Clenching Your Fists May Provide A Memory Boost
April 25, 2013

Clenching Your Fists May Provide A Memory Boost

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Having trouble putting a name to a face at the grocery store or an annual conference? A new study in PLoS ONE suggests that clenching your fist can help dredge up information from the depths of your mind.

Previous research has shown that different sides of the brain are responsible for memory storage and recall. Building on these findings, a team of New England researchers wanted to see if stimulating a particular side of the brain through hand clenching would improve memory and recall abilities.

The team was able to show that clenching the right hand before memorizing and clenching the left before recollection led to a higher performance in a memory clinical test.

"In total, these results are striking," the study said. "Given that the manipulation used a total of 90 seconds of unilateral hand clenching pre-encoding and pre-recall is easily adaptable to a variety of experimental, clinical and real-world situations."

In the study, 51 right-handed participants were divided into five groups and asked to memorize, and then later recall words from a list. The first group clenched their right fist just prior to memorizing the word list and then did so again before attempting to recall the words. Another group did the same with their left hand. Two remaining groups alternated hands — clenching one prior to memorizing and the opposite hand prior to recollecting. A control group performed the tests without instructions to fist clench.

The researchers found that the group that clenched their right hand when memorizing the words and then the left when recollecting words performed significantly better than all the other hand clenching groups. While the right-left group performed 15 percent better than the control group, the difference was not statistically 'significant,´ the report said.

"The findings suggest that some simple body movements - by temporarily changing the way the brain functions- can improve memory," said lead author Ruth Propper, a psychologist at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “Future research will examine whether hand clenching can also improve other forms of cognition, for example verbal or spatial abilities.”

The researchers said that additional work is necessary to test whether their results extend to more visual memories like remembering a face, or spatial tasks, such as remembering where a car is parked.

In the meantime, Propper said to NBC News that anyone could test the results of the hand clenching technique. She suggested people try to use the technique when parking their car in a parking lot.

“I would say that it would be worth trying,” Propper said. “(A)s you park you can clench your right hand and when you are trying to find it, clench your left hand.”

Previous studies have shown that clenching the hands can stir up emotions. For example, when people clench their right fist, it activates the left side inducing “approach emotions,” such as happiness or excitement. Squeezing the left hand was shown to activate the right brain´s “withdrawal emotions” such as introversion, fear, or anxiety.