Research results were released this week finding that just 10 minutes of exercise can improve memory. This is great, because 10 minutes? Who can’t do that? It requires practically no effort. Practically…but not quite. I bet we can do better. So, I set out to find ways of improving memory — and cognition — that actually require zero effort. So, basically ways to get smarter without trying.
And here they are. You can thank me later.
Believe you can be smarter
Easy. Research at Columbia and Stanford Universities, Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention, found that believing you can get smarter was enough in itself to help people get smarter. In one study, with 373 seventh graders, “the belief that intelligence is malleable resulted in an upward trajectory in grades over the two years of junior high school, while a belief that intelligence is fixed resulted in a flat trajectory.” Students who were told they could get better did, in other words. While those who weren’t, didn’t. A second study found that those who were told intelligence is malleable showed increased motivation. Those who weren’t told they could change showed a decline in grades, while the treatment group showed a reverse trajectory.
Yes, gum. Research suggests that chewing gum may improve aspects of cognitive function and mood. Researchers conducted studies on 133 subjects, each of whom were given tests to measure a range of cognitive functions, both while they were chewing gum and also while not chewing gum. Their cortisol levels were also measured. About half of the volunteers were given mint gum and half fruit gum. The findings: “Chewing gum was associated with greater alertness and a more positive mood. Reaction times were quicker in the gum condition, and this effect became bigger as the task became more difficult. Chewing gum also improved selective and sustained attention. Heart rate and cortisol levels were higher when chewing which confirms the alerting effect of chewing gum.”
Take a snooze
All you have to do is lie down and close your eyes. Research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that an hour-long nap can dramatically boost and restore brain power and make you smarter, and that staying awake for too long might make you dumber. In the study, 39 young adults were divided into two groups; nap and no-nap. Participants were subjected to a difficult learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory. Both groups performed comparably. The nap group then slept for 90 minutes while the no nap group stayed awake. Later that day, both groups were given new learning tasks. Those who had napped did significantly better and had actually improved their learning capacity, while those who did not nap had become worse at learning.
Drink coffee or tea (in moderation)
Can do! According to this overview, there’s general scientific consensus that caffeine improves “lower” cognitive functions such as simple reaction time. There are fewer studies on the effects on “higher” cognitive functions , but it appears to be basically agreed upon that caffeine in doses from 32 to 300 mg enhances fundamental aspects of cognitive performance, “such as attention, vigilance, and reaction time.” A 2012 study, for example, found that 200 mg of caffeine improved the speed and accuracy with which subjects processed words. Don’t overdo it, though. If you’re already well rested and pumped, caffeine can make you overstimulated and have the opposite effect from what you’re after.
Studies have shown that smelling rosemary improves memory and cognition. In one experiment, participants were exposed to the smell of rosemary while performing visual processing and serial subtraction tasks. “With higher amounts of the rosemary aroma, both speed and accuracy in the tasks increased. Interestingly, mood also improved with exposure to the rosemary aroma.” Another study involved 40 school-age children, divided into two groups. One group was put in a room with a rosemary scent, and the other group in a room with no scent. Researchers found that those in the rosemary room showed higher memory scores than those in the room without the rosemary smell.
There you go. No go sniff some rosemary, have a nap, and get smarter.