Occasionally, I think about what I could do if I got back all the time I’ve spent hunting for lost information in the recesses of my brain. Things I made a mental note to add to my to-do list. Answers to Jeopardy clues and crossword puzzles. Most recently, the location of my car in a mall parking garage (that one took a while). Always, there’s that quietly infuriating niggling feeling, like a brain itch: I know I know this, maybe, almost definitely. It’s in there somewhere.
Well. Those lost minutes are lost forever, but a recent post by Bradley Busch at BPS Research Digest offers up a way to cut down on the frustration going forward: When you commit something to memory, say it out loud. Busch highlights a study published earlier this year in the journal Memory, in which participants were assigned one of four methods for studying for a memory test: Some read out loud, some read silently to themselves, and some listened to a previously made recording of either their voice or someone else’s reciting the words. When it came time to actually take the test, the people who read aloud in real time were the highest scorers, while the silent readers did the worst.
As the BPS post notes, this isn’t the first study to link reading out loud to better memory, but it does shed a little more light on why that link exists. Reading silently involves just one mental process, but reading out loud has three: visual (you see the information), motor (you move your mouth to physically form the words), and self-referential (you hear yourself say it). The study authors describe this as the “production effect” — the more effort goes into producing the information, the logic goes, the more you ingrain it in your memory. Listening to the sound of your own dumb voice can be cringeworthy, sure, but at least that particular pain is over relatively quickly.