Next time you’re stuck trying to get Boyle’s Law or some cute person’s email into your memory, think of something awful. That’s MSNBC’s solution, based on the way our brains store unpleasant images:
When study participants viewed color images of a dead cat, a pointed gun, or a person getting a dental exam — pictures that evoke negative feelings — it actually improved their recall of recently learned information.
In this case, 40 college students were asked to bone up on 100 vocabulary words in Swahili along with their English translations. (Example: “Mashua” means “boat” in Swahili, if you’re going to east Africa.)
Volunteers were then tested on the vocabulary pairs, 10 words at a time. After they gave a correct answer, participants were shown a negatively arousing photo, a neutral image, such as a fork or shoelaces, or a blank screen. If they gave the wrong response, they saw a blank screen or neutral image.