• Question: my sister is wondering that if you condition something with something else eg, eating chewing gum while revising and then if you go to the exam while eating chewing gum you are likely to understand quicker the things that you had revised while eating the chewing gum, is this true?

    Asked by popthebottle to Meeks, Pete, Stephen, Steve, Tom on 23 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Pete Edwards

      Pete Edwards answered on 21 Jun 2010:


      I’m not really sure about this but I know that I associate certain memories with music. If I hear certain songs things come rushing into my head. The same thing can happen if I smell certain things – baking bread always makes me think of my primary school – I’ve no idea why!

    • Photo: Stephen Curry

      Stephen Curry answered on 21 Jun 2010:


      This is outside my area – but I have to say that I doubt this would be of much help.

      I think there may be ways to condition the mind to improve memory but it seems to involve more sophisticated methods. People who can perform fantastic feats of memory (eg to remember the sequence of a deck of shuffled cards) try to create a story which features the card sequence. Then, as they recall the story, they can recall the card sequence.

    • Photo: Marieke Navin

      Marieke Navin answered on 22 Jun 2010:


      oooh, now i’m not sure about this, but you can use triggers to remember things. People do it with finding their keys don’t they? You can also use smells to help you remember things. I think there are lots of ways to help your brain. For example, imagine revising for your exams all weekend sat at your desk. Now imagine that at 2am, in the rain, you stand under an umbrella and learn something for 5 minutes. I bet you’d remember what you learnt in that 5 minutes better than you would remember all that you had been revising all weekend!

    • Photo: Tom Hartley

      Tom Hartley answered on 23 Jun 2010:


      There are mechanisms in psychology which correspond roughly to the sorts of things your sister is talking about. As she suggests you can learn a conditioned response, so that (by being repeatedly paired) something initially unrelated to what you are learning becomes associated with it, and can produce the response on it’s own. There are also “state-dependent” and “context-dependent” learning phenomena that in general lead to better memory when your internal state or external context is kept the same at the time of learning and the time of testing.

      I think the chewing-gum idea would not work because you would want to associate lots of different things with the same sensation/action, which does not work. If you could learn to associate different sensations or actions with the things you are trying to learn it might work better.

      If you really want to do well in exams, I think the best way (and I am not sure how strong the evidence for this would be) is to understand the material you are trying to learn. I explained why in a different answer:

      how do you remember so much stuff about science

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