Why Dirty Thoughts Could Improve Your Memory

Why Dirty Thoughts Could Improve Your Memory

There are a dizzying number of popular tricks for improving memory, from the classic "memory palace" technique to the Baker-baker method to Franklin Roosevelt's favored technique of imagining a person's name stamped across their forehead. The idea of trying to remember all these memory tricks alone can be a daunting task.

But Ed Cooke, Grand Master of Memory and author of Remember, Remember: Learn the Stuff You Thought You Never Could, has a simpler -- and perhaps more enjoyable -- way to remember important information. Cooke's suggestion? Think of something, well, dirty.

We all know the feeling of struggling to commit important facts to memory. Cooke explained in an interview with the Daily Mail that linking a unique and memorable thought -- like a sexual fantasy -- with something more mundane that you need to know can help you to better recall it.

Though it doesn't necessarily have to be dirty, sexual thoughts tend to be memorable and emotionally charged. Really, Cooke explains, anything unexpected (like rude or violent thoughts) can do the trick.

"A great rule of thumb for what’s memorable is 'whatever would grab your attention as you’re wandering down the street will grab your attention when you’re looking for a memory'," Cooke told the Daily Mail. "Nakedness, things that are taboo, extremely attractive people, things we intrigued by: these will grab your attention in the world, and memories that have these elements will also stick out."

This theory, perhaps, was an inspiration behind the popular math rhyme "Chicks, chicks, dirty chicks, six times six is thirty-six," often employed by schoolchildren learning their multiplication tables.

Thoughts or images that evoke emotions can be particular effective, Cooke said. On a more serious note, psychologists studying memory have found that "flashbulb memories" -- detailed recollections of traumatic events that can be decades old, like the 9/11 attacks or the assassination of JFK -- are likely so vivid, at least in part, because of their emotional character.

As memory researcher Dr. James McGaugh, director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California–Irvine, told the American Psychological Association, "Just a tiny bit of emotional arousal will influence whether you remember something just a few minutes later."

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