Archive for January, 2013


January 23, 2013

The healthymemory blog will be going on a brief hiatus. There are over 350 blog posts to peruse, so there is plenty of material to consider in the absence of new posts. You can test your knowledge of just a small percentage of the material covered by taking the test below. If you want to check your answers or to look up the answers, use the search block for the healthymemory blog.

What are the seven sins of memory?


Dumbledore Hypothesis

cognitive reserve

Flynn Effect

fluid intelligence

How to remember numbers

What tragedies have resulted from failures in prospective memory?

How can you improve your prospective memory?

How can you remember names?

What are the five dimensions of personality?

What is meant by emotional style?

What types of meditation are there?

What does psychological science have to offer law and the justice system?

What are some effective study techniques?

What makes a nation intelligent?

What are some solutions to the excessive costs of a college education?

What is Gross National Happiness (GNH)?

What are the two basic types of transactive memory?

What are the distinctions among accessible, available, and potential transactive memory?

How many friends are too many?

Are we incurable Infovores?

How can we cope with complexity?

What are folksonomies?

What are some common sense techniques for improving memory?

An Informative and Timely Read

January 20, 2013

That would be The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse by Rebecca D. Costa ( As the title promises she presents a theory of why civilizations collapse. The simple explanation is that a civilization’s beliefs do not keep up with the environmental facts in which they operate. She uses the Mayans, the Roman, and the Kymer civilizations for examples. Given the exponential increase in technology that has occurred, the problem is much greater today than in the times of those ancient civilizations.

Biological evolution is slow. At one time the evolution of technology was also slow, but the rate of change in technology is truly exponential today. So how can homo sapiens keep up? Unless the singularity predicted by Ray Kurzweil in which humans become one with technology (enter “singularity” into the search box) this is a definite problem. This failure to “keep up” is quite evident in the stagnation of governments in the United States and European Union.

Costa introduces the concept of supermemes, which are overriding habits of processing information that lead to stagnation and fail to solve pressing problems. These supermemes will be addressed individually in later healthymemory blog posts: they are “Irrational Opposition,” “The Personalization of Blame,” “Counterfeit Correlation,” “Silo Thinking,” and “Extreme Economics.”

She does provide rational solutions for dealing with the irrational world in which we live, and strategies for implementing those solutions. One chapter is titled “Building Better Brains,” a title to which the healthymemory blog resonates. She argues that insight can deal with our problems successfully and discusses conditions conducive to cognition for achieving this insight. Future healthymemory blog posts will discuss these topics.

Nevertheless, I shall be unable to do justice to these topics, so I suggest you get the book and read it for yourself.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Update on the Unnecessary Costs of Higher Education

January 16, 2013

Here is an update of these unnecessary costs from the Washington Post.1 Previous healthymemory blog posts (enter “Costs of a Higher Education” into the search block) have complained about the increasing increases in the costs of a college education at a time when technology should be bringing these costs down. It is especially ironic when prestigious universities are making some of their courses available online for free, the so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Although this content is available for free, course credit is not offered, nor is there a prospect of a diploma being offered upon the completion of these courses. Now some universities are offering, for a fee, certificates for completing these courses. According to the article “For a fee of less than $100, a student who takes a class in genetics and evolution from Duke University on a MOOC platform called Coursera—and agrees to submit to identity-verification screening—could earn a “verified certificate” for passing the course.” “For $95, a student in an online circuits and electronics class affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the MOOC Platform edX will be able to take a proctored exam this month at one of thousands of test sites around the world and earn a certificate.” What is not clear is whether at some time in the future these certificates would lead to college credit and a degree. Technology provides manifold opportunities for the autodidact, but the degrees provide the desired end-states of these formal curricula.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs on this topic is that I have met some people who have college degrees, but on the basis of their work, writing, and conversation, it is difficult to believe that they have these degrees. I have also met people with excellent, writing, work, and conversational skills, who do not have college degrees. I think we need to have an organization or organizations that provide tests and evaluations to determine the level of competence in different subject areas. Presumably, nominal fees would be involved, but this would allow the true autodidact to benefit fully from her self-educational efforts.

1Anderson, N. (2013). Online classes will grant credentials, for a fee.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Memory and Endurance

January 14, 2013

Diane Van Deren is one of the world’s elite ultra runners. She has run more than 1500 kilometers over 22 days. Note that that is kilometers, not meters. She has run for as long as 20 hours in a single day. When she is asked to estimate the amount of time she has been running she has underestimated her time by as much as 8 hours.

Her incredible endurance needs to be understood in the context of her memory. She, like the individuals in the immediately preceding post on Memory and Obesity, has had brain surgery to treat epilepsy.1 This surgery undoubtedly involved areas of the brain affecting the transfer of information into long term memory, such as the hippocampus.

It is hoped that this surgery effectively dealt with her epilepsy. It did have the benefit of letting her get into a more zen-like state that lets her run for longer without feeling so much strain, but the loss of the ability to retain new information is an unfortunate trade.

1De Lante, C. (2012). Stuck in the Present. New Scientist, 6 October, p.41.

Can Memory Affect Obesity?

January 12, 2013

M is an individual who has had part of his memory removed, that part likely including the hippocampus, in an attempt to cure epilepsy. Sixty seconds after polishing off a three course meal, he started on a second three course meal having forgotten the three course meal he had already eaten. This finding was replicated with two other individuals who had undergone the same surgery. Not only did these two people eat a second meal fifteen minutes after eating the first, but sometimes went on to eat a third meal.

It appears that their amnesia has caused these individuals to forget they that have eaten, but not entirely as recent research has identified sensory specific satiety. We are familiar that our liking for a specific food decreases the more we eat of it, whereas a different dish can be more appetizing. People with the described amnesia will prefer crisps or cookies rather than more sandwiches after eating a hearty lunch of sandwiches even though they cannot remember what they have just eaten.

Research has also shown that imagining the process of eating something can lead us to feel more satiated such that we eat less. So memory does affect our appetites and our appetites affect obesity. Moreover, we can call upon our memories to help us imagine something tasty that we have eaten. For this to be effective, it is important that it be done slowly and with sufficient imagination to closely recreate the sensation of eating. Imagine whatever you like as calories do not count in a bad way when your eating is imaginary. It is even possible that the more calories you are imagining the more effective this memory ruse might be.

De Lante, C. (2012). Stuck in the Present. New Scientist, 6 October, p.41.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Physical Exercise Contributes to a Healthy Memory

January 9, 2013

Enter “exercise” into the search block on the healthymemory blog and you will find a listing of many articles. Although the majority of them are discussing the benefits of cognitive exercise, you can still find many on the benefits of physical exercise. So a reasonable question is how can physical exercise benefit memory? Research indicating how this might happened in an article1 in Scientific American Mind,which, in turn, was reporting the results from a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. This study, conducted by J. Mark Davis and his colleagues at the University of South Carolina, used mice. They found that quantities of a signaling molecule, which they called a “master regulator” of mitochondria production increased in the brain after a half hour a day of running on a treadmill. These brain cells of the mice also had more mitochondrial DNA as distinguished from the regular cellular DNA found in the nucleus. The researchers said that this provided “gold standard” evidence of more mitochondria. Mitochondria generate energy, and these increased mitochondria provide additional energy that allow the brain to work faster and more efficiently.

As we age, neurons naturally lose mitochondria. This loss of mitochondria can contribute to losses in brain and cognitive function resulting in dementia and other age-related declines in brain function. By increasing the energy supply new mitochondria can be produced offsetting this mitochondria loss.

Although we’ve known for a long time that physical exercise is good for both physical and cognitive health, we are beginning to gain insights as to why this is the case.

1Sutherland, S. (2012). How Exercise Jogs the Brain: Physical activity boosts cognition by improving neurons’ power supply. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 12.

The Law and Psychological Science

January 6, 2013

Should I ever be charged with a crime, I shall not be one of those people who say that they will be proven innocence because they have faith in the legal system. Rather I’ll be saying that although I am innocent, I have no faith that I shall be exonerated. In my view there is little in common between the concept of justice and the legal system. At least in the United States, each individual gets the amount of justice that individual can afford. Say I am charged with a crime, and I am innocent. Going with a public defender would most likely increase the probability of either a conviction or some plea bargain to a lesser sentence. If I want to reduce my chances of being wrongfully convicted, I will pay for the best judicial defense I can afford. If I am exonerated, there is a good chance that I have gone into bankruptcy. So, even in that case, can we say that justice has prevailed?

I am annoyed by the instructions the judge provides to the jurors in criminal cases. In a criminal case it is usually to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, or some variant thereof. Now what does that mean? There needs to be some trade-off here. How many innocent people would we be willing to convict to prevent a guilty person from going free? Is it one in one hundred? One in twenty? One in ten? One in five? The instructions need to be more specific.

Here are some statistics from an article in Scientific American Mind.1 412 is the number of people exonerated in the U.S. After being implicated by mistaken witness testimony as of September 2012. 137 is the number of people exonerated in the U.S. after being implicated by false confessions as of September 2012. All too frequently we read about prisoners being released from prison on the basis of DNA evidence. Often this occurs after they have spent many years in prison.

What is infuriating is that even when there is compelling evidence, such as DNA evidence, that someone has been wrongfully imprisoned, the so-called justice system is reluctant to release the individual. This supports the idea that lawyers, both defenders and prosecutors, are not interested in justice; they are interested winning.

So what does psychological science have to offer the legal system if it does want to pursue justice? Psychological science studies how we perceive, think, solve problems, make decisions, how we process information and how our memories work. I think the relevance should be obvious here. We know that we have two systems for processing information: System One which is fast and does the initial processing of information. System Two is slow and deliberative, and has the responsibility for checking the accuracy of System One output. Our default when we encounter new information, absent cues to the contrary is to believe it. If it is wrong, the hope is that it will eventually be corrected by System Two. So when judges inform jurors that they are to disregard something said or introduced in court, research has shown that it is unlikely to be disregarded just because the judge said so. Research has indicated that a short and to the point explanation as to why the information should be ignored is effective (See the healthymemory blog post, “Solutions and Good Practices for Misinformation”).

Extensive research has been done showing that eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, yet courts and jurors have historically weighted it highly. Although it is true that recognition is worse for people of differing ethnic or racial groups, it remains unreliable even within the same group. The Innocence Project, a national organization focused on correcting wrongful convictions through DNA testing and judicial reform, has freed 301 individuals on the basis of DNA testing. In about 75% of these cases, a principal cause of the erroneous guilty verdict was faulty eyewitness testimony. In about 35% of these cases the testimony stemmed from two or more incorrect observers. This demonstrates that consistency should not be confused with correctness. That is, reliability is not necessarily validity. The method for doing facial recognition is extremely important. Rather than present pictures together in groups, they should be presented individually. Moreover, there should be no guarantee or suggestion that the guilty party is one of the photographs shown. And the officers, themselves, should be blind regarding the identity of the suspect. The same procedure applies to line-ups, that they should be done individually with no guarantee or suggestion that the suspect is there.

One study indicated that 63 percent of the respondents believe that “memory works like a video camera.” Research has shown that nothing could be further from the truth. Memory is fallible and is easily influenced by suggestions and contexts. Moreover, each time we recall information, there are changes. Questioning by investigators, even if not intended, can lead to faulty recall and erroneous convictions. The cognitive interview is a procedure that has been developed by psychologists that might lead to more accurate eyewitness testimony. It relies on techniques derived from scientifically supported principles of memory. It asks open-ended rather than suggestive question. It reminds witnesses of the context of the crime and offers them reminders of the crime, and discourages them from guessing.

Confessions should not be regarded as conclusive. There were 200 people who confessed to the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh‘s baby. The Innocence Project found that up to 27% of individuals initially found guilty but later cleared by DNA evidence had confessed in spite of their clean hands.

This indicates that the videotaping of interrogations is essential. It is also important to videotape the interrogators as well as the suspect.

Psychologists are also skilled in designing experiments and research projects to minimize bias. Correct sampling procedures are essential. This is true for juries. It is not surprising that mixed -race juries are fairer to black defendants. It also appears that diversity improves the accuracy and critical thinking of jurors. Perhaps you do not need training in psychology to know realize this. It would appear to be a matter of common sense. The legal system has been slow to realize this.

In the United States, the Supreme Court sits atop the legal system. There are different approaches to interpreting the Constitution of the United States. There is a progressive view that the Constitution is to be viewed as a living document, and is to be interpreted in the view of new knowledge. The competing view is the Strict Constructionist view. According to this view the Constitution is to be viewed as the original writers intended. Remember that at the time the Constitution was written, slavery was legal and thrived in the southern states. Black people were regarded as being three-fifths of a human being. Women could not vote. At that time Benjamin Franklin was one of the most knowledgeable scientists in the world. Today a high school science student knows much more science than Benjamin Franklin ever did. Currently five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are regarded as strict constructionists. This might account for some of their decisions and for some of the difficulties the United States currently finds itself.

1Lilienfeld, S.O., & Byron, R. (2013). Your Brain on Trial, Scientific American Mind, January/February, p.7 & pp.44-53.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Controlling our Thoughts, Emotions, and Behavior

January 3, 2013

Suppose some jerk cuts you off in traffic. Most of us would likely become upset, even enraged, and be mulling over the incident the remainder of our drive. This is not a good response. Your blood pressure increases, which is not good, and your judgment might be impaired. You can call a process called “self-distancing”1 into play.

Dominik Mischkowski and his fellow psychology graduate students at Ohio State University conducted an experiment in which they deliberately upset students waiting to participate in an experiment by making them wait and being rude to them. The students who had been upset were asked to relive the situation: half the group was asked to relive the experience through their own eyes, and the other half by mentally moving away from the experience and watching it at a distance as if it were happening to someone else. According to results published in the September 2012 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology the self-distancing students had less anger and were less likely to respond aggressively to others in a subsequent task.

The way you think about a bad experience can determine the difference between successful and unsuccessful coping. The September 2012 Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry published a study using people who had recently experienced a highly stressing event—such as a crime, the death of a loved one or a relationship breakup. One group was instructed to write about their experiences in a concrete, objective way and to focus on such questions as “How do I feel right now? How did I feel at the time of the event, and what did I see, hear, and think? How might I deal with a similar situation in the future? “ The other group was instructed to write in an abstract evaluative manner and address such questions as “Why did the event happen? Why do I feel this way about it? Why didn’t I handle it differently?” Later, the concrete-thinking group reported fewer intrusive memories of the event than the abstract thinking group. The researchers think a concrete focus helps to facilitate emotional processing and problem solving, whereas an abstract perspective does not and perhaps even hinders these undertakings.

The recent healthymemory blog post, “Happy New Year: What About Your Resolutions” reported research from the August 2012 Journal of Consumer Research that showed that when participants framed a refusal as “I don’t,” which connotes personal control, instead of “I can’t,” which connotes deprivation. So, for example, one could say “I don’t eat fatty foods,” rather than “I can’t eat fatty foods.” Vanessa Patrick, the author of the study said, “I believe that an effective route to self regulation is by managing one’s desire for temptation, instead of relying solely on willpower… Saying,“I can’t” denotes deprivation while saying “I don’t” makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.”

Meditation is another means to help us control our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You will find many healthymemory blog posts on this topic by entering “meditation” into the search block.

1Roridguez, T. (2013). Ameliorate Anxiety and Anger. Scientific American Mind, January/February, p. 10.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.