Archive for April, 2010

Healthy Memory is Going On a Hiatus, But That Should Make Little Difference

April 30, 2010

There have been more than one hundred postings to this blog, so there is much to peruse. Although I do make an attempt to make new findings in human cognition available, timeliness is not an objective for the most part. The fundamental premise underlying this blog is that there is no magic road to a healthy memory.

Clicking on the About link in the sideboard will provide information about the blog and the blog’s author. There are three themes that this blog pursues.

One theme is that an understanding of human memory and cognition is fundamental to a healthy memory. Understanding how memory works and how well memory performs at different ages is important. It is also important to have a basic understanding of the basic limitations and shortcomings of human memory so that cognitive errors and biases can be recognized and compensated for.

A second theme deals with mnemonic techniques. Mnemonic techniques have been around since the Ancient Greeks. They are proven techniques that not only boost memory performance but provide exercise that fosters a healthy memory.

The third theme is called transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to those memories that are outside your biological brain. They reside in other human beings and in all types of technology from books and paper to the vast expanses of cyberspace. Transactive memory provides vast resources for cognitive and social growth as well as for a healthy memory.

You can being at the beginning (that is at the bottom of the blog postings as the most recent postings appear at the top of the blog) moving upwards reading blogs of interest. Be aware that to benefit fully from this blog, you need to do more than read the postings. You need to try and practice the mnemonic techniques and pursue topics in transactive memory that interest you.

Another strategy is to go by the links listed under Categories and pursue the topics of most interest to you.

Should these links not be visible on the sideboard, then reenter the healthymemory.wordpress.com url and redisplay.

New postings should be coming in a matter of weeks.

 © 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.

Memory Demonstration—The Presidents of the United States

April 29, 2010

  So, why should you memorize the Presidents of the United States in  the order which they served without an upcoming test. Well, you might want to impress your friends (and perhaps those whom you would like to have as friends). Another reason might be that this is fun. But the most important reason is that exercises such as these can contribute to brain health.  Tips on how to memorize them are near the end of this post.

Here they are.

  1. George Washington Federalist
  2. John Adams Federalist
  3. Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican
  4. James Madison Democratic-Republican
  5. James Monroe Democratic-Republican
  6. John Quincy Adams Democratic-Republican
  7. Andrew Jackson Democratic
  8. Martin Van Buren Democratic
  9. William Henry Harrison Whig
  10. John Tyler Whig
  11. James Knox Polk Democratic
  12. Zachary Taylor Whig
  13. Millard Fillmore Whig
  14. Franklin Pierce Democratic
  15. James Buchanan Democratic
  16. Abraham Lincoln Republican
  17. Andrew Johnson Democratic/National Union
  18. Ulysses S. Grant Republican
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes Republican
  20. James A. Garfield Republican
  21. Chester A. Arthur Republican
  22. Grover Cleveland Democratic
  23. Benjamin Harrison Republican
  24. Grover Cleveland Democratic
  25. William McKinley Republican
  26. Theodore Roosevelt Republican
  27. William Howard Taft Republican
  28. Woodrow Wilson Democratic
  29. Warren G. Harding Republican
  30. Calvin Coolidge Republican
  31. Herbert C. Hoover Republican
  32. Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic
  33. Harry S. Truman Democratic
  34. Dwight David Eisenhower Republican
  35. John F. Kennedy Democratic
  36. Lyndon B. Johnson Democratic
  37. Richard M Nixon Republican
  38. Gerald R. Ford Republican
  39. Jimmy Carter Democratic
  40. Ronald W. Reagan Republican
  41. George H.W. Bush Republican
  42. Bill Clinton Democratic
  43. George W. Bush Republican
  44. Barack Hussein Obama Democratic

So, what’s the trick to learning these? They can be found in the previous blot posts, “More on Remembering Numbers” and ”Remembering Names”

  1. Picture a Tie around the picture of Washington on a dollar bill. Picture him reading the Federalist papers
  2. Picture Noah Adding the numbers of animals boarding the Ark (who are reading the Federalist papers).
  3. Picture Ma lecturing Thomas Jefferson as the child who would grow up to write the Declaration of Independence. Add elephants and donkeys to your mental image.

Now take it from here.

 © 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.

Healthy Memory: You Need Not Pay for It

April 26, 2010

“Brain-training software may be a waste of time. People who played “mind-boosting” games made the same modest cognitive gains as those who spent a similar amount of time surfing the web.”1 This conclusion comes from a study done by Adrian Owen of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, who tested brain-training software on volunteers recruited through a BBC television program.

There are many commercial programs that claim to contribute to healthy memories, but many are not based on scientific evidence and do not come with experimental evalutions of their effectiveness. When they do come with scientific evaluations of their effectiveness, it is important to note the nature of the control group that was used for comparison. Studies where the benefits of web-surfing were compared against a control group that did nothing special showed the benefits of web-surfing. In the English study where brain-training software was compared against a web-surfing control group, no benefits were found.

So before spending money out of pocket to build a healthy memory, consider what can be done for free. The Healthymemory Blog advocates using the internet as a means of maintaining and building brain health. We advocate going beyond simple web-surfing and building social relationships and learning substantive bodies of knowledge. This is called transactive memory and is one of the three themes of this blog.

We also believe that having a fundamental understanding of the way that memory and cognitive works is helpful in building a healthy memory. Here you build an understanding of memory performance and how it changes as we age. You will also become aware of fundamental shortcomings of memory, the consequences of these shortcomings, and how to avoid them. Accordingly, Human Memory is another one of the three theses of this blog.

A third theme involves mnemonic techniques themselves. These are techniques that have been around since the time of the ancient Greeks that can lead to phenomenal memory performance. Here memory techniques are addressed directly. Using them not only can improve memory, but the act of using them can also improve your ability to concentrate and provide exercise for a healthy memory.

1Callaway, E. (2010). Skills from the mind gym don’t transfer. New Scientist, 24 April, 10

© 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.

What is Consciousness?

April 24, 2010

On one level this might seem like a stupid question1. Of course, you might say, we experience consciousness most of the time when we are awake and even some of the time when we are asleep. Although this is true, the nature and role of consciousness are matters of intense debate within psychology and philosophy with little prospect of being resolved soon. That is why it is so refreshing that recent theory and data in neuroscience are offering some insight into how consciousness is manifest in the brain.

It is called the global workspace theory and was first presented by Bernard Baars of the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California. According to this theory, non-conscious experiences are processed locally within separate regions of the brain. We only become conscious of this information if these signals are broadcast to assembly of neurons distributed across many different regions of the brain—the global workspace, which then reverberates in a flash of coordinated activity. This coordinated activity produces a mental interpretation of the world that has integrated all the senses into a single picture. This is obviously related to the previous blog post “The Two System View of Cognition.” The two systems are System 1, Intuition, and System 2, Reasoning. System 1 processes information every quickly below the level of consciousness. When a visual event occurs it would be processed locally in the visual cortex. For the even to become conscious it would need to be broadcast to an assembly of neurons distributed across many regions of the brain. This produces consciousness and is a limited System 2 Process. We are extremely limited in the amount of information to which we can attend. Apparently this is due to this activation of large areas of the brain. When we driving most of the activation is local and occurs below the level of awareness. A slowing or stopping vehicle ahead of us can lead to this wider broadcast to many regions of the brain. We then become conscious of the need to slow down or stop and act accordingly.

This neural activity has been documented in brain imaging studies (See the blog post, “How Can the Brain Be Imaged?”).

Conflicting pieces of information are filtered out. This is an important feature as our attentional resources are quite limited. We cannot perceive two perceptions at once. This is evident in such ambiguous visual illusions as the Necker Cube, which changes in depth, the profile/vase illusions, in which you see either two human profiles or a vase, and the My Wife and My Mother-in-Law illusion, in which the two perceptions are of a beautiful young lady with her head turned away, or the profile of a very old woman. Although we can rapidly alternate between the two percepts, they cannot be perceived simultaneously. They also do experiments in which different images are projected to each eye. Rather than merge the two percepts, only one percept can be perceived at a time.

1This post is based largely on an article by Anil Ananthaswamy. (2010). Brain Chat. New Scientist, 20 March, 38-41.

© 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.

Creating and Remembering Pin Codes and Passwords

April 17, 2010

For most of us creating and remembering pin codes and passwords is an onerous task. They are required for personal finance, personal activities, as well as on our jobs. Moreover, often there is a requirement to change them periodically. Normally it is not appropriate to write them down, so we need to commit them to memory. Most of use have personal tricks we use. When they do work, stick with them. But often the requirements are so demanding that our personal tricks run out.

So you might need a system for both creating and remembering pin codes and passwords. The creation part is key. Having a good system for generating pin codes and passwords is essential to remembering them. This post will show how you can use the techniques provided in other postings of this blog to create pin codes and passwords so that they can be remembered.

Let’s consider numbers first. They can be a requirement for pin codes and can also be a requirement for passwords. The following postings provide techniques for remembering numbers: “Remembering Numbers” , “More on Remembering Numbers” , “Three Digit Numbers”, and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.” These techniques convert numbers into meaningful words that can be formed into images and easily recalled. You link this converted word to an image of the organization to which it is needed (an image of the Bank of America, for example). [The blog post “How to Remember Abstract Information” can be helpful when the item that needs to be associated is abstract].

You can also use this as a system for changing passwords, by simply changing the numerical value you give for the new password. Numbers alone can be added to the password. Sometimes they are a requirement. It is helpful to add them systematically to the beginning or ending of the password. Sometimes simply changing the number can satisfy the requirement for changing the password.

The blog post “Remembering the Letters of the Alphabet” provides a system for making isolated letters into words and hence both more meaningful and easier to image. This can be added to your bag of tricks. You could use them in a system to alphabetize the passwords you use on different computers and different websites.

As for special characters such as *#$, etc, it is good to place them at the beginning or end of the password, to do it consistently, and to rely upon the same special characters all the time.

One of the best techniques for creating strong (hard to be broken) passwords is to use foreign words. The blog post “More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words” should be helpful here.

Although if is usually not accepted to write them down, it is a good idea to use what this blog terms “transactive memory.” They do need to be kept secure, however. So recording them in an encrypted file is a good idea as a backup system.

[These postings can all be found under the category, “Mnemonic Techniques, “ or by entering the title of the post into the search block. If these items are not visible on your right hand border, enter healthymemory.wordpress.com into the URL box.]

© 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.

Remembering Letters of the Alphabet

April 13, 2010

 You might well ask, why would I need to remember letters in the alphabet. Well one reason is that they, like numbers, appear in product codes, in stock market symbols, where they often have no apparent meaning. So the mnemonic technique is to make letters meaningful. Here’s a sample list of words that can make simple letters more meaningful.

a          apple

b          bow

c          car

d          dog

e          elephant

f           fox

g          golf

h          house

I           India

j           joker

k          king

l           leaf

m         mare

n          noon

o          office

p          pea

q          queen

r           rook

s           sole

t           tea

u          upset

v          Viking

w         wing

x          xylophone

y          yearling

z          zebra

So say you needed to remember the letter AJV. You could form a mental image of an Apple being thrown by a Joker at a Viking.

There are other lists that make letters more meaningful. One is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet used by the military

Letter phonetic letter
A Alpha
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whiskey
X X-ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu

 

Another is the Phonetic Alphabet used by Western Union

Letter phonetic letter
A Adams
B Boston
C Chicago
D Denver
E Easy
F Frank
G George
H Henry
I Ida
J John
K King
L Lincoln
M Mary
N New York
O Ocean
P Peter
Q Queen
R Roger
S Sugar
T Thomas
U Union
V Victor
W William
X X-ray
Y Young
Z Zero

 

These alphabets are used primarily to clarify the pronunciation of letters, but they also provide mnemonics for making letters more meaningful. When letters and numbers are mixed you can employ the techniques for remembering numbers presented in the blogs, “Remembering Numbers, “More on Remembering Numbers”, “Three Digit Numbers”, and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.”

[These postings can all be found under the category, “Mnemonic Techniques, “ or by entering the title into the search block. If these items are not visible on your right hand border, enter healthymemory.wordpress.com into the URL box.]

© 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.

Remembering Playing Cards

April 10, 2010

Here’s a coding system for each card in each of the suites that uses the first letter of the suit with the number from the consonant sound system (See the Blog Post “Remembering Numbers”)

AS       SooT

2S        SuN

3S        SuM

4S        SeweR

5S        SaiL

6S        SaSH

7S        SaCK

8S        SaFe

9S        SouP

10S      SouSe

AH      HaT

2H       HuN

3H       HaM

4H       HaRe

5H       HaiL

6H       HasH

7H       HooK

8H       HooF

9H       HooP

10H     HouSe

AD      DaTe

2D       DuNe

3D       DaMe

4D       Door

5D       DoLL

6D       DiSH

7D       DoCK

8D       DoVe

9D       DoPe

10D     DoSe

Fine, you say,  but what about the face cards?  Well, the face cards are pictures to begin with, but they can still stand some elaboration

KS       A king in all his regalia, digging a hole with a spade

QS       A queen holding a space for the king

JS        A jack carrying a bunch of spades.

KH      A king, in love with the queen, with a big throbbing heart

QH      A queen, in love with the king, with a big throbbing heart

JH        the jack with a broken heart

KD      a King decked out in diamonds

QD      a Queen decked out in diamonds

JD        a jack stealing away with a diamond 

KC      a King exercising with Indian clubs

QC      a Queen exercising with Indian clubs

JC        a jack juggling clubs

So, you should have the idea.   Feel free to develop your own images for the cards.

Often it is useful to keep track of what cards have been played.  One way to do this is to mentally destroy the image of each card played.  Some mnemonists are able to observe someone going through a deck of cards and identify the card or cards that are missing using this technique.  However, to accomplish this feat requires a substantial amount of practice.

© 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.

Remembering Months

April 8, 2010

Here are some mnemonics for remembering months.

January            an image of the Tournament of Roses Parade from Pasadena, CA

February          an image of a groundhog

March              strong winds making a kite to break its string

April                rain showers, what else

May                 flowers, what April showers bring, what else

June                 a bride

July                  fireworks on the 4th of July

August             the dog days of August, a hot sweltering day

September       Labor Day, the end of summer vacation

October           beautiful fall foliage

November       Thanksgiving Day and turkey with all the trimmings

December        Christmas and good ol’ Santa Claus

 You can use this for remembering birthdays if you add the techniques for remembering numbers (See the Blog Post “More on Remembering Numbers.”)   Suppose you wanted to remember Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  It falls on February 12.  So you could form a mental image of Honest Abe with a tin (12) groundhog.  Or suppose you wanted to remember my birthday, May 6.  Here you could image me, or whatever you may think I look like, with a shoe (6) in a bed of flowers. 

© 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.

Common Sense Prospective Memory Techniques

April 5, 2010

Prospective memory refers to memory to do things. Here are some common sense techniques. Only a few examples are provided, but they should be enough so that you get the idea.

Suppose you need to run some errands on your way to work. You have laundry to drop off at the dry cleaners, books to be returned to the library, and a child to take to day care. Leave the laundry and books by the door by which you are going to leave the house and ask, or leave (depending on the age of the child) the child to stay with them and watch them. Of course, the laundry and books can be left the evening before, but you should show some consideration for your child. Having everything organized and in the place you need to pass before you leave reduces the chances of forgetting anything to about zero. It is a good idea to take the child with you. I know of at least one case where the father told to the child to wait on the porch while he took the car out of the garage. The child then looked forlorn as his father drove away without him.

Suppose you have something cooking in the oven and the timer either does not work or does not give an adequate warning. Leave a cooking pan in the room with you and take that pan with you wherever you go. The external cue of the pan should prevent you from forgetting what you have going in the oven.

An early post to this blog, “Prospective Memory and Technology”, wrote of the increased incidence of parents forgetting about their children in car seats that has resulted from requiring these seats to be placed in the back seat. The saying out of sight, out of mind, can be painfully true. The stories of parents stopping by their day care to pick up their child, only to discover that they had forgotten to drop off the child in the morning and that the child was dead in the car are painful. But this is an understandable error of prospective memory. Leaving a doll or some reminder that the child is in the back of the car could reduce the incident of these tragedies to virtually zero.

 © 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.