Can fist clenching improve your memory?


Last week a group of psychology researchers from Montclair State University (New Jersey, USA) published a research paper which caused somewhat of a stir in the scientific community.

The researchers, led by Ruth Popper, Ph.D., published the results of a study about hand grips and memory in the online science journal PlosONE, Their overall conclusion was that you will be able to commit a piece of information to memory better if you grip your right hand (for right handed individuals) for 90 seconds before trying to “implant” the information.

And they found your will recall information better if you clench your left fist for 90 seconds before trying to retrieve that piece of information. They performed their research with 50 healthy young adults; 80% were women.

Each subject was shown a list of 72 words, one word at a time on a computer screen (five seconds for each word). At the end of seeing the list, they were told to write down as many words as they could remember.

They put the 50 right-handed subjects through various combinations of hand clenchings. They were told to make a tight fist around a soft rubber ball for 45 seconds, then, after a 15 second rest, clench again for 45 more seconds. Then they saw the list of words on the screen.

There was a similar action for 90 seconds before writing down the words they remembered. Some clenched left, some right, and some didn’t clench at all.

The findings were that the clenching sequence that produced the best results was: clench your right fist for 90 second before committing something to memory, and clench your left fist for 90 seconds before trying to dig a memory out of your brain. (Note that this is for right-handed people; if you are left-handed, use the opposite hands).

In trying to explain why this might occur, it’s good to remember that the brain is cross-wired; meaning if you move your right hand, the left side of your brain is stimulated, and vice-versa.

So clenching your right hand before committing something to memory stimulates the left side of your brain (an area that specializes in memory “encoding”), and clenching your left hand before trying to retrieve a memory stimulates your right frontal brain, the part most wired for memory retrieval.

It all sounds hard to believe, and in fact, the study produced a lively back-and-forth discussion with some other memory researchers. Since PlosONE is an “open source” journal, you can click here to read the commentaries from other brain scientists.

One expert wrote that he believed the study was poorly done, but the overall feedback from the others was that maybe there is some truth to this, and it deserves further studies with more subjects, with functional MRI scanning of the subjects while they clenched to see real-time changes in the brain.

We will keep you updated if we hear more about this subject, but in the meantime, you might give it a try to see if it could work for you! At least there are no side effects, and it’s free (except for the ball)!  if you have any feedback, let us know, and we will pass it on to our readers.

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