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Anticipation of the performance hinders memory, but there is something you can do

Posted October 4, 2019

Presentations, exams, debates and many other things like that make us nervous about work and school. And that’s not good. We start imagining ourselves in uncomfortable situations and forget to pay attention to what’s really important – information and its delivery. Now scientists from the University of Waterloo found that anticipating your own performance at work or school may hinder your ability to remember what happened before your presentation.

Anticipating your own performance at work or school may hinder your ability to remember what happened before your presentation. Image credit: Robert Scoble via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

All these presentation may be very formal and informative, but they sometimes feel like a stage act. This is actually how scientists refer to these kind of setting – performances. Usually you are never the only one presenting something at such an event and so you have to listen to other people before coming up in front of your PowerPoint presentation. But do you really pay attention to what is happening before your performance? Scientists say that the next-in-line effect comes into play and people often experience the pre-performance memory deficit.

Noah Forrin, lead author of the study, said: “Our results show that performance anticipation may be detrimental to effective memory encoding strategies. Students frequently have upcoming performances—whether for class presentations or the expectation of class participation. We are currently examining whether the anticipation of those future performances reduces students’ learning and memory in the classroom”.

You anticipate your performance and sometimes get anxious about it. This could cause that bizarre pre-performance memory deficit – you struggle to remember the information that occurs before your performance. Scientists wanted to find a way to alleviate that and help people relax and focus on everything that happens before the performance so that they would be more prepared and less hindered by their state of mind. 

One of the ideas they’ve tested was the production effect – the concept that we can remember something best if we say it aloud. It actually works, because at least three distinct processes are involved and help to encode memory: articulation, audition, and self-reference. It has its limitations – people are already anticipating to read out loud and thus may not be able to absorb information that was read out loud by themselves. Another good strategy is simply getting over your presentation early – if possible, be first. This will reduce the time of the worsen memory and will get listeners before they are warmed to ask complex questions.

Also, maybe presentations are yesterday’s learning method? Did you really ever learn anything useful by doing a presentation? On one hand, it does help with public speaking, but on another – it causes a whole lot of anxiety.


Source: University of Waterloo

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