Move it! – The connection between memory and movement.

The cognitive psychologists at Johns Hopkins University may have just found a key connection between long-term memory and movement: they discovered that a person’s memory is strengthened when they are able to see the object move.

“The way I look is only a small part of how you know who I am. If you see me move across a room, you’re getting data about how I look from different distances and in different lighting and from different angles. Will this help you recognize me later? No one has ever asked that question. We find that the answer is yes,” co-author to the investigation and assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Jonathan Flombaum says.

Flombaum, his co-author Mark Schurgin, and their research team questioned whether or not a human’s ability to remember things from years ago was related to the fact that we have a basic understanding of physics. This understanding would have come from watching the way people move around us or when we throw a baseball up and down, we have enough prior experience to predict what is going to happen.

Motion of a ball or any object

With this comes the knowledge that one single object will not be in two different places at once. The act of seeing it in motion will give us the opportunity to connect its motion with the uniqueness of a single object and this makes us remember better. For example, dancers may have a certain way they perform a move which becomes their signature and what they are forever remembered for. Another way of saying this is that we remember better when we can track the motion of that object which makes sense because humans are visual people and we also have an amazing ability to detect motion, even if it is from the corner of our eyes. Similarly, if you have a mess of motion in front of you and you are not sure that it is just one thing, it will be much more difficult to remember.







Visualise this, in situation #1, you just have to watch a single green train moving from point A to B and in situation #2, you have a blue, purple, orange, maroon, red, turquoise, and white train moving all over the place. I think the majority of people would remember that there was a green train very well, but if a red train were to show up, you would not be able to remember for sure that you have seen it before.


Which subway map would you rather remember if you had to follow it every morning?

In a similar way to this visualisation, they tested their theory by experimenting with test subjects. They showed one group of people video clips of objects that moved as one would expect it to move, and to another group objects that moved sporadically. Some of these objects would even pop out from one side of the screen. The group that had video clips with objects that were more average (moving as we expect and we can track the object) had memory performance scores that were almost 20% better than the abnormal objects group.

Flobaum and his team expect that these findings will be helpful to the development of machines with better recognition systems.

What do I think?

When I was in grade 8, I remember that I broke my glass’ frames and I could not wear them to school. In gym class, we were playing basketball and my friend and I were sitting on the bench trying to point out which of our classmates had just run pass. I realized that I could tell based on the way they moved. I have been with these kids since first grade. This is the only thing that I would really know about my classmates is it not? I do not know what clothes they wore to gym class (in fact, if you asked me what my friends wore yesterday, I would not remember at all) and I definitely could not see their faces. Other factors like height might come into play but I guess this little anecdote is just another thing to take into consideration.

Additionally, with the train situation that I presented above, I think it might also have something to do with focus. If you concentrate, it will be easier to remember that one thing whereas if you had so many things happening around you at once, how can you ensure that you have safely tucked something into your brain? Just like when you try to multitask, there will be loose ends. I often avoid remembering charts with a lot of information when I study because it is too overwhelming. But what they say in the article about motion makes a lot of sense too. And to add some theories as to why it may be more difficult to try to remember something that moves unexpectedly, it might be because some of us hate when things are unexpected. This is why you might be scared of an insane person, you do not know what kind of danger they are going to put you in next. Then you are going to feel repulsed by it and maybe suppress your memory of anything that moves crazily but I think this goes into the realm of psychology. Else, it could be because you know that this movement is very rare and your brain might not even make the effort to remember it because what are the odds that you will see it again!

Also, with relevance to their findings, I prefer reading actual, tangible books and papers rather than things online. This might be because the lighting on my computer screen but even just swiping instead of flipping something is weird. Just because you make something act the same way (and I am talking about the action of turning a page) does not mean it is going to be the same thing. I really like holding and playing with the pages while I am reading. Moreover, I find that I and some other people are good at remembering the location of a certain piece of text with a physical page. For instance, if you asked me to find the pages that describe when something happens, I could probably flip to the approximate area and maybe even flip to the blurb of text if it is fresh in my memory. And again, this could be linked to the fact that I can track the words as the page flips? You cannot really track where the word goes when you scroll up on a page, can you? (Unless you looked at the scrolling bar thing at the side).

Either way, I think that this article and this research appeals to me because I am a student and it could provide memory tips. I am also wondering whether or not this could provide insight into memory loss or later on, it could help with Alzheimer’s research. Would you be able to bring back a memory of a person just by seeing them move?

And as for recognition technologies, I think that this would be especially helpful for selective motion detection. I have a security system that used to ping every time there was a car driving by in front of our house which is not exactly the thing you want it to do. If the camera was able to detect when a human was in front of our house, that would be much better. Even if it were not perfect, it could filter out a lot of unnecessary (and annoying) pings. Also, this could be a great tool for search and retrieval missions if further perfected! Perfecting it may not even be that hard with the new advancements in Artificial Intelligence technology. It might just be a more complex version of when your camera tries to detect a face. The particular situations I am thinking about is on other planets. Maybe the camera would be able to differentiate between lost man-made probes and other strange (perhaps alien) activity or if it is a storm. This search and retrieval could even happen on Earth by using satellite or even low flying drone cameras to look for lost animals or even kidnapped humans. Any people moving out of the ordinary would be detected. What if there is suspicious activity at an abandoned building? Obviously, that would be a difficult technology to develop and you would not be able to rely on it completely but think about how many people it could potentially save. It can even be a program like the facial recognition programs and analyze the footage filmed by security cameras.

Read the article I read here ->

Reference list:

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s — a key discovery about human memory. Science Daily [Internet]. 2017 [cited 16 Mar 2017]. Available from:


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