Stress and Memory

Stress and Memory

At Aussie, we pride ourselves on making moving as free of stress as possible, although sometimes it’s hard when faced with the swathes of articles that describe moving house as a slog and an intolerable ordeal. Recently, though, researchers at the University of New Hampshire in the USA made some discoveries that cast a new light on the process. In the past, research into the effects of moving house always focussed on the downsides – the anxiety, the loneliness of being in a new environment, the loss of friendships, the negative impact on children’s wellbeing. And if you focus on the downsides of something, then you’ll always find evidence to back them up. What might that research have discovered had it focussed instead on the fun of making new friendships, exploring new areas, helping your children have new adventures and so on?

At last, though, the tide is turning thanks to the New Hampshire research, published last year. In a test involving over a thousand subjects, researchers noticed something they called the ‘relocation bump’ – an improvement in the autobiographical memory that occurs when we up sticks and start over somewhere new. It seems that the stimulation caused by a new environment actually doubles the amount of experiences retained by the memory.

The researchers spoke to 1001 test participants and asked them to remember five experiences they’d had between the ages of 40 and 60. Each memory had to pertain to a single day and the subjects were asked to describe the feelings and emotions associated with each one. Researchers also asked them to note how many times they’d moved home, where they’d moved from and where they’d moved to.

After analysing the data it became clear that double the amount of memories could be recalled around the time of a house-move. The study noted that, in youth, we make a lot of clear memories because we’re experiencing things for the very first time. However, big life changes like moving have the same effect – things seem new again and we experience a lot of ‘firsts’. Our sharpest memories therefore cluster around transitional experiences in life and it seems that big changes actually improve our autobiographical memories.

So the next time you’re moving (or doing anything involving an upheaval of life), be glad that despite any stress involved, there are lots of pay-offs and one, it would seem, is a doubly-improved memory.