Caring is Remembering: Memory and Interest Are Related

By: Jenna Savage

We’ve all been there — faced with a person whose name we should know, only to draw a blank. Some of us are better at remembering names than others, but worse at remembering other things, like where we put the keys or what we need to get from the grocery store. Memory is complex, and there are a lot of factors that determine just how well we remember things. But as Kansas State University (K-State) psychology professor Richard Harris points out in a K-State news release, a big factor is our interest in what we need to memorize.

In fact, the quality of memory may have little to do with brain activity or genetics. Rather, Harris states that a person’s level of interest may be the most important factor in determining the strength of memory. The more motivated a person is to remember something like a name or a piece of important information, the more likely it is that they will remember it. This means that people who are interested in social relationships may be more inclined to remember names, while those who are shopping for an important dinner may be more likely to remember their grocery lists.

As Harris states in the news release, “Almost everybody has a very good memory for something.” Just as people have their own interests and passions, so too do they have their own strengths in memory retention.

With this knowledge comes some good advice for students — study what you enjoy. If you like the subject matter you’re trying to remember, then you are more likely to retain that information. Taking classes that interest you will help you when it comes to studying information for exams.

Of course, sometimes we don’t have a choice in the classes that we’re required to take. In circumstances where you need to study material that you don’t enjoy, try to find something interesting about it. Work to cultivate enough of an interest for the information to seem more appealing. Or, as Harris recommends in the news release, use mnemonic devices, which are especially helpful for boosting retention. Mnemonic devices make information more interesting and unique, and help you to develop associations that will be easy to recall when you need them.

In the end, lack of interest isn’t an instant memory-killer, but increasing your interest in a subject can help you remember more information.