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How to Tighten Your Grip on Your Memory

Want to remember more? Experts say that you need to get a grip--literally. Research suggests trying this unusual trick to improve your memory.

Pneumonic devices. Singing. The old write-on-the-back-of-your-hand trick. If you suffer from forgetfulness, there may be a solution that doesn't require performing mental back flips to improve your memory muscles.

It might be as easy as flexing your fist muscles, according to a new study published by the journal PLOSone. In a study led by Ruth Propper, a professor of psychology at Montclair State University, researchers determined that clenching your fists as you process and recall information can help you to remember it better.

Researchers tested the short-term memory of 51 participants by giving them a list of words, then asking them to memorize and write down as many words as possible from the list. Participants were asked to squeeze a ball in either their left or right hand before reading the list, and then again before recalling words from it.

In a statement, Propper explained that muscle activity on the right and left side of the body helps to stimulate different hemispheres of the brain--triggering neuronal activity in brain sections relating to memory encoding and recall. The researchers hypothesized that by squeezing a ball with the most relevant side of the body for either encoding or recalling memories, people could give their neurons a warm up--and ultimately improve brain efficiency.

The theory seems mostly to have hit the mark: The study found participants who squeezed a ball in their right hands before processing new information, and then again in their left hands before remembering it, performed significantly better than those who used other hand-clenching patterns--and slightly better than those who used no muscle stimulation at all.

Propper acknowledged that the study only incorporated data from right-handed participants--the results for left-handed and ambidextrous people will be published elsewhere--but expressed excitement at the link between muscle stimulation and memory recall.

"Future research will examine whether hand clenching can also improve other forms of cognition, for example, verbal or spatial abilities,” she told the Huffington Post on Friday.

Last updated: Apr 29, 2013


Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.

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