Wallet? Check. Cellphone? Check. Keys? Uh-oh. Have no fear, though. New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds that giving yourself a brainpower boost in order to find lost items may be as simple as talking to yourself out loud. Here, a brief guide to the useful study:
What should you say to yourself?
Simply repeating the name of the object you're looking for can help you find it. In phase one of this two-step experiment, researchers arranged 20 participants into two groups: One group was instructed to repeat the name of a specific item they were searching for, such as a banana; the other had to keep quiet.
And what happened?
On average, the group using "self-directed speech" was able to find the object more quickly by about 50 to 100 milliseconds, says Charles Choi at LiveScience. (The average time it took people to find an object was 1.2 to 2 seconds.)
What about phase two?
Researchers carried out a "virtual shopping task" for common grocery store items, like Jell-O or Coke. Just as in the first phase, some of the participants were asked to repeat the item's name to themselves while looking. But this time the results were "more complex," says Choi. Talkers were able to find familiar objects like Coke much quicker. But for less familiar objects, such as the slightly more ambiguous Speed Stick deodorant, the mutterers actually took much longer.
"Speaking to yourself isn't always helpful: If you don't know what an object looks like, saying its name can have no effect or actually slow you down," says researcher Gary Lupyan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The idea behind speaking the name of items out loud is that it activates visual properties in the brain to help you find things based on what you know about how they look. If you're not familiar with Speed Stick, the talking won't help you find it faster.
What does this mean for those who lose things easily?
These findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that talking yourself through a situation gives your brain a boost. (A separate study of children found that they were able to tie their shoes more easily if they talked themselves through the process.) So the next time you lose your keys, says Science Daily, "you may want to mutter 'keys keys keys' to yourself while searching for them, and just ignore the strange looks you may be getting."