
•Most noteworthy was that the third group — who retrieved the memory of
the films by telling someone about them soon after viewing — remembered
both central and peripheral information better over time.
The “replaying” method takes considerable effort, but it can be worth
it, Sekeres said.
“We tell students to test yourself, force yourself to tell someone about
the lecture. Even by writing out some questions for yourself about the
information, then later answering them yourself, you are more likely to
remember the information. Unfortunately, simply re-reading or passively
listening to a recording of your lecture in the hopes of remembering the
information isn’t a great study strategy by comparison.”
Sekeres noted that forgetting some details is to be expected — and
that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“The brain is adaptive,” she said. “We remember the important things,
for the most part, and we forget the unimportant details. You don’t want
your brain to search through tons of useless information.”
But clearly, in certain situations — such as giving eyewitness testimony
or taking a test — details and context can be vital for more accurate
memory, she said. And on a personal level, details make for a richer
store of such memories as family times.
While researchers focused on how cuing and active retrieval of memories
affected students, those actions also could be helpful to others in
reactivating memories, Sekeres said.
there’s something you really want to remember, test yourself — like
saying names and recalling, for example, that Jim had the green cap and
Susan wore the red dress and brought a casserole,” she said.
Sekeres said further research would be valuable to determine how the
effects of cuing and active retrieval hold up over a period of months or
Her research team currently is using functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) to look into how brain activity changes over time as
memories age and lose those peripheral details.
“Identifying changes in patterns of brain activity that accompany normal
forgetting in the healthy brain will help us to understand differences
between normal and abnormal memory processing,” Sekeres said. “As
researchers, we have to first understand how something normally works
before we can try to fix it.”