Three Steps for Remembering Everything You Need To

There are three mental tricks we can employ to help us easily recall everything from the most vital information to where we put our keys. A UCLA psychiatrist and memory expert explains.

Question: What steps can we take to improve our memories?

Gary Small: Our research group at UCLA has looked into ways to improve memory and our work and the work of other scientists have found that it’s actually possible to improve our memory ability with relatively simple strategies and techniques and my favorite and actually the building block of all memory techniques involves three things, look, snap, connect, so this is an easy way to remember the three major steps in improving memory performance. So look stands for focusing attention. The biggest reason that people don’t remember things is they’re simply not paying attention. You’re running outside the house and you can’t remember whether you did some minor task because you weren’t paying attention. Snap is a reminder to create a mental snapshot of information you want to recall later. Many of us find it easier to remember visual information than other types of information. And then the third step connect, is just a way of linking up those mental snapshots, so an example would be if I’m running out quickly and I have two errands, pick up eggs and go to the post office. I might visualize in my mind and egg with a stamp on it.

Question: Can we prevent everyday mental slips?

Gary Small: Many people complain about everyday memory slips. They misplace their keys, their glasses. They forget appointments and these problems are very annoying to most of us. There are simple things we can do to improve on that. I mean certainly using look, snap, connect can help, just the process of focusing attention will help us remember where we place objects. Another simple strategy is to use memory places. I like to hang my keys on a hook in the kitchen, so I remember where I place my keys. This can be problematic though when you’re traveling because you may be in a hotel and you have very thin glasses and you put them down distracted by something and then you’re in a panic, but you can always bring a pair, a set of glasses to help with that

There are three mental tricks we can employ to help us easily recall everything from the most vital information to where we put our keys. A UCLA psychiatrist and memory expert explains the "look, snap, connect" technique.

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.