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Drawing pictures of past events can boost chances of remembering them, study finds

'Scientific evidence even suggests the more senses we stimulate, the more robust the multisensory memory that is formed'

Richard Jenkins
Thursday 26 April 2018 11:44
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Synaesthetic artist Philippa Stanton visits resort to enhance her senses

If you want your holiday memories to last longer, stop taking photos or videos and draw a picture instead, a team of experts has concluded.

Oxford University sensory expert professor Charles Spence led the research, which found that the amount of time memories stay fresh in the mind depends on the number of senses used when creating them.

Typically only sight is stimulated when taking a photo and at most two, sight and hearing, are triggered when filming something.

Drawing activates up to three, including sight, touch, sound and proprioception (position sense), enabling the brain to solidify the memory, thereby insuring its longer-term existence.

Prof Spence reached part of his conclusion after a study of 2,000 adults discovered more than half of the population suffer from Digital Amnesia – relying on smart phones or other devices to store memories for them.

Professor Spence visited TUI Sensatori Resort Negril with British artist Philippa Stanton to explore how sketching can help us engage more of the senses and help us retain holiday memories for longer.

Ms Stanton, 45, has the rare neurological condition of synaesthesia, allowing her to see and experience colours, textures and shapes when listening, tasting or smelling.

"Much of the pleasure from holidays comes from remembering, yet research reveals the average Briton’s holiday memories fade after less than two weeks," Professor Spence said. “Our love affair with the digital image and growing affiliation to the ‘if it’s not on social it didn’t happen’ mantra, could be inadvertently fuelling a memory bank deficit.

“Scientific evidence even suggests the more senses we stimulate, the more robust the multisensory memory that is formed. Technology keeps our eyes occupied. But while it plays to our dominant visual sense, it fails to connect with our emotional senses.”

The research involved a study into holiday memories which discovered eight in 10 Britons wish they could remember sunshine breaks from their past better than they currently can.

It also revealed twice as many people will take a picture of a landmark on holiday, than simply try and take a mental snapshot to remember it in their mind. But three quarters are more likely to remember things by writing them down rather than taking pictures or videos.

Professor Spence and his team concluded that when we remember a great time on holiday, our brains reactivate some of the moods, emotions and feelings we experienced at the time.

They also believe the more we process and think about what we are experiencing, the stronger the memories we lay down.

Sketching also has an advantage because it engages both our visual brain and our hands and things we have a hand in creating become more meaningful to us.

Ms Stanton was invited to curate a unique portrayal of summer memories by interpreting her sensory experience in the form of three pieces of art, bringing to life the sound, taste and smell of what her holiday looked like.

Professor Spence said: “Just because the majority of us do not have synaesthesia, I’m a firm believer that we all can experience surprising connections between our senses that we might not be aware of.

“When we watch something from behind a lens, we’re not truly living and sensing the experience. Smartphones can prevent us from creating fully-fledged memories as capturing a picture only engages one of the senses – sight.

“It’s only by really engaging with our experiences on holiday through all of our senses that we can process all the stimulating information to lay down the sorts of easily-retrievable memories that will last.”

Ms Stanton added: ‘’While you’re on holiday, why not practice trying to make these surprising sensory connections? It’s all about getting in touch with what you feel and being more aware – you might even call it mindfulness.”

“Doodling and sketching can be thought of as providing a structured framework for getting in touch with your inner synaesthesia, where you’re likely to strengthen those connections.”

“When you come across an unusual fragrance, ask yourself what colour do you associate with it? Or try tasting an exotic juice. You can see what colour it is, but can you tell from taste alone whether the fruit is big or small?

“These may sound impossible but the more you practice connecting your senses in new and surprising ways the easier it becomes.”

To find out how connected your senses are, you can take Professor Spence’s quiz

SWNS

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