Did you ever wonder how actors memorize all their lines? That's a subject that Elmhurst College psychologist Helga Noice and husband and actor Tony Noice, professor of theater at Elmhurst, have been investigating for nearly two decades.

The couple says actors don't learn by rote. They break down scripts into what are called "beats" or "intentions". "A beat is simply what an actor is trying to do with this particular moment or intention. They call it the objective, the goal, the intention, the action," says Tony Noice.

Helga Noice says what actors do, "whether it is embellishing or imagery or taking on the perspective of the assigned character or making certain words or passages distinctive," helps them remember the script.

The researchers say experiencing the moment stimulates different areas of the brain and works to improve memory. The Noices' have tested their theories in a 4-week course for older adults and report remarkable gains in word recall and problem solving compared to both a visual arts group and a control group.

"They start with just exchanging two words back and forth, and meaning it, and we go up to more than a full page," Tony Noice says and his wife adds, "So, they are in this together and feel a great support from the other people who are also having to do these unfamiliar exercises."

Tony Noice says these acting exercises have been shown to help engage the mental, psychological and emotional faculties of older adults. "The essence of acting is that stage time is always now. You must be involved with communicating this thought to the other person and observing its effects right now at this moment," he says.

An article on the research appears in the February issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.