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Mindset Can Influence Learning & Memory Formation, Study Finds

Hannah Frye
Author:
August 04, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
Unrecognizable Woman Writing Something Down in A Planner
Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
August 04, 2023

Shifting your mindset is generally thought to reap emotional benefits—not so much practical ones. However, a recent study suggests your mindset can actually go a long way in influencing your memory, learning, and performance. Here's what to know.

How your mindset can influence your learning & memory

In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), two researchers from Duke University School of Medicine set out to analyze learning outcomes when the brain is in a curious mindset (known as interrogative motivation) compared to an urgent one (known as imperative motivation). 

Results showed that those who had a curious mindset had better long-term memory, while those with more urgent mindsets had improved performance at the moment. 

The method used in this study was quite interesting: Researchers had a group of 420 participants play a video game that simulated an art heist from a large museum. 

To evoke a curious mindset, researchers had half of the group play as if they were scouting the museum for a future heist. They triggered an urgent mindset by telling the other half of the participants that they had to embark on the heist at that moment and steal as much artwork as they could. 

Within the game, participants had to enter different rooms with unique colored doors to unlock art pieces and see their value. 

While all participants played the same game, their memory and takeaways from the game were different the next day. 

After the game, researchers asked the groups about the paintings they had seen. First, they asked whether or not the participants recognized the painting. If it was familiar, they asked how much it was worth. 

Turns out, the curious group had a better memory of the paintings and their value. They recognized more paintings and could match the paintings to their dollar value better than the urgent group. In addition, higher-valued paintings were more likely to be remembered, as they were tied to a reward. 

This doesn't mean the urgent mindset was useless. In fact, this group was better at determining which doors held more expensive pieces and thus ended up with more high-value paintings in the end, demonstrating that they were very efficient in the moment.

How to use this to your advantage

This study demonstrates that both mindsets have unique advantages and thus, should be used at different times.

While you can't always shift your mindset in seconds, you can try to approach a situation from a different angle, depending on your outcome. 

For example, you may want to tap into a curious mindset when learning a process or task that you'll have to utilize in the future so that your long-term memory holds on to it. 

Alternatively, you may try to embrace the urgency mindset when you're completing a task with a time limit. 

Most of all, this study proves that an urgent, stressed-out mindset will not always bring the most reward, especially when it comes to learning and memory. 

This common thread could be utilized by schoolteachers and work environments alike to experiment with a more relaxed learning environment. 

As for independent use, to take information with you for the long haul, people of all ages can start asking questions rather than checking the clock. True long-term memory isn't created through stress. 

The takeaway

A new study finds that a curious mindset encourages better long-term memory, while an urgent mindset improves performance in the moment.

If you're looking for more ways to support your memory, consider brain health supplements with ingredients like resveratrol—here's a list of some of our favorite products available now and more on memory supplements 101

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