People who use more working memory capacity get tired of things faster, new research from the University of Kansas has found. Lead author Noelle Nelson, a KU School of Business marketing and consumer behavior researcher, explains:
“People with larger working memory capacities actually encode information more deeply. They remember more details about the things they’ve experienced, and that leads them to feel like they’ve had it more. That feeling then leads to the large capacity people getting tired of experiences faster. Our findings suggest that if they can enhance their memory for the other times they’ve eaten these foods, they may feel satiated and then not seek out those unhealthy things.”
The finding could have significance for marketers desiring to maintain interest in their products and brands. Consumers could also benefit from the research because it provides a window into how memory could be the key to becoming satiated, especially on products or habits they hope to quit, such as eating unhealthy foods.
Larger Memory Capacities
Nelson co-authored the study with Joseph Redden, associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota.
They conducted four separate experiments with undergraduate student participants. The researchers measured people’s working memory capacities in different ways, such as how well they could remember a string of letters or how they performed on the Simon memory game where users must try to repeat a series of tones and lights.
Then participants then performed a task where they would eventually become tired of what they experienced, like viewing paintings or listening to music.
“We found that their capacity predicted how fast they got tired of the art or music,” Nelson said. “People with larger memory capacities satiated on these things more quickly than people with smaller capacities. Essentially, large capacity people perceive that they’ve experienced things more times because they remember those experiences better.”
Past research has only speculated on the link between memory and the rate of satiation, but this study provides direct evidence, she said.
Satiation, or the feeling of having had enough of something, generally comes about from a coalescence of physiological processes (such as hormones signalling feeling full after a large meal, along with psychological processes, like adaptation or habituation, plus a cognitive component such as assessment of how much you have consumed in the past. A prerequisite for these cognitive processes is memory.
For example, elderly people with diminished memory performance have been shown in previous studies to satiate on experiences slower than their younger counterparts. (Salthouse, Timothy A. and Renee L. Babcock 1991)
In this new study, researchers did not specifically study overeating or unhealthy foods, but the findings should extend to those types of experiences, Nelson said:
“Because a big part of overeating is psychological, a psychological solution such as memory processes, could help people control their eating. Consumers might be able to satiate more quickly by simply recalling the last several times they ate.”
Further research is needed to test the applicability of the hypothesis to other settings and stimuli.