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Need to Remember Something? Try Making a Fist

Make a fist to improve memoryThe next time you see someone make a fist, he may not be threatening you – he may be just trying to jog his memory.

In a fascinating little study titled “Getting a Grip on Memory,” psychologist Ruth Propper, Ph.D., of Montclair State University in New Jersey writes how clenching your right hand for 90 seconds will help you memorize facts, whereas clenching your left hand for the same amount of time will help you recall them.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

Propper, who has studied how body movements impact how the brain works, explained to NBC News that clenching one hand affects the opposite side of the brain.

For example, ball up your right hand and it triggers the “approach emotions,” such as happiness or excitement, in the left side of the brain. Squeezing the left hand engages the right side of the brain, which controls “withdrawal emotions,” such as introversion, fear or anxiety (the ones useful in dangerous situations).

If just making a fist has this much effect on brain processing, Propper wondered if it could influence memory and recall.

She asked 51 right-handed subjects to memorize 72 words and randomly assigned each person to one of five hand-clenching groups or a control group that did nothing, NBC News reported. (Lefties were left out because, according to the study, they do better on “episodic memory tasks,” such as recalling memorized words, which gives them an unfair advantage.)

She found the best combination for better memory and recall occurs when a subject clenches his right hand while memorizing, and balls up his left hand while trying to recall the memory.

 It’s almost 15 percent better [to clench right then left] than to just sit there doing nothing,” she told NBC News. Fifteen percent “could be the difference between an A and a C on a test.”

Or how about a more practical use, like remembering where you parked  your car in the parking lot. Propper suggests clenching your right hand to help you memorize where you parked, and clenching your left when you want to find your car.


Photo: richard_north /flickr


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