As any college student can tell you, the halls of academe are filled with half-truths and superstition masquerading as wisdom. No, Iím not talking about liberal bias among the professoriat. Iím talking about the student-to-student guidance about which foods, drinks, and other substances one should eat, drink or otherwise ingest in the attempt to improve test performance. Nothing like the approach of a comprehensive exam in microeconomics to spur interest in folk theories of memory enhancement.
Eggs? Fish? Soy? Carefully spaced consumption of Jolt Cola? Off-label Rx? All sort of theories abound, but little in the way of hard science seemed to trickle into the discussion. So I was glad to see an article in the Economist that reports on scientific research on memory boosting drugs and other mental performance enhancers. Much too late to help me through exams — by many years — but perhaps leading to a better world for future graduate students. (Either that, or else expectations will be raised and the exams will become harder.)
As the article suggests, remembering is not an unqualified good, and forgetting isnít always bad. Fiction, both written and filmed, have explored these issues in works from Milan Kunderaís The Book of Laughter and Forgetting to the Philip K. Dick inspired Total Recall to the recent Charlie Kaufman flick Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
I wasnít a coffee drinker at the time of my comprehensive exams, but have since become emotionally attached to the stuff. I was happy to see caffeine get good reports when compared to some more high-tech substances. The bottom line, however, and the sad news for students everywhere: ďcognitive enhancers merely improve the working of the brain: they cannot help people remember something they never learned in the first place.Ē
You still need to study.