Demanding, Rewarding Tasks Create Strong Memories
Scientists continue to investigate what creates strong memories, something every teacher and every student would like to know, and what they are finding underscores the importance of a process called memory consolidation. When we experience or learn something, networks of neurons are activated in our brains. When we remember that experience, those same networks of neurons are activated. Memory consolidation happens when our brains reactivate or replay those experiences. And a lot of that happens during sleep, directed by a small structure in our brains called the hippocampus.
Recent research looked at how the difficulty of the task and the size of the reward impacted the strength of the memory and the consolidation process. The size of the reward, not surprisingly, influences the strength of the memory, but just as important is the level of challenge of the task. In this research, the subjects were rats, but the conclusions extend to human brains. If we have to put more effort into learning or accomplishing something, our brains will invest more in the consolidation process and the memories will be stronger. The researchers described this, in fact, as selective consolidation. Our brains select those high-demand, high-reward experiences to emphasize in memory consolidation.
These findings have implications for how learning experiences in the classroom are designed, and one of many things that teachers and students should know about their brains, a topic explored in an article published by The Learning Counsel.