Archive for January, 2010

Remembering to Do Things

January 31, 2010

The technical term for remembering to do things is prospective memory. A great deal of research has been done on prospective memory, but practically all of it has ignored transactive memory. Transactive memory is an external support like writing it down or entering it into computer or some type of smart device. It might seem like these researchers are overlooking the obvious. Perhaps they are, but they are doing so for their own theoretical purposes.

Writing it down might seem like the obvious answer. Although it might appear to be the obvious answer, it is flawed. One study showed that when daily planners were used, they were overlooked 25% of the time. So external aids can work, but only if you remember to consult them. Electronic devices where alarms could be set as reminders of where you should be at which time can remedy this problem. Such warnings are commonplace on computers. The problem here is that you need either be at your computing device or carrying it with you for the alarm to be effective.

Mnemonic techniques are also available. The techniques discussed in the blog posts “The Method of Loci” and “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic” can be used to make ordered lists of things to do throughout the day or week. Similarly Pierre Herigone’s technique (presented in the blog post, “Remembering Numbers”) for recoding numbers as sounds so that they can be converted into words and images can be used. Specific use of Herigone’s technique for remembering the times of appointments is discussed in the blog post “Remembering Historical Dates and Appointments.”

Perhaps the best method is to use a combination of mnemonic techniques and transactive memory tools. They each support the other. External supports compensate for memory failures. Mnemonic techniques compensate for the absence of technology. Both techniques require attention and most memory failures are, at bottom failures to employ enough of the right kind of attention.

Perhaps the most alarming failures of prospective memory are those that result in leaving children unattended in vehicles. The response to these cases typically is what terrible parents these people are. But the vast majority are good parents who suffered from prospective memory failures. This story has repeated itself numerous times. A mother, or father, goes to the day care center to pick up the child. Unfortunately, the child cannot be picked up because she is already dead in the back of the vehicle, the victim of a prospective memory failure (to drop off the child in the morning).

The number of these failures has increased drastically since the child seat laws required that the seat be in the back seat (due to the danger of the airbag injuring the child if it was in the front seat). The fundamental problem is out of sight, out of mind. Here an external aid, such as a doll place in the front seat or a ribbon tied to the steering wheel can reduce the number of these prospective memory failures.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. 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.

Confirmation Bias

January 30, 2010

If we want to determine if something is true, we have a strong tendency to look for evidence that confirms that something. This confirmation bias was introduced in the “Mindware” post. Remember that mindware is a term Stanovich uses to refer to specific skills or knowledge that have been acquired through learning.1 This is the strong tendency to fail to look for alternative hypotheses or explanations. A strong component of scientific mindware is the requirement to look and look hard for alternative hypotheses. Indeed, scientists try to falsify hypotheses. Logically, one cannot prove something, because there is always a possible unknown or unarticulated hypotheses that is more correct. However, one can disprove a hypothesis by finding one disconfirming instance. This is not the natural way we think, though. This is a discipline that needs to be learned (according to Stanovich, acquired mindware).

Peter Wason has designed a four card selection task that demonstrates the inherent fallacy in the way we naturally tend to think. Each card has a letter on one side and a number on the back. The hypothesis to be tested is, “If there is a vowel on one side of the card, there is an even number on the other side.” One of the four cards shows a K, another an A, a third an 8, and the fourth a 5. Now which card or cards needs to be turned over to determine the truth of this hypothesis. Think about this for a while before reading further.
50% of the people answer the A and the 8, which is a clear indication of the confirmation bias. They are seeking to confirm that there is an even number on the other side of the A, and that there is a vowel on the other side of the 8. The second most common answer is to turn over the A card only. This provides even stronger evidence for the confirmation bias.

Only 10% of the people choose the correct cards, the A card and the 5 card. If an odd number is found on the other side of the A card, the hypothesis will be disconfirmed. Turning over either the K card or the 8 card tells you nothing as the hypothesis states nothing about what is on the back of the consonant cards. They could have even numbers also or a mix of even and odd numbers.

It is important to be aware of these biases so that they don’t adversely affect your reasoning. As you become older, you should become wiser. Increased wisdom is a good indication of a healthy memory.

1Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven: The Yale University Press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010.. 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 Games

January 29, 2010

A healthy activity is for a group of friends to commit a body of knowledge to their collective group memory. Now suppose you and your friends enjoy baseball. You could plan a group activity to commit to transactive memory all the World Series winning teams and losing teams by year to include the winning league and the number of games played and the winning and losing managers. This information can be found by doing a Google search for world series winners. That will take you to the Wikipedia List of World Series Champions, which includes all the information listed above.

The initial question is how to divide up this task. This depends on the number in the your group and their respective interests and time to devote to the task. One way would be to divide this up by year. So you could divide the number of years by the number of people in your group and each memory of the group would be responsible for memorizing all the information on the rows corresponding to the years for which he is responsible. Or the task could be divided by columns, columns and rows, whatever the group can support.

Should your group be small, you could cut the task down to size by remembering only the winning teams or perhaps the winning and losing teams.

This is a healthy activity in terms of both cognitive health and social interaction. Your group can put on demonstrations and show at parties and perhaps even win some bets in bars.

The World Series here is just provided as an example. The basic paradigm is to find some information of mutual interest on the internet, or in the library, to divide the information and commit it to group, transactive memory.

In the same Wikipedia article on the World Series is a list of World Series appearances by franchise. This could comprise another compelling demonstration of transactive memory. Here people could pick their favorite teams.

© 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 Names

January 27, 2010

The basic problem for most people is that we do not pay attention to the name when the person is introduced.  Usually we are thinking of what we are going to say or some other aspect of the situation and we miss the name.  So the first rule to remember people’s names is to pay attention when we are introduced or first hear the name.  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 ask a question about it, you will both flatter the person and strengthen your memory.  By now you know that to remember something you need to make it meaningful.  .  Some names are inherently meaningful, for example, Rose, Temple, Church, Carpenter.  Take advantage of this.  You also know that forming mental pictures or images enhance memorability.  So you could imagine the individual holding a rose, going into a temple, going into a church, or working as a carpenter.  Concentrate on the sound rather than the spelling of the name.  Consider the following names and how easy it is to form a mental image of them:  Taylor, Cook, Barber, Skinner, Glazer, Pacer, Blocker, Fisher, Shepherd,  Potter, Mayer, Forman, Judge, King, Noble, Winter, Sommer, Spring, Snow, Rains, Bagel, Crown, Bridges, Turner, Brown, Miller, Coyne, Glass, Bell, Tucker, Katz, Bolling, Frett, Powers, Freed, Hart, Stamp, Walker, Graves, Berry, Gill, Storm, Rich, Post, Marsh, Moore, Roper, Hyde, Prince, Park, Price, Holliday, Colt, Rodes, Fawcett, Holland, Bush, Bushman, Martini, Land, Baker, Brooks, Porter, Love, Mailer, Tanner, Baron, Ashe, Banks, Allwood, Tower, Crater, Fountain, Hedges, Bloom, Starr, Burr, Fairweather, Feather, Lemmon, Cobb, Roach, Cruz, Plummer, Trapper, Bateman, Gates, Bellow, Rivers, Keyes, Bishop, Goldwater, Ford,  Booth, Foote, Trout, Gallup, Carver, Potts, March, Bolt, Garland, Byer, Angel, Farmer, Brewer, Webb, Dancer, Flagg, Bowler, Spinner, Nichols, Bowes, Silver, Gold, Frank, Marshall, Lane, Boyle, Knot, Teller, Steel, Bacon, Klapper, Pullman, Archer, and Kane.  There are many more, these are just some examples.  Some other names can be made more memorable with a little elaboration.  Smith, a common name, is one that is especially embarrassing to forget.  Smith can easily be elaborated to blacksmith.  Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt are also hotel names so you can form a specific image for each hotel.  See if the sound of the name can be converted into an image that you can then combine with the image of the person or certain features on a person’s face.

            Another technique is to see if the name is shared by someone who is famous.  For example, if the name was Hooper, you could think of the actor, Dennis Hooper.   Given all the famous and historical people there are, this provides a rich source of remember names.  Consider the following names:  Winfrey (Oprah), De Niro (Robert), Spears (Britney), Hughes (Howard),  Kidman (Nicole), Brokaw (Tom), Parton (Dolly), Picasso (Pablo), Armstrong (Louis), Beethoven (Ludwig Von), Mozart (Wolfgang), Warhol (Andy), Hoffman (Dustin), Bancroft (Ann), Brooks (Mel), Allen ( Woody), Gable (Clark), Cooper (Jackie), Marx (Groucho, or Chico, or Harpo), Streep (Meryl), Redford (Robert), Reiner (Carl or Rob), Seinfield (Jerry), Bonds (Barry), Castro (Fidel), Lee (Robert E), Aaron (Hank), Williams (Ted), Mantle (Mickey), Jeter (Derek), Rodriguez (Alex), Torre (Joe), and Sinatra (Frank).  Former Presidents can also be used, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower, Truman, Roosevelt (Franklin or Teddy), Lincoln, Washington.  They key here is that you be able to form a clear image of the former President or any famous person you are using to help you remember the name.  You form an image of the person you are trying to remember with the famous person sharing the same name.  There is no need to match for sex or age, all you need to is to form an image so that when you see the person, it triggers the image and you are able to recall the name.  Do not overlook the obvious.  If the name is meaningful, associate the person with an image of the sound of the name.  If the person shares a famous name, form an image of the person interacting with the famous personage.

            Still, there will be many names that are new and strange and do not immediately suggest an image.  These names require a little work in recoding the sound of the name so that a meaningful image can be formed.  Consider the recodings for the following names:

Dembowski                 a donkey (Dem for Democrat) with a bow on a ski

Rudolph                      the red nosed reindeer

Wellington                  imagine beef Wellington if you can’t imagine the Duke

Gibbons                       imagine primates playing

Rossitter                      someone sitting on roses

Lewyckyj ( pronounced loo wit ski)   someone in the lou drinking whiskey wearing skis

Bordelais                     a lay of flowers placed on a border

Lembo                         someone dancing the limbo

Harrington                   someone issue a harangue from a ton of steel

Leifester                      someone lying faster and faster

Now try generating your own images based on the sounds of the following names:

Altman

Caldwell

Eckstein

Forbes

Hamilton

Ingram

Lieberman

Nugent

Pomerantz

Zimmer

Kim

Ku

Yu

Rodriguez

Lopez

If you had problems with any of the above, here are some suggestions

Altman            an old man

Caldwell          a cold well

Eckstein          ink making a stain

Forbes             four bees

Hamilton         hammering a ton

Ingram             pouring ink on a ram

Lieberman       a man laboring, a labor man (union organizer?)

Nugent              a new gent (a new gentleman to whom you have been             introduced)

Pomerantz       a palm tree surrounded by aunts

Zimmer            a pot simmering

Kim                 imagine your next of Kin with M&Ms

Ku                   image a coup

Yu                   imagine a large letter “U”

Rodriguez       picture a rod reeking of gas

Lopez              picture someone who lopes

Remembering names will not only prevent embarassments, but the attention you exert in remembering the names will also likely contribute to your memory’s health.

© 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.

Healthy Memory E-Learning

January 26, 2010

The January-February issue of the AARP Bulletin contained an article, FREE-Learning that provided a list of a wide variety of free educational resources on the web. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has put nearly 2,000 academic courses online. These can be found at watch.mit.edu. MIT is not the only university to do this. Harvard has courses at athome.harvard.edu.

academicearth.org is a site that features lectures from multiple universities, as does researchchannel.org that features 3500 videos from a consortium of leading research and academic institutions. The popular site YouTube also includes educational content on its education “channel” youtube.com/education. videolectures.net offers video lectures from all other the world by distinguished scholars and scientists at conferences, seminars, and workshops. A consortium of public television and radio stations offers live and on demand lectures on forum-network.org. There is an annual conference with the acronym TED (Technology,Entertainment, Design) where the world’s top thinkers and doers give talks. These talks can be found at ted.com. If your interests are in history or if you are an aficionado of the History Channel, you can go to history.com.

For information about medicine and health, webmd.com, is a good source. healthcentral.com is another good source for medical information. The University of Maryland’s Medical Center’s website, umm.edu/videos, has many interesting videos on medicine.

For learning specific tasks or skills, wonderhowto.com is a good source. howcast.com is another good source of how to videos, including belly dancing.

All of this comes under the rubric transactive memory that is used in this blog. Transactive memory is the external record of all information, from the esoteric to the mundane, throughout the world. A key to healthy memory is to access and lean about some of this information and some of these skills. Maintaining a healthy memory requires active learning throughout the life span. When you stop learning, you stop growing, and your memory health declines.

© 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.

Brain Exercise and Transactive Memory

January 24, 2010

One of the basic ideas underlying the Healthymemory Blog is that the internet is one form of transactive memory that provides for cognitive growth and enhancement. Recent research indicates that simply performing web searches can be beneficial. An article in the January 10 Issue of Parade magazine related a presentation made at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The article presented results regarding an experiment examining the brain activity in 24 adults. Twelve adults were daily internet users and twelve were “newbies” to the internet. The youngest was 55 and the oldest was 78. All participants spent an hour each day for a week performing internet searches. Each participant underwent two brain scans, one at the beginning and one at the end of the experiment. At the beginning of the experiment the bran scans of the newbies showed significantly less activity in areas involved in working memory and decision-making compared with the more experienced users. However, by the end of the week their brain patterns were quite similar to those of the old hands.

The authors of the study suggested that Internet searching may be used as a brain exercise in older adults. They speculated that doing so may even delay the onset of dementia.

The Healthymemory Blog is a strong advocate of using the internet and searching cyberspace for brain and cognitive health. It also believes that it is beneficial to go beyond searching the internet. It is good to take the results of those searches to bookmark or tag those of interest so that they become part of accessible transactive memory. Further interaction with topics of interest will also increase the accessibility of some of the information in your own biological 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.

Erroneous Interpretation of the Results of Mammogram Readings

January 22, 2010

Low base rates of disease occurrences can lead to drastic misinterpretations of test results. The following is taken from Gerd Gigerenzer’s Calculated Risks: How to Know When the Numbers Deceive You.1 I highly recommend this book. The probability that a woman 40 years old has breast cancer is about one percent. So of 10,000 women, it is expected that 100 will have breast cancer. The probability that the readout of a mammogram will miss a cancer is 0.05. The probability that a woman who does not have breast cancer will test positive is 0.09. So let’s consider how these 10,000 women break down.

Of the 10,000 women, about 100 will have breast cancer. About 95 of these cases will be detected by the mammogram, 5 will not. So a negative mammogram does not guarantee a women that she does not have breast cancer.

Of the 9,900 women who do not have breast cancer, about 891 will test positive. So about 891 women who do not have breast cancer will leave the diagnosis thinking that they have breast cancer. They will be miserable, perhaps terrified. One would hope that physicians would be able to set their minds at ease and tell them that even though they tested positive, it is highly likely that subsequent tests would reveal them to be cancer free. Although one would hope that this is the case, apparently it is not so. The answer given by most physicians was that there was a 0.90 probability that a woman whose mammagrom was positive actually had cancer. This ignorance, defective mindware (see “Mindware” blog poast), among physicians is truly appalling. One should bear this in mind when consulting one’s physician. It is possible, perhaps probable, or maybe even likely that the information supplied by the physician will be in error.

1Gigerenzer, G. (2002). Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You. New York: Simon & Schuster

© 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.

Errors in Probabilistic Reasoning

January 19, 2010

 Conditional probabilities are of the form, if such and such is the case, then the probability of so and so is y. Stanovich reports an article described by Robyn Dawes that had a headline that said that marijuana use led to the use of hard drugs.1 The headline implied that the survey was the probability of a student using hard drugs given that the student had used marijuana. But the survey was about the inverse probability, the probability that the student had used marijuana given that he had used hard drugs. If you think about this for a minute, you will realize, if you haven’t already that they are not the same. Many experiment with marijuana, but few, fortunately, move on to hard drugs.

Unfortunately, the inversion of conditional probabilities is not restricted to the above article; it is a common occurrence. Both patients and medical practitioners sometime invert probabilities and think that the probability of a disease, given a particular symptom, is the same as the probability of the sympton, given the disease. Bear in mind that different diseases share many of the same symptoms, and keep this in mind when you are the patient.

Perhaps the most blatant use, or misuse, of inverse probabilities occurred during the O. J. Simpson murder trial. One of Simpson’s defense attorneys, Dershowitz, I believe, presented the conditional probability that a husband who had assaulted his significant other would eventually murder her. That probability, fortunately, is quite low (0.0004) . So this assertion buttressed the defense. The prosecution failed to recognize that it was the inverse probability, the probability that a husband who had murdered his significant other had previously assaulted her is very, very high (0.89). This presentation to the jury would certainly have buttressed the prosecution’s case.2

Please don’t mistake me for taking a position on the Simpson murder case. I hear the jury foreman, who happened to be a woman, state that had this been a civil case, where the standard is the preponderance of the evidence, they would have convicted. However, in a criminal case, the standard is beyond a “reasonable doubt.” Now I would appreciate a definition of a “reasonable doubt.” A jury risks making two errors: letting a guilty person go free and convicting an innocent person. So what is the standard here? Is mistakenly convicting one person in four beyond a “reasonable doubt.” One person in ten? One person in twenty? One person in a hundred? One person in a thousand? I think a definition is needed here to bring the legal system into the 21st century.

1Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven: The Yale University Press.

2Gigerenzer, G. (2002). Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You. New York: Simon & Schuster

© 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: Both Human and Technical

January 18, 2010

Transactive memory refers to memories stored outside our individual biological memories. These are memories you can access either via fellow humans or via technology such as books, computers and the internet. An early blog posting, “Folksonomies”, wrote about the social bookmarking site, delicious.com. That posting focused on how delicious.com provided a means of categorizing and organizing information you have found on the web with tags. In addition to categorizing and organizing your own information, you could both make your information available to others and to search the tags to find additional information on designated topics.

In addition to serving as a technical form of transactive memory, delicious.com also has the functionality for developing and enhancing human transactive memory. This is done by forming networks on delicious.com. You form the network by inviting people to join. Moreover, in the process of using delicious.com you will likely find new people with similar interests and ask them to join your network. So delicious is a “people aggregator.”

Delicious also provides subscriptions, so you can subscribe to tags of interest. So it is also a “tag aggregator.” However, in the process of receiving subscriptions and aggregating tags, you are likely to meet new people of similar interests. Hence people aggregation and tag aggregation are mutually supportive.

© 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.

Mindware

January 17, 2010

Mindware is a term Stanovich uses to refer to specific skills or knowledge that have been acquired through learning.1 You can think of it as software or an application program that you have acquired for the mind through learning. Scientific reasoning is one kind of mindware. Stanovich writes of “mindware gaps,” which can refer either to the lack of knowledge or knowledge that is not used. One mindware gap is a failure to consider alternative hypothesis. This failure is quite evident in police work. Consider the case involving the missing Chandra Levy and the Congressman Gary Condit. The police honed in on Gary Condit as the chief suspect in the missing and later the death of Chandry Levy. The alternative hypothesis that someone else did it was not actively considered. During the investigation other women were murdered in the same park by the same individual who eventually was convicted of Chandra Levy’s death. I hope this mindware gap is due to cognitive miserliness rather than to a true knowledge deficit. The need to consider alternative hypothesis needs to be central to investigative techniques.

Consider the following data regarding medical treatments:

200 people were given the treatment and improved

75 people were given the treatment and did not improve

50 people were not given the treatment and improved

15 people were not given the treatment and did not improve

Do you think the treatment was effective?

Many people think that the treatment was effective since 200 people given the treatment improved, whereas only 75 people who were given the treatment did not improve. However, the conclusion regarding the effectiveness of the treatment requires a control group in which people were not given the treatment. Of the 65 people in the control group, 77% improved. Of the 275 people in the experimental treatment group , 73% improved.   As you can see there was improvement in both the treatment and the control groups. There is no support for the treatment being effective.

1Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven: The Yale University Press.

© 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.

Waitpersons: Biological and Transactive Memory

January 16, 2010

A number of years ago a friend of my told me this story about an experienced cocktail waitress he knew in Las Vegas. She did everything from memory. She never wrote down drink orders. Moreover, when serving drinks she never “auctioned them.” “Auctioning” is the term waitpersons use when they need to ask which person ordered which drink. She was able to do this completely from memory, and she pulled it off without a hitch. Her complaint regarded new waitpersons. The new waitpersons could not do this. They continually botched drink orders so that the cocktail lounge developed a policy of writing down all drink orders. In other words, there was a requirement to use transactive memory, an external memory source. The experienced waitress was also forced to write down drink orders. She was livid.

A recent article in the Washington Post (Hendrix, “The old-school way of memorizing diners’ orders is fried,” January 12, 2010:A01, also search the “Transactive Memory” tags on delicious.com) relates a story about Richard Weber, a 20-year professional waiter. Until recently he never needed to take recourse to notes, to rely upon transactive memory. He did not use specific mnemonic techniques, but paid a great deal of attention to his customers, their orders, and where they sat. He did have a system for memorizing his customers at a table. The one sitting closest to the entrance was #1, with subsequent customers at a table being ordered with respect to how far theny where away from the entrance. Using this system he never needed to “auction” specific orders or drinks. He took great pride in being able to work purely from his own biological memory. Besides professional pride he does this to maintain his sharpness. He believes these activities provide mental exercise contribute to a healthy brain.

Perhaps it is ironic that it is technology that is forcing him occasionally to take notes, to take recourse to transactive memory. Apparently the Food Channel Cable has made many patrons aware of new dishes or ways of preparing food. Another waitperson, Timothy Glynn put it this way, “Whoever invented the Food Network should be shot. Everyone’s a chef now. Everyone wants something special done with their meal. It is getting so that you have to write it down.”

Let me make it clear that the Healthymemory does not want anyone shot. Rather, the Food Channel does provide a means, a source of transactive memory, that fosters new learning experiences that can promote brain health. Healthymemory advocates both exercising your biological brain through selective memorization and mnemonic techniques, and using transactive memory, external sources of information, to explore and acquire new 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.

The Costs of Being a Cognitive Miser

January 15, 2010

Stanovich1 reported the results from an article in a British publication that asked the question, “Can 70 percent of people be wrong?” According to the article 70% of the people in Britain had money in checking accounts earning 0.10% interest with one of the Big Four Banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, and the Royal Bank of Scotland) when interest rates more than thirty times that amount were available from checking accounts recommended in the Best Buy columns of leading consumer publications. How could this possibly be? The reason is that most of us most of the time are cognitive misers. People defaulted to the most recognizable banks rather than investing the time and mental effort, as little as it was, in pursuing better interest rates.

Why are celebrities paid such enormous sums for endorsements? For the moment, disregard the scandals surrounding Tiger Woods and ask yourself why was he paid such enormous sums in the first place? There might be some connection if the product he is endorsing is related to golf. But why should anyone care what care he drives or what phone service he uses? This is not singling out Tiger Woods, but encompasses all celebrity endorsements. Endorsements enhance vividness and recognition. The cognitive miser relies on the recognition heuristic rather than engaging in further cognitive effort before making a purchase. The same mechanism is at play when patients pay more for and physicians prescribe brand name drugs rather than the equivalent generic drug.

I find it annoying that I cannot find a generic headband. The only ones I can find have the brand symbol on the headband. My feeling is that if these companies want me to provide advertising space for them, then they should pay me, rather than me paying them.

I must confess to being a cognitive miser myself, especially when it comes to shopping at the supermarket. I find shopping such an unpleasant experience that I purchase the first item that I want and pay little or no attention to price. Fortunately my wife is a very good shopper and does most of the shopping!

As Stanovich notes, “extreme cognitive misers do not have a mind of their own. What their mind will process is determined by the most vivid stimulus at hand, the most readily assimilated fact, or the most salient cue available. The cognitive miser is easily exploited by those who control the labeling, who control what is vivid, who control the anchor.”2 At bottom, this is a matter of defaulting to Type 1 Processing (See the Blog Post “The Two System View of Cognition”). An over reliance on Type 1 Processing might also contribute to an earlier cognitive decline (See the Blog Post “Memory and Aging”).

1Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven: The Yale University Press.

2Op. cit, p. 89

Transactive Memory and the Legal System

January 14, 2010

A recent article, “Social Networking Among Jurors is Trying Judges’ Patience” (The Washington Post, Saturday January 9:C01, or search for the tag, “Transactive Memory” on delicious.com) presents the story of a juror on a murder trial of a 23 year-old charged with murdering a homeless man. The juror was confused by the word “lividity” and what role it might have played in explaining the circumstances of the beating death. To clear up this confusion, the juror, a retired engineer, took recourse to transactive memory and looked up the definition in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The result of his action was for an appeals court to throw out the defendant’s first-degree murder conviction and order a new trial. The court ruled that this inquiry into Wikipedia violated the judge’s order prohibiting jurors from researching the case.

The article proceeds to discuss the judge’s concern with how this technology is interfering with the “legal process.” This is part of a larger judicial effort to enforce ignorance among jurors. Jurors are instructed to avoid reading about the trial, to not conduct any research on their own, and to not discuss the case among themselves outside formal deliberations. So jurors are precluded against recourse to any form of transactive memory, be it human or technical. The objective is to ensure that jurors contemplate only the evidence admitted at trial and at the appropriate time.

A key question here is what is the justification for this objective. Is there empirical evidence supporting this policy that indicates such a policy results in higher conviction of the guilty and fewer convictions of the innocent? The answer is no because the law is predicated primarily on legal precedents. For a cynic, such as myself, this precedent is likely based on a preference of lawyers for arguing their cases in front of relatively unsophisticated juries because they are easier to manipulate. Lawyers usually do not accept jurors with advanced degrees or specialized knowledge. There is a distinct preference to dumb down juries.

The technological age in which we are privileged to live is based upon science and empiricism. The beginnings of our legal system began prior to the development and acceptance of scientific empiricism as being the preferred standard of truth. The legal system is preoccupied with procedure for procedure’s sake, rather than trying to establish which procedures are more likely to lead to accurate outcomes.

Consider the alarming number of people who have been released from prisons and death row for convictions that have been overturned on the basis of DNA evidence. Fortunately, the scientific standard of DNA was allowed to prevail in these cases, but what about the validity of the procedures that led to these false convictions? Heavy reliance has been placed on eyewitness testimony in spite of strong empirical evidence that eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable.

Rather than fearing this new technology, courts should embrace it. It is more likely to lead to truth and more accurate court decisions. So not only should jurors be given access to all relevant technology, they should also be encouraged to discuss the case among themselves throughout the trial. They should also be given access to “lifelines” outside the court.

If the legal system is interested in the pursuit of justice, it should become preoccupied with the pursuit of truth rather than the pursuit of procedure.

© 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.

Framing Effects and Risk Aversion

January 13, 2010

(Much of this content is based upon Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven:The Yale University Press, a book that is highly recommended).

Framing refers to the way a problem is presented. Framing effects refer to the recipient of the frame taking the frame as focal. Consequently, all subsequent thought derives from this frame rather than from alternative framings. Alternative framings would require more thought. So framing effects are the result of cognitive miserliness.

Consider the following decision, call it Decision 1. Imagine that the United States is preparing for the outbreak of a disease that is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs have been designed to combat the disease. Under Program A, 200 people will be saved. Under Program B there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no one will be saved. Which program would you choose?

Most people choose Program A, the one that saves 200 people for sure.

Now consider another decision, call it Decision 2. Again imagine that the United States is preparing for the outbreak of a disease that is expected to kill 600 people. Again, two alternative programs have been designed to combat the disease. If Program C is adopted, 400 people will die. If Program D is adopted, there is a one-third probability that no one will die and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die. Which program would you choose?

Most people choose Program D for Decision 2. Reexamine the two decisions. You should note that they are identical problems with different framings. Moreover, Program A and Program C are different framings of the same program. Programs B and D are different framings of the same program. So why are different decisions made depending on the framings of the decisions and the programs?

The answer can be found with respect to risk aversion. We are risk averse in the context of gains, but risk seeking in the context of losses. Consequently, people found the sure gain of 200 lives attractive in Decision 1 over a gamble of equivalent value. In Decision 2, people found the sure loss of 200 lives unattractive against a gamble of equivalent value.

© 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.

Google and Transactive Memory

January 12, 2010

The American Dialect Society has picked “Google” as the word of the decade (2000-2009). It is worth pondering the significance of this selection. “I think my life has been more affected by ‘Google’ than ‘9/11’” said one college student1. At first, this assertion might seem a bit extreme, but if you were not personally affected 9/11, it just might be true. Google has achieved such dominance in the market that it has become a synonym for internet search. For most of us, it has become a part of our daily lives. We take it for granted and perhaps fail to appreciate its larger significance.

Google is a tool that facilitates the accessing and searching of transactive memory that is located in cyberspace. It is helpful to distinguish three classes of transactive memory on the internet. Accessible transactive memory does not require Google. This is information that you cannot recall from your personal memory, but you do remember how to access via the internet. Google, however, is useful for available transactive memory. This is information that you know is on the internet. You might well have visited this site before, but it is not bookmarked and you do not know how to find it. Then it’s Google to the rescue. Potential transactive memory is truly vast. That is all the information available on the internet, which is a substantial percentage of all human knowledge. Potential transactive memory presents the enormous opportunity for cognitive growth. Google, along with other sites such as delicious.com, are key tools for accessing potential transactive memory and converting portions of it to available transactive memory, accessible transactive memory, or your own personal biological memory depending on how well you need to know this information.

In this light, Google is a key tool for an healthy memory and cognitive growth. As we age there is an increasing tendency to rely upon what we know and not to pursue new knowledge. We should pursue new knowledge as long as we live.

 1Zak., D. (2010). American Dialect Society picks ‘tweet,’ ‘Google’ as top words for 2009, decade. The Washington Post, January 9,2010;C01. Also search tags for “Transactive Memory” on delicious.com.

© 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 Default Heuristic1

January 10, 2010

The default heuristic is to stick with what you have and not to change. Like most heuristics, sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. In the 1080’s Pacific Gas and Electric noted that service varied among its districts. Some were more reliable than others. These differences were due to geographical differences that affected the timeliness of service in the different districts. To make matters more equitable, Pacific Gas and Electric conducted a survey. They asked customers with less reliable service if they would be willing to pay more for increased reliability. They asked customers with the more reliable service if they would be willing to accept less reliable service for a decrease in their costs. The customers were overwhelmingly wanting to keep the level of service they had. Now the difference in service was substantial. The unreliable service group suffered 15 outages per year of 4 hours average duration. The reliable service group suffered 3 outages per year of 2 hours average duration.

There are two perspectives to be considered here. The first perspective is that of the person or entity setting the default. If you want people to opt for making 401K contributions, then you set this as the default and offer employees the option to opt out. If you want people to become organ donors, then you make this the default and offer people the option to opt out.

The second perspective is from that of the person being offered the default option. Do not be a cognitive miser. Consider the options carefully before deciding to opt in or out. The exercise of this additional mental effort will be beneficial to your finances. It should also be beneficial to your cognitive health.

1Most of this content is based upon Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven: The Yale University Press.