Want to Hold On to a Memory?

A new study says it may be as simple as making a fist

April 29, 2013

A new study says making a fist can help improve memory.

Getting a grip—literally— can boost your memory, according to a new study. Here’s how: Clench your right fist before taking in new information that you want to remember. Then clench your left fist when you want to remember it later.  

This strange trick may work because clenching your hands activates the side of the brain that handles memory. For example, in right handed people, the left side of the brain is primarily responsible for storing information while the right side of the brain is responsible for recalling memory. (If you are left-handed, the opposite applies).

Putting It to the Test

To test this idea, researchers led by Ruth Propper of Montclair State University in New Jersey studied 50 right-handed college students. Most of them were women. They were given a list of 36 words to remember. They were also given a small pink ball to clench.

One group clenched the ball twice for 45 seconds each with their right hands before memorizing the words. Then they did the same with their left hands before writing down as many words as they could remember. Another group performed the same task but reversed the order of the fists they made. Two other groups used the same hand each time, one group using the left and the other, the right. A final group didn’t clench the ball at all but held it gently in both hands each time.

What tricks do you use to study for tests?

What tricks do you use to study for tests?

The group that started with the right hand performed the best on the memory test. In doing so, they activated the left side of their brains, which helps store memory, and then clenched their left hand, activating the right side of the brain as they recalled the information.  

“The findings suggest that some simple body movements— by temporarily changing the way the brain functions— can improve memory,” Propper said in a statement describing the results, which were published in the online science journal PLoS One.

Participants recalled an average of ten words if they clenched their right hand for storing information and their left hand for recalling information. People in the group that used the opposite clenching pattern recalled an average of six words.

If you’re preparing to make fists while studying for a test or practicing a speech, the researchers say more work is needed to figure out whether this technique would actually be useful. In the meantime, however, it probably couldn’t hurt. But you would have to remember which hand to use for which step in the process.

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