How can we speed up our memory

19.12.2016 11:36

Accelerate understanding through grasping movements

Sandra Sieraad Press office
Bielefeld University

Researchers from the CITEC Cluster of Excellence discover a perception catalyst

Hearing or seeing a word does not mean that you immediately understand it. The brain has to recognize the letters as such, put them together and “look up” in memory what the word means.

Cognitive psychologists from the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University are using an experiment to show how this word comprehension can be accelerated - by having the test subjects grasp objects to read at the same time. Privatdozent Dr. Dirk Koester and his colleagues report on their discovery in the research journal “PLOS ONE”. According to the researchers, the method could offer an approach for new therapies, for example after a stroke.

“New theories in cognitive research assume that our memory also stores body sensations as part of terms,” says Dirk Koester. He works in the CITEC research group "Neurocognition and Movement - Biomechanics" of Professor Dr. Thomas Schack. “The brain stores a word like“ whisk ”like in a lexicon and associates it with concepts like“ inanimate ”and“ kitchen utensil ”. In addition, it connects the word with one's own experience of how a whisk feels and that, for example, a whirling motion is associated with it ”. With a new study with 28 test persons, Koester and his colleagues support this thesis of the embodiment (embodiment) of knowledge.

The central finding: "If the test subjects had to grasp an object while reading, their brain processed parts of the word meaning earlier than in previous studies in which words were assessed without something being grasped," says Koester.

The test subjects sat at the screen and had three dice lying next to each other in front of them: one the size of an apple, one like a table tennis ball and one like a playing dice. On the screen behind it were three white fields, also side by side. Words now appeared in one of the fields, sometimes imaginary terms and sometimes real terms. If a pseudo word like "Quarl" was displayed, the test subjects did not have to do anything. If a real word like "orange" appeared, you should grab the cube below the field. An EEG cap recorded the brain activity so that the researchers could then evaluate how the word had been processed.

Previous studies have shown that it takes a third of a second for the brain to process a term. "In our study, however, we were able to show that understanding can begin much earlier, after a tenth of a second - when a gripping action is required," reports Koester. The study not only proves that the brain has shared control programs for language and movement. "The study also shows that the processing steps in our brain change very quickly and adapt to current tasks - here to the task of reaching out while reading."

According to Koester, findings from the study could also be used for therapies in the future, for example for aphasia, a speech disorder after a stroke. “The patients could practice forgotten words by showing, similar to our experiment, not only verbally, but also by grasping movements that they recognize a word. So you practice motor skills, ”says Koester. "Word knowledge would be strengthened through the back door of movement control."

Original publication:
Dirk Koester, Thomas Schack: Early neurophysiological interaction of conceptual and motor representations. PLOS ONE,, published December 14, 2016

PD Dr. Dirk Koester, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science
Telephone 0521 106-2420
Email: [email protected]

Features of this press release:
Information technology, media and communication sciences, medicine, pedagogy / education
research results