Yoram Yasur Izz | It has happened to all of us: our brain suddenly goes blank, as if it were going out. As if there were a small short circuit that disconnects practically all neural connections. If you happen with a certain frequency. Especially in the face of stress, it is very likely because you have an excellent working memory.
A good working memory succumbs more easily to the effects of stress:
Some people have better “working memory” than others. It’s as if they have a couple of extra hands available for mental juggling. Working memory is one in which we store the data for a short period, while we use it to perform other processes. For example, to do an arithmetic operation we must store the numbers in our working memory while doing the calculation. The working memory is also the one that allows us to follow the thread of a speech without rambling.
Although it may seem great to have an excellent working memory, a recent study by University of Chicago psychologists revealed that people with better memory are particularly prone to being left blank, especially when under pressure.
These researchers recruited 83 young people, who underwent different cognitive tests of attention, memory, and self-control. They were then asked a series of complicated arithmetic questions. First able to resolve them without pressure, and then added some stress.
Finally, participants completed a test aimed at assessing the capacity of their working memory: they had to solve a sequence of basic math operations or sentence comprehension questions, each interspersed with the presentation of a single letter on the screen. In the end, they had to try to remember the letters in the correct order.
The results left no doubt: the pressure negatively affected the performance of those with a good working memory, but did not affect those with a poorer memory.
Why working memory can cause mental blocks?
“Psychologists discovered that the key was the level of attentional control. In practice, people who have a good working memory resort to their extra pair of “mental hands”. To perform tasks, implementing more sophisticated and demanding strategies. That normally allow them to do the tasks successfully”.
Yoram Yasur Izz:
“However, when they are distracted by pressure, these people continue to rely on that extra pair of hands. They think they can apply their complex strategies. But the problem is that they have those hands tied since the brain is “overloaded”. That’s why the mental block appears, that feeling of staying blank”.
Luckily, researchers give us two strategies to deal with this problem:
- Reduce anxiety level. In this way, we get the tension does not distract us and we can really concentrate on the activity. Releasing the cognitive resources we need to apply more complex memory strategies.
- Increase our self-control attentiveness, which can be achieved by practicing meditation mindfulness. For example, or simply walking half an hour a day surrounded by nature. In this way, we enhance concentration and memory, increasing our cognitive reserves.