Contradicting the age-old conception that memory capacity is solely dependent on how much information you can cram into the brain, a recent research demonstrates that filtering out useless information can help people increase their capacity to remember what is really important.
The study, which appears in the Nov. 24 issue of the prestigious journal Nature, demonstrates that awareness, or visual working memory, does not depend on extra storage space in the brain but on an ability to ignore what is irrelevant.
For the study, the scientists used a new technique for measuring brainwaves moment-by-moment as objects popped into the minds of volunteers. While people performed computer tasks asking them to remember arrays of coloured squares or rectangles, their brain activity was recorded.
Participants were told to hold in their mind two red rectangles while ignoring two blue ones. It was found that without exception, every individual with a good visual memory excelled at keeping the blue rectangles out of their heads, while the poor performers had all the rectangles, blue as well as red, in mind.
The researchers believe that being 'scatterbrained' is the price we pay for a hectic modern life in which we are often overworked and inundated with information, and recommend attentional training to improve one's ability to bounce irrelevant information from awareness.
The researchers believe the results could have broad implications that may lead to more effective ways to enhance memory, and improve the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive problems such as attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia.