Archive for October, 2009

Human Transactive Memory

October 31, 2009

To this point, previous blogs on transactive memory have focused on technology. But transactive memory also includes memory in other humans. Indeed, most of the research that has been conducted into transactive memory has involved memories shared among humans. For example, the role that transactive memory plays in team performance. Or the relationship between couples given the quality and nature of their transactive memory.

Human transactive memory has benefits beyond being an additional source of memory. As it involves other humans it concerns social relationships which are beneficial to cognitive health and effective aging. Friendships and mutually beneficial relations develop from transactive memory.

Perhaps the simplest example of human transactive memory involves one spouse asking their counterpart to remind them of something. Or when you’re watching a movie and cannot remember the name of one of the actors and you ask your viewing partner(s), “do you recognize who so and so is?”

You can form groups of like interests, divide up the memory tasks, and astound others with your expertise. For example, in a group interested in sports, one could commit all the World Series winners to memory, another could memorize the NBA champions, and a third could memorize the Super Bowl Champs. If the group is larger you could expand both breadth and depth of your expertise.

Identifying individuals knowledgeable in certain areas can be difficult. The problem of misleading and incorrect information has received much attention. An earlier blog ( argued that this is also true of the printed word. Similarly with people, there are many phony experts, so it is important to evaluate whether an individual knows whereof he speaks regarding specific topics. I remember watching a cricket match in Windsor, Canada, and hearing how the English developed cricket from the game of baseball (in case you don’t know, he had the lineage in the wrong order). So you need to assess your sources of transactive memory regarding their trustworthiness on various topics.


© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Common Sense Approaches for Improving Memory

October 30, 2009

To this point, previous blogs have discussed specific mnemonic techniques for improving memory. There are simple common sense approaches to improving memory that should be practiced and not overlooked. Most memory failures are due to the failure to pay adequate attention to the information you want to remember. Part of my doctoral dissertation studied the relationship between attention expended and memory performance. The relationship is simple, the more attention expended, the better the memory. Consider the problem of remembering the name of someone to whom you have just been introduced. Advanced techniques for remembering names will be discussed later, but the basic problem for most is that we do not pay attention to the name when the person is introduced. I know that this is my problem, and I know the advanced techniques! Usually, I am thinking of what I am going to say or some other aspect of the situation, and I miss the name. Then I spend the remainder of the night waiting for this person’s name to come up in a conversation so that I can have a second chance at it. This difficulty can be avoided by paying attention at the outset. It is good to repeat the person’s name when you are introduced. Most people will be flattered when you express interest in their name. So if you can ask a question about it, you will both flatter the person and strengthen your memory. If the name is a difficult one and paper and pencil are handy, you might even want to ask the person to spell the name. Try to strike up a conversation and learn some interesting facts about the person to associate those facts about the person with the name.

 The term absentmindedness implies a failure to pay attention. It literally means that the mind was absent at the time you needed to pay attention. So when you can’t remember where you put your car keys, the problem stems from not paying attention to where you placed the car keys. The simplest way to deal with these problems is to keep items in a common place. Remember the dictum, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” You should organize your environments to support your memory. For example, you could put a tray atop a table near the entry to your home where you place your keys and anything else you typically need when you leave the house. Use trays of files to organize your mail. Put things back where they belong. Minimize distractions when you are trying to learn something. A quiet room is best. If you cannot turn off the television or stereo, consider wearing earplugs or headphones.

 Of course, this is not always possible, and in this mobile society of ours we need to place things in different places. The key here is to make it a habit to pay attention to where you are putting things. You can stop for a moment a form a mental image of where you are putting something important down.  It is also a good idea to occasionally prompt yourself to remember where you have placed various items of importance.

Although paying attention is important to memory, attentional capacity is limited. Moreover, you would not want to remember everything. You would be so overloaded with information that it would be difficult to cope. Selective attention is key. When it is important to remember something, then sufficient attention needs to be expended.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Memory Works

October 29, 2009

There are different ways of defining different types of memory. Previous blogs have made a distinction between where memories are stored. There is a personal memory, memories held in someone’s personal, biological brain, and transactive memory, memories held by others or in technological devices (including books and paper). Distinctions can also be made along the time dimension. As its name implies, short term memory (STM) refers to memories that can be only briefly held. STM is limited with respect to both time and capacity. The most common example of the limitations STM is the example of someone looking up a phone number from a source away from the phone and trying to remember it so it can be successfully dialed. Rehearsing the number to yourself will keep the number active in STM until you dial it. If you do not rehearse the number, or if you are interrupted on the way to the phone and need to stop your rehearsal, the number is likely to be forgotten. That’s why it’s called STM. STM is a fundamental limitation all humans have in processing information. The renowned psychologist George Miller wrote a classic paper titled, “The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two.”1 Note that seven is the number of digits in a local phone number and the long distance area code puts it outside of Miller’s limit. Now there are techniques for getting around this limitation, which will be discussed later on this blog. For now, just try to appreciate what this limitation means. It limits the number of ideas, concepts, things or people that can be thought about at one time. Actually, subsequent research has indicated the the magic number 7 can be lower, depending on the nature of the material Just think what limited creatures we would be if all we had was STM.

 Long term memory (LTM) is where all that information resides that we can recall and use without having to rehearse it. That is a vast amount of information indeed. This vast amount of information is stored in the brain, an organ than weighs less than three pounds. But there are about 100 billion nerve cells in the brain with about 500 trillion synaptic connections. So that would appear to be sufficient to store the memories of a lifetime. There is a particular part of the brain that is crucial for the transfer of information from STM to LTM.  This is the hippocampus. Actually the plural, hippocampi, is appropriate here as there is a hippocampus in each hemisphere of the brain. When damage is done to the hippocampi, then there can be no transfer of information to LTM. That is, no learning can occur. There was a famous patient, H. M., who did not have hippocampi , who was studied extensively. You could converse with him and conclude that he was perfectly normal. However, if you left the room and returned a short time later, he would have no memory of you or of your conversation. 

An interesting study was done with London Cab Drivers. To be licensed as a cab driver in London requires a very extensive and difficult examination. Essentially cab drivers are required to commit the map of the entire city of London to memory. When autopsies were done on deceased London cab drivers, it was found that their hippocampi were significantly larger than normal. Although this was not a controlled experiment, it is still reasonable to conclude that their hippocampi actually grew to accommodate this large requirement on the memories. An extensive amount of information needed to be transferred from STM to LTM.

 It is clear that these memories were not purely verbal. The cab drivers needed to know more than street names. They needed a mental map of the spatial location of the streets as well as where important buildings and places were located. So visual memories were clearly involved. The two hemispheres of the brain are specialized for the types of information they process. For most people (right handed people), the left hemisphere specializes in the processing of verbal information and the right hemisphere is specialized for the processing of images and spatial information. The corpus callosum is a bundle of nerve fibers that communicates between the two hemispheres.




© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


October 29, 2009

  Folksonomies are taxonomies developed by ordinary users, folks like yourself. So you can classify items any way you wish. You define the categories and you can place items in as many categories as you like. is a folksonomy. It describes itself as a social bookmarking site. It provides a great resource for building transactive memory. Remember that transactive memory is memory stored in technology or in other human beings.

As you explore the internet, provides a free resource for storing and organizing articles on URLs. This differs from browser bookmarks or favorites. They will return you to the URL, but the material on that URL might likely have changed. The content you bookmark on delicious will not change, so it is a great way of storing and organizing articles of interest. Moreover, this content is stored on the delicious website, so you can access it from any computer with an internet hookup.

You have the option of keeping your bookmarks private or in sharing them with other delicious users. Of course, sharing is the default option as it is sharing that makes delicious a social bookmarking site. You have the option of viewing the most popular bookmarks or the most recent bookmarks. You can also look up specific URLs, or you can explore the tags of others. This provides for the building and enhancement of transactive memory.

Remember that transactive memory includes people as well as technology. You can build a network of fellow users. Your Network is an easy way to view all the bookmarks saved by interesting people, such as your friends, coworkers, and favorite bloggers. After you add them to your Network, this page will collect and display all their recent bookmarks for you to enjoy. You can also create a personal profile to inform others about yourself. So you can not only build transactive memory, but you can also build personal relationships. Both these activities contribute to healthy memories and brains.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words

October 28, 2009

  As we learned in the blog “How to Memorize Abstract Information” the key is to recode abstract information into something concrete so that an image can be formed as your aid to memorization. Learning a foreign language can be quite useful. In any case, it is a great way to exercise the brain and memory. Learning a new language develops new neural pathways, makes new connections, and builds mental flexibility.

 Memory techniques make the nonsensical meaningful or imaginable. The keyword technique is used primarily for the learning of foreign vocabulary, but it can be used to learn the meaning of any difficult new or unfamiliar term. Basically, the technique involves the development of a keyword as bridge between the meaning and the new or foreign word.

Suppose you were learning German, and you wanted to learn the word for sick.  The word for sick is krank (kraank). A keyword is used a bridge between the sound of the foreign word and its English translation. A possible keyword here is cranky. You could form an image of a cranky sick person. That would serve as the bridge to the meaning “sick.” When you hear the word krank that would remind you of the image of the cranky sick person. Similarly, when you try to think of the German word for “sick” the image of the cranky sick person would remind you of the word krank. The term keyword might be somewhat misleading. Often more than a single word is involved, and it is quite common to generate images to capture the keyword(s) and their link to foreign vocabulary word.

Suppose you were learning German and had the following vocabulary words to learn:

kaufen  (cow’ fin)                                 buy

bitte     (bit’ah)                                    please

fahren  (fah’ren)                                  drive

gefallen (ge fal’len)                             to please

arm      (arm)                                       poor

regnen (reg’ nen)                                rain

traurig (trau’rig)                                 sad

zwishcen (zwi’ schen)                          between

vergessen (fer ges’sen)                        forget

weil (vile)                                             because

This is how you could apply the keyword technique

kaufen  (cow fin)          buy

Form an image of a cow with a fin buying something.

bitte     (bit’ah)                        please

Picture someone who has eaten something bitter and is asking, please, for something to wash away the taste.

fahren  (fah’ren)                      drive

Picture driving a car from far away using a reign to control the steering wheel

gefallen  (ge fal’len)                to please

Picture a clown dresses a a key falling to please the crowd.

arm      (arm)                           poor

Picture a poor beggar holding out his arm asking for alms for the poor.

regnen (reg’ nen)                    rain

Picture a nun raking in the rain.

traurig (trau’rig)                     sad

Picture an oil rig worker who has ripped his trousers on the oil rig and is very sad.

zwishcen (zwi’ schen)              between

Picture an electric current switching between two relays.

weil (veil)                     because

picture a bee wearing a veil causing mischief at a picnic

vergessen (fer ges’sen)            forget

Picture a lady in furs forgetting the answers on a quiz show.

Now try remembering the German for the English word.






to please





Now try the reverse

weil (veil)

kaufen (cow’ fin)

gefallen (ge fal’ len)

regnen (reg’ nen)

traurig (trau’ rig)

vergissen (fer ges’ sen)

bitte (bit’ ah)

fahren (fah’ ren)

arm (arm)

traurig (trau’ rig)

zwischen zwi’ schen)

An important point is that this keyword technique can be used to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words or terms in any language, including English. Consider the English word peduncle.  Unless you are into flowers and botany, it is unlikely that you would know the word. It means flower stalk. Keywords here might involve your paying an old debt to your uncle using flower stalks. Unless you are a student of anatomy you are unlikely to know what an omphalos is. It is the navel (belly button). An image here could be some fellow humming um into his belly button. What about the word factotum? Might that be somewhat who totes facts? Almost, but not quite. A factotum is a handyman. You could conjure up an image of a handyman toting packs from a truck to a garage. To be remembered, something needs to be meaningful. Keywords can provide this meaning when none is initially found. Thus, this technique should have practical value for you. Using this technique also exercises your imagination, creativity, recoding, decoding, and retrieval skills.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Distinctiveness Heuristic

October 26, 2009

  The distinctiveness heuristic is a rule of thumb that leads people to rely upon recollection of distinctive details of an experience before they are willing to say that they remember it. The distinctiveness heuristic is a System 1 process (See the blog “Two Process Theory of Cognition”) that is beneficial most of the time, but can lead to serious errors. Elderly adults sometimes are especially prone to false recognition, misattribution errors. They have a harder time of calling up specified recollections than do younger adults, and they tend to rely more on general familiarity. This is a strong combination for producing misattribution errors. Moreover, older adults sometimes do not expect to recall specific details of past experiences. Having low expectations for memory can create serious problems for the elderly and con artists know how to exploit this feature of elderly memory. One scam is called “Where’s the check?” Here con artists collect information from the elderly individual during a phone conversation. Then they call back the next day to assess whether the elderly individual has forgotten the conversation and would be likely to have forgotten other events. If so, the con artist makes a false claim about an incident that never occurred. For example, the con artist might say that he had received a check for $1100 from the elderly individual, when it should only have been for $911. Then he says that if he receives a check for the correct amount, $911, he will return the original check for $1100. Or the con artist might say, we have received a check from you for $1000, leaving a balance of only $500. Please send a check for $500 so we can close out the account. As the elderly individual does not remember the conversation, and does not expect to remember such conversations, he sometimes sends the check to avoid further complications. When provided with highly memorable information, older adults can invoke a distinctivemess heuristic as effective as younger adults to reduce false memories. Memory techniques such as those offered in this blog can not only reduce false memories, but can also build an effective memory and confidence in those memories so that such scams will not work.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October 24, 2009

The internet is a vast resource for building potential transactive memory (see About this Blog), for cognitive growth and memory enhancement. A good question is where to begin. Perhaps the best place is is a wikipedia. A wikipedia is an encylopedia built by it users. Its articles are contributed by its users. These articles are refined and critiqued by fellow users. has grown so that its breadth of coverage is essentially equivalent to a conventional encyclopedia. One could argue that for some topics the depth of coverage is substantially greater than a conventional encyclopedia.

One of the common fears expressed about the internet is that there is no quality control. Essentially anyone can post anything on the internet, so how can one ascertain what is valid? I would argue that this fear should not be unique to the internet. The amount of junk found in commercial media and heard on talk radio is enormous. I do not see a distinction between the cyberworld and the conventional world with a possible exception of the speed with which information can be disseminated in cyberspace. Speed can work both ways. While it can spread misinformation quickly, it also has the potential of correcting misinformation quickly. does publish incorrect information. Usually, however, it is not long before this information is corrected by other users. Where opinions are concerned, multiple opinions can be viewed and one can get a feel for what is opinion and what is either fact or approaching fact. If there is a complaint regarding it is that coverage is uneven. The coverage of some topics is extensive, while the coverage of other topics is shallow. When the coverage is missing, one needs to resort to searches on the wider internet.

One can use in a passive manner. That is one can search for topics and answers to questions by simply entering them into a search box. Or one can become an active participant with a login. One can enter interests and receive feeds regarding these interests. One can contribute new material or edit or correct published materials.

For cognitive growth, it is good to use in an expansive manner. That is, try to used it to expand and widen your interests.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


How to Memorize Abstract Information

October 23, 2009

To this point the memory techniques that have been offered used concrete items. The techniques also involved generating mental images. It is easy to generate mental images to concrete items, but what about abstract items? What about the Bill of Rights? They’re abstract. How could one use the One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic (see earlier blog) to memorize each topic of first ten amendments of the Constitution? Here’s how.

First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            So this is the guarantee of free speech and religion. Try forming an image of a bun (One bun) jabbering away in a place of worship.

Second Amendment. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

            So here is the right to bear arms (for the purpose of maintaining a well regulated Militia).  Try forming an image of a shoe ( Two shoe) bearing arms.

Third Amendment.

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

            This prevents the quartering of soldiers in private homes: try forming an image of soldiers carrying Christmas trees (Three tree) in an attempt to be quartered in a home, perhaps with a large X through it.

Fourth Amendment. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

            This prevents unreasonable searches. Try forming an image of a strong door (Four Door) preventing someone from conducting an unlawful search.

Fifth Amendment. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property,without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

            This is the famous Fifth Amendment that you hear witnesses invoking to keep from incriminating themselves. Try forming an image of someone throwing a hive (Five hive) into a court to disrupt the proceedings.

Sixth Amendment. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

               Try forming an image of a judge using sticks (Six sticks) to expedite a trial.

Seventh Amendment. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no act tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

               This is the right to trial by jury. Think of a trial being conducted in heaven (Seven heaven) in front of a jury.

Eighth Amendment. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

               Try an image of someone being rescued from being tortured on a gate. (Eight gate).

Ninth Amendment. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

               Try an image of someone being arrested for using wine (Nine wine), getting drunk and trying to get people to stop smoking in a designated smoking area.

Tenth Amendment. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

               Try an image of a hen (Ten hen) flying to the states informing the states of their rights.

So the trick is recoding. Try to recode the abstract idea or information into something concrete. This recoding can exercise your creativity,

Now try recalling the ideas for each of the Ten Amendments. First Amendment, one is a…



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The Two System View of Cognition

October 22, 2009

The two system view of cognition provides a means of understanding both how we can process information so quickly and why cognition fails and is subject to error. There are many two systems views of cognition, all of which share the same basic ideas. Perhaps the most noteworthy two system view is that of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahenman.1

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

Consider the following problem. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 total. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The mind tends to offer the answer $0.10 because the answer seems simple, just the parsing of the $1 from the $0.10 In fact, 50% of Princeton students and 56% of the students at the University of Michigan came up with this answer. But this answer is wrong. If the bat costs $1 more than the ball and the ball costs $0.10, then the bat would cost $1.10, which when added to the ball cost would reach $1.20. The correct answer is $0.05. That would mean that the bat costs $1.05, and the two added together would yield the desired $1.10.

So this simple example illustrates how System 1 processes can lead us astray and how System 2 processes can set us right. System 1 processes are essential. Were it not for their speed, we would never have survived as a species. But they are flawed. System 2 processes are needed not only to monitor System 1 processes, but they are also the processes that cause us to learn and advance. With System 1 processes only, we would have remained a primitive species.

The important point is to be aware of potential cognitive illusions, errors, and shortcomings, so we can identify and compensate for them.

1Kahneman, D. (2003). A Perspective On Judgment and Choice: Mapping Bounded Rationality. American Psychologist, 58, 697-720.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Prospective Memory and Technology

October 21, 2009

Prospective memory refers for memory for actions to be taken in the future. In other words it refers to “memory to do things.” We shall identify three means of dealing with prospective memory: via mnemonic techniques, via low tech, or via high tech. There is a substantial literature on prospective memory, but in the pursuit of theoretical knowledge, to the best of my knowledge, these three techniques have not been employed in formal research.

Suppose you have a number of things you want to accomplish during the day. One method would be to use either the method of loci or the one bun rhyme mnemonic, both of which have been discussed in previous blogs, to remember what you needed to do. Another technique, the low tech technique would be to write these items down in a list or to use a daily planner. One study, however, found that 25% of the items in a daily planner were overlooked.1 The high tech solution would involve entering the to do list into a personal digital assistant (PDA)and perhaps adding an alarm alert. Pick whichever solution best fits your need. However, if something is of more than ordinary importance, then it is best to employ at least two methods. Memory, even aided by mnemonic techniques, can fail. Lists or daily planners can be lost or not consulted. PDAs can be forgotten or misplaced, and there is always the possibility of data entry failures.

Perhaps the most dramatic and depressing examples of prospective memory failures is when parents forget they have left their child in their car. The incidence of this has increased dramatically since the child has been relegated to the back seat as a result of the dangers from an expanding air bag in the front seat. There are stories of parents stopping by day care on their way home from work only to discover that they had forgotten to drop the child off in the morning and that their child had expired from the heat.

This a matter of out of sight out of mind. And this occurs even with a beloved child. The parent needs a reminder to drop off the child. The high tech solution here might be a PDA with an alert. Or perhaps future cars will offer this alert as an option. A low tech solution would be a written reminder in a conspicuous place. Mnemonic techniques could also work, but one should not rely on them alone. And there are explicit reminders one could employ, such as a string around the finger or the steering wheel, or a doll or hat placed in the empty front seat.

1, M.A., & Einstein, G. O. (2007).  Prospective Memory.  Sage Publications:  Thousand Oaks, CA.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic

October 20, 2009

The One-Bun Rhyme Mnemonic is a simple technique for remembering up to ten items. The first step is to remember the following rhyme:

One is a Bun

Two is a Shoe

Three is a Tree

Four is a Door

Five is a Hive

Six is Sticks

Seven is Heaven

Eight is a Gate

Nine is Wine

Ten is a Hen

Now suppose you wanted to pick up the following ten items at the supermarket:


Potato Chips


Orange Juice






Snickers Bar


You could form the following images:

Picture Eggs in a Bun (an egg sandwich, perhaps?)

A Shoe filled with Potato Chips

Tomatoes falling from a Tree

Orange Juice flowing over a Door

Milk being poured over a Hive

Loaves of Bread on several Sticks

Angels eating Bananas in Heaven

Pies hanging on a Gate

Wine being poured over a head of Lettuce

A Hen snacking on a Snickers Bar

When you arrive at the Supermarket you simply need to recite the rhyme and recall the image for each rhyme in the mnemonic.

This simple technique exhibits the following requirements for a good mnemonic technique.

A plan for both generating and retrieving the cue words. The recoding of the items into more readily recalled images. This technique uses both hemispheres of the brain.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Illusions

October 19, 2009

Most everyone has heard of perceptual illusions. These are perceptions that mislead or are wrong. In the cognitive realm, there are also cognitive illusions. Cognitive illusions are common beliefs or tendencies of thought that are wrong or misleading. Consider the following statement:

            Reno is further west than San Diego.

Most agree with this statement, but check a map.

Another example is

Detroit, Michigan is south of Windsor, Ontario.

Again, check a map. Generally speaking, absent a map or an extensive knowledge of geography, these appear to be reasonable statements, as Nevada, for the most part, is east of California. Similarly, for the most part, Canada is north of the United States. So these guesses are reasonable, but wrong.

Now consider the following statement:

            On seven flips of a fair coin, the sequence HTHHTHT is more probable than the sequence TTTTTTT. Again, most agree with this statement, as the toss of seven straight tales seems much less likely than a mixture of heads and tales. But note that the sequence calls for a specific occurrence of heads and tales.  So the probability of both sequences is the same .57 , or . 0078125.

Now consider the next statement:

            You have a greater chance of winning the lottery with numbers that you’ve chosen yourself than with numbers randomly chosen by a computer. People tend to agree with the statement because they feel they have some control in the first case. In reality, they do not. Random is random.

We need to be aware of these cognitive illusion so that we can counter them with critical thought. There are reasons why such cognitive illusions occur, which will be discussed in subsequent blogs.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Transactive Memory: An Important Concept Not to Be Overlooked

October 17, 2009

Transactive memory refers to memories stored outside your biological brain. Writing a list of items to be purchased at a store on a piece of paper is an example of transactive memory. So is asking your wife to remember the directions to a friend’s house. There are two generic media for storing transactive memories: technological and external biological. Memories can be stored in external technology (paper and pencil is an example of technology) or in other people. So you can get by not only with a little help from technology, but you can also get by with a little help from your friends. You can upgrade your technology and move from a paper pad to a personal digital assistant.

It is also useful to make a distinction between accessible transactive memory, available transactive memory, and potential transactive memory. Accessible transactive memory refers to memories you can readily retrieve. Information you can readily retrieve from the internet is an example of accessible transactive memory. Knowing someone who know the baseball statistics you are trying to find is an example accessible memory. Knowing that information is available on the internet, but not knowing where to find it is an example of available transactive memory. Knowing that there is some baseball expert who can answer your question, but not knowing exactly who that individual is provides an example of available transactive memory. Potential transactive memory could include all memories stored in the world.  This would include both technological (paper and electronic) storage and biological (data held in human memories) storage. 

Potential transactive memory provides the opportunity for cognitive growth. Most all internet activities can be helpful to the brain. You retrieve and store information, search for information, evaluate information. This can be done as part of a job, for pure enjoyment, or for personal growth. Multimedia provides the means of processing different modes of information. One way of looking at cognitive growth is to look as it as a matter of transferring information and knowledge from potential transactive memory, to available transactive memory, to accessible ttansactive memory, to personal biological memory. Of course, the objective here is not to try to store all the information in the world in your brain. This would be helpful and perhaps even harmful. When you encounter new information, you need to make a decision as to whether to ignore it or consider it further. One can be content knowing simply that information is there and that at some point in the future one might be interested in finding it (transferring it to available transactive memory). Or one can make a decision that one needs to be able to access the information when needed (transferring it to available transacive memory). And there is some information one would like to be able to retrieve without needing external memory aids.

Do not forget that other humans provide another means of storing information. Knowing that somebody somewhere does have a certain bit information is an example of available accessible transactive memory. Knowing who that individual is is an example of accessible transactive memory. Human forms of transactive memory also provide the basis for the development of beneficial human relationships, which also foster cognitive health.

Fletcher Platt is a gentleman in his nineties who shows not only what can be done with the internet, but also the potential of the internet. is the website he has developed and continues to develop. Not only has he personally benefited from developing his website, but he has provided an invaluable source of growth for others. I encourage you to peruse this website and give it the attention it deserves. It is likely to become a bookmark that you frequently access.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Method of Loci

October 17, 2009

Perhaps the oldest known memory technique is the method of loci (places). Its development is attributed to the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, who lived in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. After a banquet hall collapsed, Simonides was able to identify the bodies of the deceased by using the seating arrangements to call to mind the deceased guests.

In the method of loci the items to be remembered are placed in specific loci and an image is formed between the loci and the item to remember. Say you needed to pick up the following items at the supermarket:







orange juice


ice cream



You could use the following locations in your home, place an item in each loci, and form a mental image of the item in that spot. For example, you could form the following mental pictures:

your bed                          bread

your desk                        eggs

your closet                     tomatoes

the hall                             potatoes

the shower                      asparagus

the bathroom sink       bananas

dining room table        orange juice

the coffee table              milk

the television                  ice cream

apples                                your exit door

When you are at the supermarket, you could take a mental walk through your house and remember the image you had formed at each location.

There are many more mnemonic techniques that will be discussed in this blog. Although some find this one useful, I believe that other techniques are more effective. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the oldest mnemonic technique, and it illustrates the general characteristics of all mnemonic techniques. It provides a plan or template for storing and retrieving the information you want to remember. It also involves elaboration in the formation of mental images. As will be discussed later, these activities also involve the prefontal areas of the brain and both hemispheres. So the technique not only aids you in membering, but it should also contribute to brain health.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Seven Sins of Memory

October 17, 2009

It is important not to attribute every memory failure to aging. Normal, healthy memory is far from perfect. An outstanding book by Daniel Schachter, The Seven Sins of Memory (How the Mind Forgets and Remembers)1,provides a good overview of memory failures. This brief blog provides a quick summary of these “sins.” They are transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence.

Transience simply means that information in memory is transient. That is, it can be lost. Our minds are not recorders that record everything that happens. Most of the information that bombards us goes unattended and never makes it into memory. This is good as most of this information, and the term is being used loosely here, is of no value. The information might not have been attended to and been quickly lost from memory. Or the memory might have either decayed from memory or been lost among the billions upon billions of associations in memory and is for all intents and purposes, forgotten.

 Absent-mindedness refers to such failures as failing to remember where you put your keys, or to forget to stop by the dry cleaners on your way home. Absent-mindedness might be one of the most annoying memory failures. It might also be one of the most common reasons older people think that their memories are starting to fail. But absent-mindedness is a common occurrence among all age groups. The failure to pay attention, for example when you placed your keys down if you did not place them in a standard place, is the most likely cause of absent-mindedness. More will be written about absent-mindedness and techniques will be presented for dealing with it.

The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon is an example of blocking. You know that you know the information, but you cannot recall it. It feels as if the information is on “the tip-of-your-tongue,” Something is blocking this information and preventing you from retrieving it. More will be written in subsequent blogs about blocking and how to deal with it.

Misattribution is a memory failure that has legal implications and can result in law enforcement officers pursuing red herrings or the conviction of innocent people. Misattributions are quite common. A psychologist was accused of rape based on the victim’s detailed description of his face. However, the psychologist was cleared because he had a rock-solid alibi; he was being interviewed on television (ironically on the fallibility of memory) when the rape occurred. The victim was watching the show and misattributed her memory of the psychologists face to the rapist. Unfortunately the courts, or more correctly juries, place great weight on eyewitness testimony. Due to misattribution errors, the innocent can be convicted. A recent analysis of forty cases in which DNA evidence exonerated wrongfully imprisoned individuals revealed that 36 of them (90%) involved mistaken eyewitness testimony. It is disconcerting when one looks at the number of convictions that have been overturned on the basis of new DNA evidence. More will be written about these issues in later blogs.

The sin of suggestibility can produce similar difficulties. Suggestibility in memory refers to the tendency to incorporate into personal recollections misleading information from external sources. These external sources can be other people, picture or written materials. The media can also be the source of misleading information. Schacter makes the following distinction between misattribution and suggestibility: they both involve the conversion of suggestions into inaccurate memories, but misattribution often occurs in the absence of overt suggestions. In the sin of suggestibility, the suggestions are overt.

Biases tend to help us feel better about our situations, our knowledge, and our opinions. Bias has a variety of causes. Information can be biased to make it consistent with our beliefs. When we are expecting a change we might remember a change that did not occur or exaggerate a change that did. There is a hindsight bias, or the “I knew it all along” bias. There is a tendency to think that we predicted certain events, when we did not. This is not simply a matter of lying, our minds have a tendency to work this way. There is also a tendency to remember ourselves in a light that is a tad more favorable than others might remember. And there is a wide variety of stereotypes around that do affect memories. It is important to be aware of these biases so we can correct or mitigate them. There will be more about this in future blogs.

Persistence refers to unwanted thoughts that keep occurring. A song or jingle that keeps running through one’s mind is an innocuous example of persistence, but persistence of certain thoughts can have pathological implications. Schacter recounts the tragic tale of the relief pitcher of the Los Angeles Angels, Donnie, Moore. He was brought in to relieve in a playoff game in a crucial situation against the Boston Red Sox. He served up the game winning home run from which the Angels did not come back. Consequently the Red Sox advanced to the World Series. The memory of this loss persisted in Moore’s memory and he sank into a deepening depression that undermined his marriage and his career. He shot his wife marriage and his career.  He shot his wife numerous times before committing suicide.

So clearly, memory problems do not begin with old age. They are with us throughout our lifetime. It is important to be aware of them and to understand them so our memories do not lead us astray.

1Schacter, D.  L. (2001).  Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin.