Poor memory linked to attention lapses and device multitasking

Stanford scientists can predict if an individual will remember or forget based on neural activity and pupil size. Researcher Anthony Wagner from Stanford University says that everyone has been frustrated at some point due to not recalling information and expressing it when needed. He says that science has tools to explain why individuals might fail to remember something stored in memory from moment to moment.Scientists also sought to understand why some people seem to have better memory recall than others and how media multitasking might factor in memory issues. The team believes that research could have implications for memory conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and could help develop applications to improve attention and memory in daily life.

The study involved 80 subjects between the ages of 18 and 26. Subjects in the study had their pupils measured, and brain activity monitored via an EEG machine, specifically looking at brain waves called posterior alpha power. The brain waves are monitored while they perform tasks like recalling or identifying changes to previously studied items.

Study lead author Kevin Madore says that increases in alpha power in the back of the skull have been related to attention lapses, mind wandering, distractibility, and similar conditions. He notes that scientists understand constrictions in pupil diameter, in particular before you do a different task, are related to failures in performance like slower reaction times and mind wandering.

The team also measured differences in the ability to sustain attention by studying how well subjects could identify a gradual change in an image. At the same time, media multitasking was assessed by having individuals report their ability to engage with multiple media sources such as texting and watching TV within an hour. Memory performance was compared between individuals and found that those with lower sustained attention ability and heavier media multitaskers performed worse on memory tasks. Both Wagner and Madore stress that their research shows a correlation, not causation.