Research shows that when you tell people to remember something, they’ll probably forget.

The experiment: Researchers told trainees “not to forget” some items and “not to remember” others.

Result: Trainees got a 16% lower score on the “don’t forget” items. Reason: Trainees get more nervous when told to remember something, and that can interfere with how that material goes into memory.

After all, they have to process the “Don’t forget this” command as well as the material itself. Chances are, they’ll just process one item: the command. So they’ll remember that there was something really important they needed to remember. But they won’t remember what it was.

Take-home for trainers: Show people what’s important through the lesson plan itself, instead of telling them. Review, testing (see below) and follow-up over spaced intervals will help trainees remember from there.

If you slip and say, “Don’t forget,” tell trainees you’ll be covering it again. That’ll help them relax and retain more.

Source: Storm, B., et al., “When intended remembering leads to unintended forgetting.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2007 Jul; Vol 60, No. 7, Pp. 909-15.

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