Archive for November, 2009

Can Transactive Memory Be Harmful?

November 28, 2009

Larry Sanger is an interesting fellow. He holds a Ph.D in philosophy and is a co-founder of Wikipedia, wikipedia.org, an on-line encyclopedia written by users. Yet he is concerned that the internet is harming education1. If so much information is available, and you know how to find it (an important proviso), why do you need to learn it when you can just look it up? Why do we need schools? Could not all children be home schooled if they had a computer and an internet connection? Would that not be so much cheaper? College is expensive. Who needs it?

Remember the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none? That reflects part of the concern. Now the knowledge landscape is so vast there is no chance that anyone can be familiar with all of it. Indeed, it is growing so fast that it would be impossible for an individual just to keep up with new information. But one can spend most of his or her time, social networking, playing online games, participating in chat boards, following incoming news events, etc.. If one were so disposed, one could spend the entire day on the internet and become familiar with a vast amount of information. I write information rather than knowledge, as knowledge implies some depth of understanding. This is Sanger’s concern, that people will become information savvy, yet lack knowledge. It is important to achieve some depth of knowledge in some areas. Some topics warrant careful study and the exploration of different media.

There is a trade-off that needs to be made between breadth and depth of knowledge. Too much concentration in one area will result in lack of knowledge in other areas. No concentration in any area and you can be accused of being a dilettante. People differ in their interests and how they spend their time. You want to do what is enjoyable and interesting, keeping in mind the dangers of being extreme in one direction or the other.

So the problem is not with transactive memory. Indeed, transactive memory encompasses both people and technology. Technology is not bad, but the manner in which it is used can be destructive. It is interesting to know that Socrates was appalled when the Greek alphabet (an early form of technology) was developed. He feared that the richness of the spoken language and the interaction with others would be lost. Clearly, his fears were misplaced.

1Casey, M.A. (2009). Ohio State Alumni Magazine. Nov-Dec, p.37

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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More on Remembering Numbers

November 27, 2009

Developing a facility in remembering numbers is central to most advanced mnemonic techniques. The blog, “Remembering Numbers” presented the technique developed by the French mathematician and astronomer, Pierre Herigone (1580-1643). His system recodes numbers into sounds, which then can be recoded into words and images that are much more memorable than numbers. Remember that it is the sounds the letters represent rather than the letters themselves that are used for recoding.

1                    t or d sound

2                    n sound

3                    m sound

4                    r sound

5                    l sound

6                    sh or ch sound

7                    hard c, g, or k sound

8                    f or v sound

9                    p or b sound

0                    s sound      

The blog, “Remembering Numbers”, used this technique to provide an alternative to the one-bun rhyme mnemonic technique (see the blog, “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic”). Here are 100 more pegwords developed using this technique.

  1. Dye
  2. kNee
  3. hoMe
  4. haiR
  5. Lye
  6. CHow
  7. Key
  8. hooF
  9. Bow
  10. DiCe
  11. ToT
  12. TuNe
  13. ToMb
  14. TiRe
  15. ToweL
  16. DiSH
  17. TacK
  18. DoVe
  19. TuB
  20. NoSe
  21. kNoT
  22. NuN
  23. gNoMe
  24. hoNoR
  25. NaiL
  26. kNotCH
  27. NecK
  28. kNiFe
  29. kNoB
  30. MouSe
  31. MaT
  32. MaN
  33. MuMMy
  34. MaRe
  35. MaiL
  36. MuSH
  37. MuG
  38. MoVie
  39. MaP
  40. RoSe
  41. RaT
  42. RaiN
  43. RooM
  44. RoweR
  45. RaiL
  46. RiCH
  47. RaCK
  48. RooF
  49. RoPe
  50. LouSe
  51. LoT
  52. LaNe
  53. LaMb
  54. LuRe
  55. LuLu
  56. LuSH
  57. LaKe
  58. LoVe
  59. LaP
  60. ShoeS
  61. SHoT
  62. SHiN
  63. SHaMe
  64. SHaRe
  65. JaiL
  66. JudGe
  67. JoKe
  68. CHieF
  69. SHiP
  70. CaSe
  71. CoT
  72. CaN
  73. CoMb
  74. CaR
  75. CoaL
  76. CaSH
  77. CooK
  78. CaVe
  79. CaPe
  80. VaSe
  81. FooT
  82. FaN
  83. FaMe
  84. FiRe
  85. FooL
  86. FiSH
  87. FoG
  88. FiFe
  89. FoP
  90. BooZe
  91. BaT
  92. PaNe
  93. BoMb
  94. BeeR
  95. PooL
  96. BuSH
  97. BooK
  98. BeeF
  99. PoPe
  100. DooZies

 So you know have 100 peg words for memorizing lists of up to 100 items. If you do not like these peg words, you can make up your own. I hope from the examples provided that it is clear how the consonant sound system works.

Once you have learned your pegwords, you can use them to memorize anything you want to know or anyone you may want to impress. You could learn the names of the seven dwarfs, the 44 Presidents of the United State, the fifty states of the union according to their entry as a state, or the winners of the Super Bowl by Super Bowl # by forming an image between the numeric peg and the item to be remembered. Abstract items might require some recoding (See the blog “How to Memorize Abstract Information.”).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HAROLD

November 24, 2009

HAROLD is an acronym for Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older Adults. It is also the name for a model that contends that activity in the Pre-frontal Cortex is less lateralized in older than in younger adults.1 Remember the specialization of the cerebral hemispheres. The left hemisphere is more specialized for the processing of verbal information, and the right hemisphere is more specialized for the processing of visual-spatial information. According the the HAROLD model this lateralization of function reduces as we age. Electrophysiological, fMRI, (see the blog, “How Can the Brain Be Imaged” to learn about these techniques) and behavioral evidence support this model in a wide variety of domains in both memory and perception. In one study young adults showed right PFC activations during word pair cued recall, whereas older adults showed significant activations in both both right and left PFC. The notion here is that this bilateral pattern of PFC is compensatory. That is, to counteract cognitive decline, older adults recruited both hemispheres whereas young adults recruited mainly one hemisphere. Similar age-related asymmetry reductions during retrieval have been found for other tasks to include word stem cued recall, word recognition, and face recognition. So HAROLD has been demonstrated for both recall and recognition tasks for both verbal and nonverbal materials during retrieval.2

Age-related asymmetry reductions have also been found during memory storage. Older adults still show a lack of hemispheric asymmetry when they are provided with strategies that raise their PFC activities to the level of young adults. So HAROLD has been shown for both information storage and retrieval.

HAROLD has also been shown for verbal vs. spatial asymmetries. PFC activity tends to be left lateralized for verbal working memory and right lateralized for spatial working memory. Older adults showed significant PFC activity bilaterally for both verbal and spatial symmetry. A reasonable question to ask is what is meant by older adults. Sometimes older participants are under the age of 50 and still show effects predicted by the HAROLD model. However, research does indicate that HAROLD does become more pronounced with advancing age.3

HAROLD indicates an age-related increase in hemispheric cooperation. A compelling view is that this cooperation is a compensation mechanism for age-related decline. That is, to counteract cognitive decline, older adults recruit both hemispheres during task conditions for which young adults primarily recruit one hemisphere. One study had participants match two letters projected either to the same visual field (hemisphere) in which the comparison could be done within the hemisphere. Or the projection was made to opposite visual fields (hemispheres)., in which the comparisons had to be made between hemispheres. The letter matchings involved three levels of difficulty:  low (physical matching with one distractor), medium (physical matching with three distractors), and high (name matching with three distractors). Here the critical comparisons are the reaction time differences between the within- and cross-hemisphere conditions. For young adults, the within-hemisphere was faster when difficulty was low, and the across-hemisphere conditions was faster when difficulty was high. The two conditions did not differ significantly when the difficulty was medium. The interpretation here is that at high levels of difficulty, the benefits of engaging resources from both hemispheres outweigh the costs of interhemisphereic communication. For the old adults the benefits of bihemispheric processing became evident at moderate levels of difficulty. Thus, the old adults benefited from interhemispheric processing earlier than the young adults, suggesting that old adults rely more on interhemispheric processing than do young adults.4

 


1Cabeza, R. ((2002).  Hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults:  The Harold model.  Psychology and Aging, 17, 85-100.

2Cabeza, R., Nyberg, L., & Park, D. (2005).  op. cit. p. 334.

3Cabeza, R., Nyberg, L., & Park, D. (2005).  op. cit. p. 334-335.

4Cabeza, R., Nyberg, L., & Park, D. (2005).  op. cit. p. 338-340.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

What Do We Need to Know

November 22, 2009

This is the question we ask whenever we encounter new information, be it an article, a website, or whatever. If it is of no interest the answer is simple, no we do not need to know this and we proceed no further. The question becomes more difficult when the answer is “yes.” Then the question becomes “how well do we need to know it?” If it is of extreme importance or interest, then one decision might be to commit it, or the gist of it, to memory on the spot. Rarely do we encounter something of this importance or interest, but if we did commit it to memory we would need to devote some attention to its maintenance. Otherwise it could become lost from or inaccessible to memory. So it might also be a good idea to store it in some sort of transactive memory, either to save the file or to tag or bookmark it. If it is also of interest to an acquaintance you could also tell them about the item and why it is so important to you.

In most cases you would either save, tag, or bookmark the item. Should you fail to do so, at a later time you might recall there was something of interest or importance, but be unable to find it. So you need to take recourse to transactive memory frequently or you will be in a state of having a wealth of memories, but being unable to access it.

Essentially, you need to decide what level of effort the information affords. You cannot remember everything and to a large extent what you do remember depends on the amount of effort you expend. Although you could commit a great deal of information to memory, you would do this at the cost of remaining ignorant of other information (to say nothing of the free time lost). Some idiot savants commit enormous amounts of information to memory (remember Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rain Man?”), but these people are often socially inept. So you want to learn thing, have social relationships, and enjoy life. And you do this by relying on transactive memory

This is an interesting question because it is asking what does it mean to “know” something? In most tests taken at school the standard is whether the information can be retrieved from memory. Sometimes, as in multiple choice or true false tests, the criterion is whether the information can be recognized. In fill in the blank or essay questions, the criterion is whether the information can be recalled. Usually one of the requirements for a Ph.D. that needs to be passed before you can do a dissertation is a comprehensive exam. Usually this exam is written and is an enormous closed book test on the relevant material in the subject in which you are trying to earn a Ph.D. That was true in my case in which I had to answer question without the aid of external supports (no lifelines!)

A reasonable question is whether this is the only criterion for knowing. Suppose you know where to find the specific material. So you know what the material is about and where it fits into some general scheme of knowledge. Does this not also imply that you have some knowledge about a topic? Does not having information in transactive memory and being able to access it also count as knowledge?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Remembering Numbers

November 21, 2009

Numbers are among the most difficult items to remember. Psychologists at Carnegie-Mellon University conducted a study[1] in which, after more than 230 hours of practice, a student increased his memory span from 7 to 79 digits. The study concluded that there was no limit to memory performance with practice. This conclusion is significant as the common wisdom was that memory span could not be increased. The student used an interesting technique for increasing his memory span. If you have been following this blog, you should know by now that one of the keys to effective remembering is to make material more meaningful. This individual was a runner who maintained a key interest in running times. He knew the records and what were good and poor running times for any distance you could name. He recoded the number he was to remember in terms of running times. It took practice (more than 230 hours worth) to expand his memory span from 7 to 79 digits, but he did it by recoding the series of numbers into running times and then decoded them back for recall.

In the memory span experiment one number is presented every second. So strong demands are placed on short term memory   The record for reciting the irrational number (one with a never ending series of decimals) pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) is, at the time of this writing, 10,000 decimal places.  This is likely to become longer as this seems to be a popular record to break. People trying to break this record can study and practice as long as they like. The must, however, recite the entire number correctly from memory.

Remembering numbers is the topic. There is no expectation, however, that you know anything at all about running times. This blog covers some more conventional techniques for remember numbers. The material in this blog is central to most advanced memory techniques. Please give it your detailed attention. If you find this difficult, please be patient and persevere.

The basic idea is to have a system of sounds to recode the numbers. Pierre Herigone (1580-1643), a French mathematician and astronomer, devised a system for recoding numbers into letters by using sounds. These sounds can be made into words and images that are much more memorable. Remember that it is the sounds the letters represent rather than the letters themselves that are used for recoding.

1                    t or d sound

2                    n sound

3                    m sound

4                    r sound

5                    l sound

6                    sh or ch sound

7                    hard c, g, or k sound

8                    f or v sound

9                    p or b sound

0                    s sound     

 So here are some mnemonic pegwords to replace the one- bun rhyme mnemonic peg words presented in One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic blog.

1                    Tie

2                    Noah

3                    Ma

4                    Rye

5                    Law

6                    SHoe

7.                    Cow

8.                    iVy

9.                    Bee

10.                 ToeS


[1] Ericsson, K.A., Chase, W.G., and Faloon, S.  (1980).  Acquisition of a memory skill,  Science, 208(4448), 1181-1182.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Can The Brain Be Imaged?

November 20, 2009

Technologies that allow us to view what is going on inside the brain are a fairly new and exciting development. This blog provides a very brief explanation of these techniques. There will be frequent references to this blog in future presentations of brain imaging studies.

One of the first techniques was Positron Emission Tomography (PET). PET imaging requires that a radioactive substance called a radiotracer been injected into the bloodstream. This radiotracer makes its way into the brain. The level of radioactivity is extremely low so that the individual undergoing the imaging is not put at risk. The individual lies down within the PET imaging machine and is asked to perform different tasks. A computer processes the data to produce 2- or 3 – dimensional images. The images show blood flow and oxygen and glucose metabolism in the tissues of the brain. These images reflect the amount of brain activity in the different regions of the brain.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is a more recent development that does not require the injection of radioisotopes into the blood stream. It is an enhancement of Magnetic Resonance Imaging where the individual lies on a table with her head inside a giant magnet. Protons inside the atoms in the brain align themselves with the magnetic field and are wacked temporarily out of alignment by a pulse of radio waves aimed at the brain. As the protons relax back into alignment again, they emit radio waves that a computer uses to create a brain snapshot. fMRI takes advantage of two more facts about the body: (1) blood contains iron and (2) blood rushes to a specific part of the brain when it is activated. As freshly oxygenated blood zooms into a region, the iron distorts the magnetic field enough for the scanner to pick it up.

Prior to the development of these imaging techniques, researchers were restricted to recording electrical activity in the brain from the scalps of humans. Still much valuable data was obtained and these techniques are still used today. Event-related potentials (ERPs) are electrical waveforms that are elicited by specific sights, sounds, or other stimuli. The P300 is a bump in the electrical waveform that occurs within one-third of a second after a person is exposed to a word or some other external stimulus. This heightened activity reflects the additional processing that the brain devotes to novel, distinctive events. Larger P300s tend to be associated with greater subsequent recall.[1]


[1] Reported in Schacter (1996).  Searching for memory:  the brain, the mind, and the past.    New York:  Basic Books.   p. 55.

 

 

Blog

November 19, 2009

Blog is a contraction of the term weblog, a type of website. It is usually run by an individual posting regular entries. Technorati reported tracking more than 112.8 million blogs in June, 2008. One of the reasons there are so many blogs is that it is easy to start a blog. No technical expertise is required. For example, to launch a blog at wordpress.com, you basically fill out some forms, sign an agreement, all online, and you have your blog. There is no cost for beginning or maintaining a log at wordpress, although one can sign up for various add-ons and enhancements. But the free service offers a substantial degree of functionality and is easy to operate.

The vast majority of blogs are run as a hobby. Some are basically on-line diaries, others provide a ready means of sharing information with family, colleagues, or friends. Moreover, there are groups of blogs organized into blog communities like blogcatalog.com or mybloglog.com. Technorati.com is a search engine specialized for searching blogs. So you can use technorati.com to search of blogs that are of interest to you. A substantial number of blogs are commercial enterprises. They are bought and sold. Blogs can be viewed as a new publishing medium.

Blogs provide a tremendous opportunity. They can be started and maintained at little or no cost. And some do grow and become quite profitable. Of course, the competition is fierce. As a hobby, blogging is a cinch. As a business, blogging is demanding and can be quite frustrating.

Although I blog, I cannot say that I consult them much. There always is a potential problem of quality control with blogs as anyone can publish anything. Most blogs allow readers to comment, which does serve as a feedback mechanism. And one can come to know and trust different blogs. In my case, I have so much to read with respect to both conventional and on-line media, that little time is left for blogs.

Blogs can contain extremist views that become self-reinforcing because they attract readers of like minds. Here comments can serve to inflame further rather than to moderate extreme views or to correct erroneous information.

But blogs also provide a means of easily disseminating information. That is the objective of this blog, healthymemory.wordpress.com. The objective here is to disseminate interesting information about human memory, techniques for maintaining and enhancing human memory, and discussions of how technology can aid and enhance human memory. Readers can provide comments, which can be either feedback or questions. Readers are encouraged to do so. Reader input provides the information that helps me in improving this blog.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Relaxation Response[1]

November 17, 2009

  Key to maintaining a healthy memory is to remain free, or as free as possible, from stress. Stress has adverse effects on both attention and memory. The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes a person’s physical and emotional response to stress. Herbert Benson, a physician affiliated with the Harvard School of Medicine and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital [2] since the 1960s found that the approach is really no different than that achieved through prayer, chanting, meditation, and repetitive motion. They lower heart rates, blood pressure and oxygen consumption. They can alleviate symptoms associated with conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, insomnia, depression, infertility, cancer, and anxiety. Aging can also be added to this list. Recent research[3] examined how the relaxation response affected cach of the body’s 40,000 genes and found that those who regularly used the relaxation response induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body.

Eliciting the relaxation response is easy. One sits in a relaxed position with the eyes closed and repeats a word or sound as one breathes. When thoughts stray, just refocus on the breathing and the word repetition.  This should be done for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

Usually anything that breaks the train of everyday thought can evoke this physiological state. So participating in repetitive sports such as running, as well as progressive muscular relaxation, yoga, knitting, and crocheting. Playing musical instruments also work, assuming that you can play well such that you can become one with the instrument also works. Effective techniques can vary from individual to individual, and it is important to find the technique that works best with oneself.

 Here are some suggestions as to how to start. This is from the website of the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.[4]

Elicitation of the relaxation response is actually quite easy.  There are two essential steps:

1. Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity.

2. Passive disregard of everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind and the return to your repetition.

The following is the generic technique taught at the Benson-Henry Institute.

1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as “one,” “peace,” “The Lord is my shepherd, “Hail Mary full of grace,” or “shalom.”

2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

3. Close your eyes.

4. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thights, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.

5. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.

6. Assume a passive attitude. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, “Oh, well,” and gently return to your repetition.

7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.

8. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.

9. Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.

Other techniques for evoking the relaxation response are:

·         Imagery

·         Progressive muscle relaxation

·         Repetitive prayer

·         Mindfulness meditation

·         Repetitive physical exercises

·         Breath focus.

You may want to try more than one technique to find the one that suits you best.

The relevance of the relaxation response to improving memory and warding off cognitive decline due to aging should be obvious. Attention is critical to effective memory, but mental fatigue depletes the amount of attention that can be effectively allocated to memory. The relaxation response allows for the refreshment of attention. Attention needs also to be used selectively as there is simply too much information to attend to effectively. The relaxation response facilitates the ability to attend selectively to the information of interest and to ward off distracting stimuli and thoughts.


[3] Benson, H., (2008).  Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response.,  2 July  edition of PLoS One at http://www.plosone.org.

 


 

How Much of our Brain Do We Really Use?

November 16, 2009

 The brain, an organ that weighs slightly more than 3 pounds, is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. The left side is specialized for processing verbal information and the right hemisphere is specialized for processing spatial information. This specialization is usually reversed for left-handed people, and, as will be seen, the proportion of contribution of each type of processing by each hemisphere can change. This will be discussed in later blogs.

 The brain is way too complex to discuss in any detail here. So only portions of the brain key to memory and attention will be discussed. These are the frontal lobes, the prefrontal cortex is especially key. Then there is the hippocampus, which is a small horseshoe shaped structure deep in the inner or medial parts of the temporal lobes. The temporal lobes are found on the left and right sides of the brain. These brain structures are found in both hemispheres.

So how much of our brain do we actually use? You will hear figures like only 10 % or 5%, but it is good to ask where do these figures come from? How are they estimated? They certainly do not come from physiological measures of brain activity.

It is interesting to note that although the allocation of blood flow changes within the brain, the overall amount of blood flow and oxygen uptake remains the same. Whether we are engaged in intense mental activity or are daydreaming or engaged in some other type of reverie, the amount of blood flow and oxygen uptake remain the same. It is also interesting to note that whether we are recalling the past or imagining the future, the same regions of the brain are activated. So are minds deal with the past, present, and future using the same structures. Our minds are like time travel machines. It is estimated that the average person spends about 12% of waking hours are spent thinking about the future. This is not idle daydreaming, this is important as our survival and fortune depends on our ability to anticipate and prepare for the future.[1]  Still there is the requirement to recognize what is real and what is imagined. As has already been discussed (see the blog. “Seven Sins of Memory”), this requirement often fails.

So the bottom line is that our brains are always working, even when we sleep. So the problem is not the use of the brain, but rather the effective use of the brain.


[1] Marshall, J. (2007).  Future recall, New Scientist., 24 March,  pp.36-40.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Transactive Memory Supports for Those Difficult to Recall Items

November 15, 2009

The verbosely titled blog “If We Know So Much More When We Are Older, Why Do We Have Difficulty Recalling and More Importantly, What Can Be Done About It”, explained that it is agreed that older people have more crystallized knowledge. Crystallized intelligence consists of your general storehouse of knowledge and facts. I have found as I age that the instances in which I try to recall something, but cannot retrieve it have been increasing. So how is it that although we have more knowledge, it is more difficult to access? As was explained in that previous blog, there is a distinction between what is available in memory and what can be accessed at any given time. So, yes, as we age more information becomes available in memory. One could argue that the difficulty is accessing this information is due to there being a greater mass of information to retrieve it from. Although this might be true to a certain extent, it is also likely that the act of retrieving also slows down and becomes more difficult at certain times. This certainly seems to be true in my case. The question is what to do about it?

That blog and the related blog, “Recalling Information that is Difficult to Remember,” offered a variety of techniques and strategies for recalling these items. This blog suggests how transactive memory can further facilitate this process, by enlisting the aid of others. Remember that fellow humans can serve as sources of transactive memory, and engaging them can be an enjoyable activity My wife and I make a practice of doing this. Whenever one of us tries to remember something, the name of an actor or old acquaintance, for example, and fails, that one will challenge the other to remember it. If the other party remembers it, then the problem is solved, but see the warning later in this blog. Otherwise the challenge continues. Both of us will be using the strategies and techniques discussed in the aforementioned blog. Mind you, we do get on with our lives, but the activity will continue, sometimes across days. I believe that these memory searches are healthy to the brain because unused brain circuits are being reactivated in the search for this information. So these failed retrieval attempts, although frustrating, can still be beneficial. And in most cases, these attempts eventually prove successful.

I strongly recommend this activity to other couples. And I think it can be expanded to groups of friends with like interests. These can be trivia games that can extend for days and, given today’s technology, over great distances. The social activity is beneficial in itself.

But what to do when failure persists. Here one can switch to the technology mode of transactive memory and search for the items on the internet (sure libraries and older technology are also acceptable). So technology can serve as a backup. Should the information be of special importance, it is always advisable to check your, your partner’s or your group’s recall. Biological memory is fallible. Of course, technology is also fallible, but it is always advisable to check information against multiple sources.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

If We Know So Much More When We Are Older, Why Do We Have Difficulty Recalling It, and More Importantly, What Can Be Done About It

November 14, 2009

It appears to be generally agreed that as we age our crystallized intelligence increases. I have found as I age that the instances in which I try to recall something, but cannot retrieve it have been increasing. So how is it that although we have more knowledge, it is more difficult to access? Isn’t that just a tad ironic?

Here it is important to distinguish between what is available in memory and what can be accessed at any specific time. So, yes, as we age more information becomes available in memory. One could argue that the difficulty in accessing this information is due to there being a greater mass of information to retrieve it from. Although this might be true to a certain extent, it is also likely that the act of retrieving also slows down and becomes more difficult at certain times. This certainly seems to be true in my case. The question is what to do about it?

I have faith that the information is available in memory and that the problem I am experiencing is temporary and that I eventually will remember it. Remember some of the techniques offered in the blog, “Recalling Information That Is Difficult to Remember.”

One of the first things to try is to alter the context of what you are trying to recall is to get new memory circuits to fire in an attempt to find the desired node. When trying to recall a name, and perhaps even a movie title, try running through the alphabet. Does it begin with an A…a B…. and so forth.

Another way of altering the context is to stop trying to recall the name and to think about the general topic. Start free associating regarding actors, actresses, and their films. This strategy has the potential for getting you out of your unsuccessful memory loop and into new associations that could lead to the desired item. What are other movies in which this actor/actress has starred?   What were the names of other actors and actress in these films?   So the general strategy here is to think about related topics with the goal of getting to the desired memory.

Another useful strategy is to think of the time period in which an event occurred. Often this is a good strategy to check to see if recalled information is correct. Some events presuppose others, so if the sequence is out of order something about the memory is incorrect. But even in this case of trying to recall the name of an actor, thinking about the movie, when you saw the movie, and the events that were occurring at that time can cause you to stumble upon, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, the name you are seeking.

When all these techniques fail, I fall back on my favorite technique, incubation. Incubation is a problem solving technique in which you stop trying to actively solve the problem. Instead, you let the problem incubate. I find that sometimes what I was trying to recall will pop into my mind when I am thinking about something else entirely. That suggests that your subconscious mind has been working on this problem. It is also a good idea to try to recall the information at a later time. Given the passage of time and a new context, sometimes what you want to recall will be retrieved quite easily.

I remain aware that I do have these occasions when I cannot retrieve available information that is not accessible at the moment. So as a preventive action I will practice retrieving the names of individuals and the key facts and terms immediately prior to a meeting. If it is an important meeting it is a good idea to start this well in advance of the meeting so that there is time to use all of the techniques we have just covered.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Some Good News About Aging and Memory

November 13, 2009

There are changes in the way that the brain processes information that compensate for losses that occur. There are also differences between the young and the old in the processing strategies employed during reading. In one experiment[1] younger readers (average age = 20 years) were more likely to recall information from factoids. Older adults (average age = 66 years) were more likely to recall information from highly elaborated text. One way of interpreting these results is to think that older adults have more highly developed memory systems that benefit more from highly elaborated text. The younger adults are still building their memories with simple factoids.

Now for some good news about aging and memory. Skills we have learned and practiced might very well be at their finest. In any case, they are vastly superior to what we had when we were young. Our vocabularies should be greater and our word use and writing skills should be superior. Although processing might be slower, STM and LTM should function well into old age. Our ability to analyze situations and solve problems should remain strong. A study of Air Traffic Controllers attests to this fact.[2]  This study compared ATC performance of older (mean age =57) and younger (mean age = 34).  It demonstrated that the older controllers were quite capable of performing at high levels of proficiency even on fast-paced demanding real-world tasks.

We should gain wisdom as we age. We should grow wiser through our increasing years of experience. From childhood on, we have been learning. This gives us a vast resource to call upon and to apply. This provides an advantage in making judgments and decisions.

Perhaps the prominent memory researcher, James McGaugh, has expressed it best. “We can make the brain work better by simply accumulating more knowledge, which builds more networks of connections in the brain. The wisdom we acquire can compensate for the decline that may be gradually occurring.” So keep learning.           


[1] Shake, M.C., Noh, S.R., and Stine-Morrow,  E.A.L. (2009).  Age differences in learning from text: evidence for functionally distinct text processing systems.  Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 561-578.

[2] Nunes, A. & Kramer, A.F.  (2009).  Experience-Based Mitigation of Age-Related Performance Declines:  Evidence from Air Traffic Control.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied., 15, 12-24.

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Recalling Information that is Difficult to Remember

November 11, 2009

There are many more stored memories than you can recall at any one time. This characteristic was referred to as the availability/accessibility distinction. That is, there is much more information available in memory than can be retrieved at any one time. So a common experience is to know that you know something, but be unable to retrieve it from memory. You can think of this information as being blocked (if you don’t remember see the blog “The Seven Sins of Memory”). I have described (TOT) Tip-of-the-Tongue phenomena where you can almost recall something so that it seems that it is literally on the tip of your tongue. There are many other less vivid occasions when you know you know something, but try as you may, that memory does not come when summoned. For example, who was the actor who won the Oscar in such and such year, and what was the name of the movie in which he won the award. You might be able to describe the physical characteristics of the actor, other movies in which he starred, but you cannot recall his name. You might also be able to describe the plot of the movie in addition to what you liked and disliked about the picture, but be unable to recall the title. Why can you not recall this information? Strategies exist for recalling these memories

One way of thinking about the way memory is constructed that helps understanding of recall failures is to think of memory as a vast, remember 100 billion nerve cells and 500 trillion synaptic connections, set of interconnecting nodes. Memory is a network of enormous complexity These recall failures can be regarded as a result of the failure for the memory circuit to excite the node with the information you want to recall. Repeated attempts to recall result in repeating the thoughts that were previously recalled without eliciting the desired information. Here trying harder can be a self-defeating strategy.

 So what can be done to recall what appears to be irretrievable information? Well, one approach is to be patient. This is analogous to the incubation strategy for solving difficult problems. Sometimes after working long and hard on a difficult problem, the solution appears out of the blue. Similarly, in the middle of the night the both the actor’s name as well as the name of the movie are recalled apparently out of the blue. How can this happen? It is important to realize that we are aware of a fairly small percentage of our cognitive activity. Remember the 100 trillion instructions per second the human brain can perform? These means that we are not aware of most of the brain circuits that are firing. So this brain activity, of which you are not aware, can eventually recall the information, retrieve the answer. Of course, there is no guarantee that the information will be retrieved, but your brain is at work even when you might not realize that it is at work.

Apart, or perhaps in addition to, subconscious mental activity, the next time you consciously try to remember the information, it might occur to you quite easily. Here the likely reason for success was a change in context that caused the memory circuits to fire differently so that the previously unactivated memory nodes were activated this time.  Again, there are no guarantees that the memory will eventually be recallable, but the possibility of recall always remains

Moreover, it is good to exercise memory in this way. This recall attempts strengthen rarely used brain circuits. Try making a regular habit of trying to recall the names of old acquaintances, experiences, and bits of knowledge that you have learned. It can be an interesting exercise to compare what you learned in school to what you have learned now. Knowledge changes rapidly in this information society.

But what strategies can be employed when there is a time constraint, when you need to recall the information now and do not have time to wait. Strategies can vary depending upon the nature of the information you are trying to recall.

One of the first things to try is to alter the context of what you are trying to recall is to get new memory circuits to fire in an attempt to find the desired node. When trying to recall a name, and perhaps even a movie title, try running through the alphabet. Does it begin with an A…a B…. and so forth.

Another way of altering the context is to stop trying to recall the name and to think about the general topic. Start free associating regarding actors, actresses, and their films. This strategy has the potential for getting you out of your unsuccessful memory loop and into new associations that could lead to the desired item. What are other movies in which this actor/actress has starred. What were the names of other actors and actress in these films. So the general strategy here is to think about related topics with the goal of getting to the desired memory.

Another useful strategy is to think of the time period in which an event occurred. Often this is a good strategy to check to see if recalled information is correct. Some events presuppose others, so if the sequence is out of order something about the memory is incorrect. But even in this case of trying to recall the name of an actor, thinking about the movie, when you saw the movie, and the events that were occurring at that time can cause you to stumble upon, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, the name you are seeking.

Always remember that memory is fallible, and even information that you are certain you have recalled correctly could be in error. So it is best to couch your recall results in terms such as, “I believe …” , I think it might have been…”, and so forth. If the information is important, never rely solely on your memory. Even if the information is something as mundane as your address, it is possible to make output (pronunciation or spelling) errors.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Misconceptions About the Brain and Aging

November 10, 2009

  There are prominent misconceptions about the brain and aging. One is that you cannot change your brain, which is often caught in the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This expression is not a truism. It is, to coin a term, a falsism. Perhaps you cannot teach an unwilling dog new tricks, but if the dog is willing, the brain will support new learning. The brain retains its plasticity well into old age. Brain imaging studies have shown that when we change our thinking there are corresponding changes in the relevant brain systems.

It is true that we loose brain cells every day. But what most people do not realize is that when we are born is when the number of brain cells we have is the greatest. The paradox is that as we move from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the brains performance improves but does so with fewer neurons.[1] Although the number of neurons decreases, the number of connections between the neurons increases. And even though neurons do die, the brain continues to make new brain cells into the golden years of 70 and beyond. Although some nerve connections might be lost, the brain reallocates functions to compensate for these losses. It is also the case that it can be beneficial to lose nerve connections. This is called pruning. When we use our brains we can grow new brain cells, create new connections, and prevent useful connections from withering.

 Perhaps the worse myth is that memory decline is inevitable as we age. If we remain physically healthy, maintain social connections, manage stress, maintain or develop a positive attitude towards ourselves and our world, and engage in intellectually stimulating mental activity, we can maintain good brain and memory functioning throughout our lives. This blog provides techniques and ideas for stimulating mental activity.

Now it is true that things happen to the brain that at first sound bad. For example, the outer surface of the cortex thins. However, this process starts when we are about 20 years old. Studies have also linked aging with decreases in the brain’s white matter. This could affect the speed of our mental processes. As the brain ages, chemical messengers decrease, which can also affect processing. Here it is important to remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare. The greater storehouse of knowledge that has been built up due to the increased opportunity for learning that aging affords can more than compensate for losses in speed of processing.

 Some people, beginning in their 60’s or 70’s, experience a loss in overall brain mass. Important areas such as the frontal lobe and the hippocampus, which transfers information from Short Term Memory (STM) to Long Term Memory (LTM), can be affected. Again, there are compensatory mechanisms that can be found in the brain itself, in the storehouse of knowledge and, it is hoped, wisdom that has accumulated as a function of age, as well as some of the techniques and methods that are offered in past and future blogs.

Moreover, not all people experience in overall brain mass. Recent research2 concludes that healthy older brains are not significantly smaller than younger brains contrary to earlier findings. Researchers believe that brain volume loss observed in past studies is likely related to pathological changes in the brain that underlie significant cognitive decline instead of aging itself. As long as people keep healthy memories, the gray matter of areas supporting cognition might not shrink as much as the current opinion holds.

 


[1] Restak, R.  (2009).  Think Smart:  A neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance.  New York:  Riverside Books, p. 9.

2Burgmans, S., van Boxtel, M.P.J., Vuurman, E.F.P.M., Smeets, F., & Gronenschild, E.H.B.M. (2009). The Prevalence of Cortical Gray Matter Atrophy May Be Overestimated In the Healthy Aging Brain., Neuropsychology, 29, 541-550

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Inherent and Ad Hoc Mnemonics

November 9, 2009

The distinction between mnemonics and mnemonic techniques or mnemotechniques, is that mnemonics are usually specific to certain material, mnemonic techniques, or mnemotechniques, are general techniques for leaning material. The one-bun rhyme mnemonic (see previous blog on this technique) could be regarded as a mnemonic technique. More advanced mnemonic techniques will be presented in later blogs.

Sometimes information will contain its own inherent mnemonic. Say the pin number you need to remember is 1950 and you were born in 1950, that should be an outstanding mnemonic. Should you not have had the luck to be born in 1950, you might remember that 1950 was the year that the Korean War began. Now suppose you were trying to learn the following list of words: Baptist, Hockey, Apples, Sister, Oranges, Football, Brother, Catholic, Bananas, Mother, Moslem, Baseball. This list contains an implicit organizational mnemonic. Do you recognize it?

The twelve words can be grouped into four categories: religion, sports, relatives (or family members), and fruit. So, you could simply reorganize the list and recall: Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Hockey, Football, Baseball, Sister, Brother, Mother, Apples, Oranges, Bananas.

All too often there is no apparent meaning, familiarity, or organization to the material, so you need to generate your own. Suppose you were trying to remember the following sets of letters: MKB, TLN, NGU. You could transform them into the following meaningful phrases: Mother Knows Best, Too Late Now, Never Give Up. These are, in effect, acronyms in reverse. Acronyms, however, can be used as mnemonics to remember specific information. To remember the names of the Great Lakes, there is the acronym HOMES, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. ROY G. BIV is used to remember the colors in the spectrum in order of their wavelength, from long to short, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green Blue Indigo Violet.

Learning the names of the following twelve cranial nerves is a task that has confronted many students:

  • I-Olfactory nerve,
  • II-Optic nerve,
  • III-Oculomotor nerve,
  • IV-Trochlear nerve,
  • V-Trigeminal nerve,
  • VI-Abducens nerve,
  • VII-Facial nerve,
  • VIII-Vestibulocochlear nerve/Auditory nerve,
  • IX-Glossopharyngeal nerve,
  • X-Vagus nerve,
  • XI-Accessory nerve/Spinal accessory nerve and
  • XII-Hypoglossal nerve.

 

Consequently a host of mnemonics have been developed for learning them. Here’s one:

  1. On Old Olympus’ Towering Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops

There are many more that can be viewed at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mnemonics_for_the_cranial_nerves

 

Be forewarned, some might be regarded as vulgar or in poor taste.

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Neo-Symbiosis and Transactive Memory

November 8, 2009

Prior to the development of the personal computer, the psychologist J. C. R. Licklider introduced the vision of Man-Computer Symbiosis. He said “That men and computers so supplement each other…and that jointly they possess the capabilities to think and comprehend, to decide upon effective action…in a way totally beyond present realization…are the primary means on which we base our hope.”1 In Man Computer Symbiosis2, Licklider chose the fig tree and the insect Blastophaga grossorun as his example of symbiosis. The larva of the insect lives inside the ovary of the fig tree where it gets its food. The tree cannot reproduce without the insect; the insect cannot eat without the tree. Together they constitute not only a viable, but also a productive and thriving partnership. The cooperative living together in intimate association, or even close union, of two dissimilar organisms is called symbiosis.

When I was a graduate student I was deeply impressed by Licklider’s vision. Unfortunately, I believe that this vision has been lost. All too often the goal is to replace humans with technology rather than to view technology as a tool for leveraging human potential. I tried to resurrect Licklider’s vision and to make it more politically correct in my paper “Beyond Usability: The New Symbiosis.3 So I termed it human-computer symbiosis. I also placed the human in the superordinate position in the relationship.

This blog has three themes. One is on human memory itself. Although human memory is quite remarkable, it is fallible and error prone. With perhaps the exception of some idiot savants, this is true of all humans. Moreover, as we age, there can be a deterioration of memory and in pathological cases this deterioration can be quite severe. The second theme focuses on memory techniques that not only offer improvements, but also provide mental exercise that can foster brain health. The third theme, transactive memory, concerns with the potential of technology not only for ameliorating memory decline, but also for providing for memory growth.

So think of computer technology as a means of leveraging your human potential. Think of it as a tool with the potential of not just maintaining and supplementing your memory, but of also enhancing and growing your memory. Think of the computer as a partner. You cannot remember everything, but if you know where to access information, you are leveraging your memory. If you cannot access information, but knows that it exists, then you can search for it. The information available on the internet is enormous, much more than one could learn in multiple lifetimes. It is like being at an all-you-can-eat gourmet banquet. Although there is much too much to sample, you can still avail yourself of a reasonable amount you can accommodate.

1Brate, A. (2002).  Technomanifestos:  visions from the information revolutionaries.  New York:  Thomson Texere.

2http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html

3Griffith, D. (2005). Ergonomics in Design, 13, 30-31.

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Transactive Memory Meets Human Memory

November 6, 2009

When you save a file on your computer you are saving information in transactive memory. Subsequently you are likely to want to retrieve information from transactive memory. When you remember that there is information that you want on the internet, then you need to retrieve this information from transactive memory. However, just as in the case of human memory, and this is analogous to the tip-of-the-tongue (TOT), you sometimes know, are virtually certain, that the information is there, but you cannot find or retrieve it.

In the case of a computer, you cannot remember either the folder, the file name, the URL, or tag, or bookmark. I have had the experience, on more occasions than I would like to admit, where I was absolutely certain when I saved the file that given the filename I had used and the folder in which I had saved the information virtually guaranteed that I would be able to retrieve it whenever I wanted to no matter how far into the future I attempted. But when I tried to retrieve the file I could not and had to resort to searching for it. I have had similar problems on the internet. When I left the information, the location was so obvious that I was certain I could find it again with no difficulty. Or when I had either bookmarked or tagged the information, I was certain to be able to access it. Yet I ultimately ended up searching for this information.

These failures are not transformational memory failures. Rather they are failures of human memory. These failures are well understood and their remedies are known. Key here is the encoding specificity principle. To retrieve information, you need to use the same retrieval cue, or think about it in the same way, when you try to retrieve it as when you stored it. It is also important to pay adequate attention to this information. I believe most of my retrieval failures are due to being overconfident at the time of storage. I was so sure that these were obvious that I did not pay adequate attention.

The basic principles of all mnemonic techniques apply here. Have a plan for both storing and retrieving the information. This plan will include a method for generating retrieval cues and for accessing these retrieval cues at the time of retrieval.

To this point the discussion has focused on the technological part of transactive memory, but the same problems can apply to the human component. You can forget who knows what. Ultimately failures to retrieve information from transactive memory, both of the technological and human varieties involve searching. Fortunately in the technological case, there are tools and these tools function rapidly. Unfortunately in the human case, searching can be both slow and embarrassing.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Memory and Aging

November 6, 2009

Cognitive aging can be thought of as a process in which two competing forces determine the course of our individual cognitive abilities as we age. One force is the decline of the effectiveness of our nervous systems as we age; the other force is the vast accumulation of knowledge that has been stored over our lifetimes. Younger cognitive processes might be faster, but the amount of knowledge should be much larger in older cognitive systems. The amount of knowledge does vary considerably among older individuals and those with larger amounts of knowledge can be thought to have an advantage in countering the effects of aging.

 It is also important to realize that it is not only biological changes that can affect memory as we age. Cultural stereotypes also play a role. Unfortunately there is a stereotype in the United States that memory declines with age. The Chinese revere the elderly for their knowledge and to not have this negative stereotype.It is also the case that the deaf in America do not believe that the memory of deaf people declines with age. There is an interesting study[1] that documented these phenomena. This study involved six groups. There were three young groups (15-30 years) of American Hearing, American Deaf, and Chinese, and three older groups (59-91 years) of American Hearing, American Deaf, and Chinese. Although the three young groups performed similarly on memory tasks, the older American Deaf and older Chinese outperformed the older Hearing Americans on the memory tasks. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between the view toward aging and the view towards memory performance among the older groups. That is, those who believed that they would do well, did well; those who believed that they would do poorly, did poorly. So it is quite possible that negative stereotypes and the expectancy of memory declines can work to magnify any losses due to neurological changes.

Research continues to mount that the cognitive capacity of older adults can be preserved and enhanced through relevant kinds of intellectual, social, and physical activities.[2] Cognitive training studies have demonstrated that when older adults are provided with intensive training strategies that promote thinking and remembering, cognitive functions can improve.

The psychologist Dr. Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging[3]. She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span. Subsequent discussions in this blog will further underscore the importance of attention in memory. Stine-Morrow argues that cognitive effort can directly impact cognitive change in the form of attentional engagement and indirectly as it alters neuronal changes that give rise to component capabilities.

Perhaps the most exciting finding to emerge from recent research is that the brain maintains its plasticity well into old age.[4] One needs to take advantage of this plasticity and to continue to invoke neuronal changes in ones’ brain. This book contains a large variety of memory techniques that result in the formation of new neuronal changes. These techniques require the focusing of attentional processes. They employ both hemispheres of the brain and require the recoding of information and the transfer of information between the two hemispheres. It is hoped that the practice of these techniques will have beneficial effects on brain health and reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s and Senile Dementia.

 


{[1]Levy, B. &Langer, E. (1994).  Aging Free from Negative Stereotypes:  Successful Memory in China and Among the American Deaf.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 989-997.

[2] Hertzog, D., Kramer, A. E., Wilson, R. S., &Lindengerger, U.  (2009).  Enrichment Effects on Adult Cognitive Development:  Can the Functional Capacity of Older Adults BE Preserved and Enhanced?  Psychogical Science in the Public Interest, 9, 1-65.

[3] Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

[4] Doidge, N. (2007).  The Brain That Changes Itself.  New York, New York.  Penguin Books.

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

More on Common Sense Approaches to Improving Memory

November 4, 2009

When learning material it is important to know that spaced practice is superior to massed practice. So if you have three hours to learn something, it is generally better to distribute the learning over three one hour sessions rather than one three hour session. This is another reason that it is not good to postpone study to the end of a course. Apart from running out of time, the time you do spend would have been more effective had it been spread out the entire course rather than being crammed into the end. So if you want to remember someone’s name try to remember the person’s name later along with any facts you might have associated with the name. Paying attention is not a one time thing. Making repeated attempts to recall important information at different times enhances memory. Memory is more than a matter of study. Practicing retrieving information is also important. Basically you are strengthening and enhancing routes back to the memory. LTM is vast and contains an enormous amount of information. It is easy to get lost trying to find information. Therefore it is important to practice finding this information. Basically you are learning your way around your memory.

Throughout all my years as a student, all the way to my Ph.D., I never once used a magic marker in a book. My thinking was that I needed to have this information marked in my brain. So I mentally marked important sections of a book. It may be that poor students think they have completed the task by marking in the book. This might facilitate the finding of information, but important information needs to be well-encoded in the brain. It is also important not to forget practicing retrieval. Mentally recalling the content of the book and establishing relationships between relevant concepts and ideas is very important. Useful study can be accomplished when we are walking and are well away from any books by thinking about the content in the book and relating it to lectures and other relevant knowledge.

 What was written about recalling a person’s name is relevant to any information we want to remember. Pay attention. Make the information meaningful and interesting by relating it to other concepts and facts. Practice recalling and thinking about the information at different times.

The effectiveness of retrieving information at increasing longer intervals has been proven to be effective even for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The technique is called spaced-retrieval training.[1]

Finally, do not procrastinate. If something needs to be done that can be done now, do it. Having a long list of things to do increases the likelihood that something will be forgotten or neglected. So prioritize what needs to be done and try to work off this list as soon as it is convenient.

Still you are going to experience memory failures. It is helpful to consider the size and the activity of the human brain to appreciate the phenomena of human memory. It is estimated that there are 100 billion nerve cells in the human brain and that one million new neuronal connections are formed every second. It is estimated that there are 500 trillion synaptic connections in the typical adult brain. A typical desktop computer can perform  about 25 billion instructions per second, whereas the estimated processing capacity of the human brain is 100 trillion instructions per second.[2] So it should not be at all surprising when you have difficulty finding information. It should also be clear that it is likely the information is somewhere in there, if only you could find it.

 


[1] Camp, C. J., Foss, J. W., Stevens, A. B., & O’Hanlon, A. M. (1996).  Improving Prospective Memory in Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In Prospective Memory:  Theory and Applications, ed. Brandimonte, M.,  Einstein, G. O., & McDaniel.  Mahweh, N. J.:  Erlbaum.

[2] From Huang, G.T.  “Essence of Thought”, New Scientist Vol 198 No. 2658, 30-33.

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on How Memory Works

November 4, 2009

  Understanding memory failures are key to understanding how memory works. Why can we not always recall the information stored in our brains? Well, one reason might be the enormous size of the brain in terms of nerve cells and synaptic connections. Memory theorists have made a distinction between information that is available in LTM and information that is accessible in LTM. There is much more information available in LTM than can be accessed at any one time. To retrieve information, the right retrieval cue must be used. This is known as the Principle of Encoding Specificity. The cue that was used to store the information is needed at the time the information is retrieved. If this cue cannot be found, or if the person is thinking in a different context, the information will fail to be retrieved. During these failed retrieval attempts we can often think of other items. We can also feel that we can almost recall the item. This is called the tip of the tongue (TOT) phenomenon. This also reveals yet another type of memory, metamemory. Metamemory is knowledge you have about your own memory. If asked a question about which we know nothing, we will not even bother to try to retrieve it. If we think we might know, we shall try to retrieve it. What is especially annoying is when we know we know something, but just can’t remember it. Then, at some later time, when we are not even trying to remember, the answer will come to us. Why this happens and techniques you can use to prevent this from happening will be discussed later in this blog.

LTM can be subdivided into other types of memory. Episodic memory refers to events we have personally experienced, that is, episodes. Amnesia, when people forget who they are and where they came from is commonly referred to as a loss of memory Actually, it is usually a loss of a specific type of memory, autobiographical memory, which is a component of episodic memory. This is the memory of someone’s own specific history. When someone loses all memory, they lose the ability to function. The final stages of Alzheimer’s disease provide a graphic example of what it means to lose all memory. What something was, when and how it occurred are all examples of episodic memory. Remembering that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia is an example of episodic memory. However, the wider significance of that event would be stored in semantic memory. Semantic memory is the storehouse of general knowledge. To solve a problem or to answer an essay question on an exam requires semantic memory.

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory

November 2, 2009

  As you know if you have been reading previous blogs, prospective memory is the memory to do things. Today I had a breakfast meeting with two important people, one a dean, from the University of Utah. The meeting was set for November 2. I missed the meeting this morning. I had been planning on meeting them tomorrow, not today. I am profoundly mortified by this failure. Moreover, I inconvenienced and wasted the precious time of people I respect.

Do you love irony? How about this fellow who writes blog on memory health, memory errors and how to avoid them, and he forgets such an important meeting. I think it is instructive to examine the reason behind this prospective memory failure and how it could have been avoided. The reason for the failure was that I had mistakenly encoded November 2 as a Tuesday. This morning I was telling my wife about this important breakfast meeting I was going to have tomorrow, Tuesday.

How could this have been avoided? It could have been avoided by taking recourse to transactive memory. Had I written the meeting on a Calendar or entered in in the Outlook Calendar, it would not only have served as a reminder, but it would also have pointed to my error in encoding November 2nd as a Tuesday. Had a asked my wife to remind me of this meeting, a human source of transactive memory, she too would have corrected me of my misconception that November 2nd was a Tuesday.

Now back to the irony. If I know all this stuff, why don’t I use it? This is a very good question. In this case I probably did not think that this meeting warranted a transactive memory entry because it was so important it was inconceivable that I could forget, or in this case, erroneously encode the prospective memory. It is ironic that we often forget those items that we are so sure that we shall remember them. This can lead to carelessness in their storage due to overconfidence.

Generally speaking when I fail to remember when I need to remember, it is usually due to a failure to attend and use the appropriate encoding techniques. Especially important information also needs some form of supplementary storage in transactive memory. So mental laziness is responsible for most of my memory failures. I have no other excuse. I would guess that I am not unique in this regard.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.