Anticipating performance can hinder memory

Anticipating your own performance at work or school may hinder your ability to remember what happened before your presentation, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

The study’s findings also suggest that the presence of an audience may be an important factor that contributes to this pre-performance memory deficit.

“Performance anticipation could weaken memory because people tend to focus on the details of their upcoming presentation instead of paying attention to information that occurs before their performance,” says lead author Noah Forrin, a postdoctoral fellow in Psychology at Waterloo. “People who experience performance anxiety may be particularly likely to experience this phenomenon.”

Building on what previous research called the next-in-line effect, Forrin and his co-authors explored how different ways of preparing for a presentation impact the pre-performance memory deficit.

They experimented with a variety of techniques that enhance memory, including the production effect, which is the simple yet powerful idea that we can remember something best if we say it aloud.

One of the study’s co-authors, Psychology professor Colin MacLeod, coined the term production effect from previous research which identified that reading aloud involves at least three distinct processes that help to encode memory: articulation, audition, and self-reference. Research by Forrin and MacLeod has demonstrated that reading aloud is better for memory than reading silently, writing, or hearing another person speak aloud.

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