Archive for November, 2018

Memory Special: How Can Two People Recall an Event So Differently?

November 30, 2018

This post has the same title as a Feature article by Catherine de Lange in 27 Oct ’18 issue of the “New Scientist.” The article begins, “ We each have a personal memory style determined by the brain, so next time you argue with someone about what really happened, remember that you may both be right.”

Signy Sheldon of McGill University notes that memories are only built when we retrieve them. And if they are retrieved a second time, they are built again. So if we’ve had an argument with someone it would be when you called the event to mind that you created a mental representation of what happened. And of all the details you could have picked out, you can bet you didn’t focus on the same ones as your sparring partner.

Sheldon says, “We are now understanding that there are strong individual differences in how people remember. And these differences are etched in our brain. This can be seen in people who have aphantasia, the inability to form mental images in the minds eye. It is not surprising that such people’s memories also lack a visual component, even though they can recall facts.

To study this further Sheldon and her colleagues asked people to complete a questionnaire about how they tend to remember, before having their brain scanned. The researchers found that people’s memory style was reflected in their brain connectivity. Those who were better remembering facts had more physical links between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in reasoning. Those with richly detailed “autobiographical memories”, by contrast, had more connectivity between the hippocampus and areas involved in visual processing. Sheldon says, “People’s brains are wired differently depending on how they naturally approach the act of retrieval.

In addition to individual brain differences, there are other reasons why two people might have conflicting memories of the same event. Their emotional response is one. Sheldon says, “Emotional events can be recalled much more naturally, almost like they are stamped in out minds.” It is as if we shine a spotlight on the things that really matter to us. What we remember will also be affected by whether we consider it useful. This is beneficial as it helps us learn lessons and bond with others. Sheldon notes, “The malleability of memory is often seen as something that’s broken, “but it’s really very adaptive.”

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Memory Special: Can You Trust Your Memories?

November 29, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a Feature article by Clare Wilson. in the 27 October 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on the research of Elizabeth Loftus. Wilson writes, “NO ONE has done more than Elizabeth Loftus to expose the fallibility of human memory. In the 1990s, amid growing panic over claims of satanic child sex abuse rings, the psychologist showed how easy it is for people to develop false memories of events that never happened. All it took was repeatedly being asked to imagine them. At the time, this was a common psychotherapy technique to recover supposed repressed memories.”

Over the last three decades, Loftus, now at the University of California, Irvine has become well known for her work as an expert witness in legal cases. Her continuing research on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony has taken fresh importance in the era of fake news, the Me Too movement and digital image manipulation.

Clare Wilson asks, “The Me Too movement has led to a surge in historic claims of sexual assaults. Do you think some of these could be based on false memories?

Dr. Loftus responded, “It is possible, We have to accept that when there are two people whose versions of an event are different, the man’s version may not be the truth or, alternatively maybe the woman’s version is not the truth. We have to look for other sources of evidence to corroborate either person. But right now, at the height of “Me Too”, people are not as interested in hearing you talk about false accusations as they might have been a year ago. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of automatically believing the accuser. It used to be too far the other way.

Clare Wilson, “But we know most abuse cases are not successfully brought to trial…

Dr. Loftus responds, “I absolutely see what you’re saying. But as an expert witness on memory, I see a different subset of cases to the ones that most people see. I see the most contentious ones. I hate the idea people will try to point to all the false memory work and use it to deny guilt when they’re truly guilty. I think that probably sometimes happens and it’s just going to be a cost. I don’t know what we can do to stop that.”

Clare Wilson, “What other memory problems has your research shed light on?”

Dr. Loftus responds, “We have been doing some work on the phenomenon called memory blindness. Say that someone is being interviewed after witnessing a crime. They tell you that person was wearing a green jacket. Later on you tell them they told you the jacket was brown. We’re exploring the extent to which people even notice you fed back a different answer from the one you actually gave. Often they don’t. We think this can be a problem in cases where the police are writing out a statement. They say, ‘Here’s what you told me.’ What if there are errors contained in it? It can happen. We are showing that people can fail to detect them and be influenced by them.”

Clare Wilson, Can we misremember our feelings as well as facts?

Dr. Loftus responds, The evidence would suggest so. Another study we’re doing is we take you through a difficult task and ask you to rate your anxiety. I tell you that I rated it at 40 when you really rated it at 60. People often don’t detect you gave them the wrong rating and they start to feel less anxious about the task. When they look back, it was less awful for them. You could do this with kids when they go to the dentist. A former student of mine did some research with kids at a dental clinic, and she got them to remember less fear and pain, and they also behaved better at the next visit.

Clare Wilson, So there could be benefits to fallible memories?

Dr. Loftus responds, “If your kid had a traumatic but minor experience, rather than dwelling on the negatives, it might be better instead to talk them up. To say: “You were so brave, you hardly cried.” It is generally a little easier to plant a positive memory than a negative one. We don’t know why, it just empirically seems to be the case.”

Clare Wilson, Is there any evolutionary reason why memory is so unreliable?

Dr. Loftus responds, “One benefit is that when errors creep in, you can fix them and update memories with true information. Another is that some errors make you feel bette about yourself. These are called prestige-enhancing distortions. A common example is people remembering voting in elections they didn’t vote in, because they like to think of themselves as civic-minded. Sometimes it gets people into trouble, like in “stolen valor cases”, when someone famous says they were a brave soldier on the battlefield and it turns out they were really behind a desk on that day.”

Clare Wilson, So most of the time it is a harmless delusion?

Dr. Loftus responds, “If these kinds of prestige-enhancing distortions aren’t caught, it does allow people to feel better about themselves. People with depression don’t have them as much as everyone else. Such people are sadder but wiser. This is just a correlation, so we don’t know if the lack of prestige-enhancing memory distortions is causing the depression. But it does suggest another possible upside to the untenability of our memories. If there are costs, there have got to be some benefits.”

Memory Special: Is Technology Making Your Memory Worse?

November 28, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Helen Thomson in the 27 Oct 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Previous healthymemory blog posts have implied that the answer to this question is worse. Thomson writes, “Outsourcing memories, for instance to pad and paper is nothing new, but it has become easier than ever to do using external devices, leading some to wonder whether our memories are suffering as a result.”

Taking pictures has become more of an obsession given the capabilities of smart phones to take and store high quality photos. Although you might think that taking pictures and sharing stories helps you to preserve memories of events, but the opposite is true. When Diana Tamir and her colleagues at Princeton University sent people out on tours, those encouraged to take pictures actually had a poorer memory of the tour at a later date. Prof. Tamir said, “Creating a hard copy of an experience through media leaves only a diminished copy in our own heads.” People who rely on a satellite navigation system to get around are also worse at working out where they have been than those who use maps.

The expectation of information being at our fingertips seems to have an effect. When we think of something that can be accessed later, regardless of whether we will be tested on it, we have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. Sam Gilbert of University College, London says, “These kinds of studies suggest that technology is changing our memories. We increasingly don’t need to remember content, but instead, where to find it.”

Unfortunately relying too heavily on devices can mess with our appreciation of how good our memory actually is. We are constantly making judgements about whether something is worth storing in mind. Will I remember this tomorrow? Does it need to be written down? Should I set a reminder? Meta-memory refers to our ability to understand and use our memory. Technology seems to screw it up.

People who can access the internet to help them answer general knowledge questions, such as “How does a zip work?” overestimate how much information they think they have remembered, as well as their knowledge of unrelated topics after the test,compared with people who answered questions without gong online. You lose touch with what you came from you and what came from the machine. This exacerbates the part of the Dunning-Krueger phenomena in which we think we know much more than we actually know. Gilbert says, “These are subtle biases that may not matter too much if you continue to have access to external resources. But if those resources disappear—in an exam, in an emergency, in a technological catastrophe—we may underestimate how much we would struggle without them. Having an accurate insight into how good your memory actually is, is just as important as having a good memory in the first place.”

Memory Special: Can You Choose What to Forget?

November 27, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Penny Sarchet in the 27 Oct 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Here’s how to choose what memories to forget. It is commonly thought that we can actively strengthen memories, whereas forgetting is a passive process. We now have discovered that forgetting can be intentional.

Jeremy Manning of Dartmouth College has found that just telling people to “push thought out of their head” is enough to make them forget lists of words they have learned to associate with particular cues. He says, “We don’t know how, but some people seem to know how to do it. Justin Hulbert at Bard College says that suppression has been linked to decreased activity in the hippocampus, so we may be unknowingly reducing our hippocampal activity by focusing on the present.

Of course, he is speaking of words learned in an experiment. Memories from private lives can be an entirely different matter. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves intrusive memories that keep coming back—often suddenly and unexpectedly. Studies have found that people with this condition are less able to suppress memories, even those unrelated to traumatic incidents.

There are other approaches to forgetting, including what are known as cognitive vaccines: interventions that can “inoculate” the brain agains the onset of PTSD symptoms if administered soon after trauma.

Some computer games can induce forgetting. Playing Tetris after watching an upsetting film has been found to reduce flashbacks of that film, possibly because thinking about a visual task stopped the brain from processing the visual images of death and injury from the ilm. However, doing a non-visual task, such as playing a general knowledge game, actually increases flashbacks.

Katherine Simon at the University of Arizona and her colleagues found the they could train people to associate a particular sound with the instruction to forget something. Then they taught the volunteers to associate other sounds with specific words. As the volunteers slept, the team reactivated the memories of some of these words using their associated sounds, while also playing the “forget” sound. A week later, the volunteers were worse at remembering these words than words that hadn’t been targeted. Hulbert says being able to exert some control over what you remember probably helps to bolster you resilience in the fact of adversity.

There are downsides, however. Hulbert’s team found that when you try to suppress a memory, you are later less likely to remember things that happened around the time you attempted suppression. Apparently quieting you hippocampus to block a memory causes an “amnesic shadow” that more generally impairs memory function.

Hulbert says that good can come from holding on to even the most awkward of memories. “For sure, bringing one to mind can be cringe-inducing, but it’s important to reflect on the good that certain embarrassing memories can bring, as learning experience that teach us what not to do again.”

Memory Special: What Happens to Your Memories While You Sleep?

November 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to a feature article by Catherine de Lange in the 27 Oct ’18 issue of the New Scientist.” We don’t need sleep to create a memory, but Bob Stickgold at Harvard Medical School says, “Sleep plays a critical role in determining what happens to newly formed memories.” Sleep determines what goes into long-term storage. It can also select which parts of a memory to retain. It also links new memories with established networks of remembrances. It discovers patterns and rules, and it is doing this every night all night long.

Somehow the sleeping brain chooses which memories to strengthen and which to ignore. Sleep is special. Anna Schipiro, also at the Harvard school says, “During slow-wave sleep, there is this release, a kind of beautiful set of interactions between different brain areas, that is specialized, and it looks different than what we see during awake periods. There is conversation between regions key to memory, including the hippocampus, where memories are processed into the cortex where long-term memories end up. This chatter might be allowing the cortex to pull out and see important information from new memories.

There is no need to recall everything, and sleep favors certain types of memory. It homes in on information that might be useful at a later date, and puts it into longer-term storage. Shapiro has found that merely telling people they will be tested on certain material helps them remember more of it after sleep.

Memories with an emotional component also get preferential treatment—especially negative emotions. Schipiro says, “If you have a memory that was really intense, sleep will help to preserve the memory, but decrease the emotionality. Obviously this could be crucial for our mental health. Stickgold says, “Post traumatic stress disorder might actually be a direct consequence of failure of those sleep-dependent processes that waken the intensity of emotional responses to memories.” And it could also help explain why getting too little sleep is bad for you. Negative memories become dominant over neutral and positive ones, for a start. Stickgold says, “We remember facts and events, but don’t manage to figure out what they really mean for us and our future.”

Here is Schipiro’s advice on studying for exams: “It’s much better to go to sleep between studying and taking a test than to stay awake all night studying.”

Memory FAQ: Answers to the Common Questions That Baffle Us All

November 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Yvaine Ye & Tiffany O’Callaghan in the 21 Oct 18 Issue of the New Scientist.

Why can’t I remember what I did 5 seconds ago?
A good example of this is trying to remember if you locked the door on the way to the car. The answer is that you did not pay attention. Habitual behaviors can occur without conscious thought,. The brain no longer encodes the details of a repeated behavior, so while you remember to lock the door, there’s no specific memory of it. Being on autopilot can be beneficial as it frees up attention for more important things. Unfortunately, this habitual memory can take over when it’s not supposed to, which can lead to mistakes like forgetting to drop a child off and leaving her in the car instead.

Why can’t we remember being babies?
Although babies are constantly learning, only a handful of people have memories before the age of 2. That’s due to the parts of the brain critical for long term memory being immature. Babies can form some memories—a 6-month old can recall how to do certain tasks for up to three weeks-but holding onto them can be tricky. As the brain begins to mature, the neural machinery gets more efficient and memories start to stick—until the age of 7, when there’s a sudden dip. Children recall far more about earlier events in their lives when asked before they are 7 just a year later. This sudden erasure is known as childhood amnesia and may be due to pruning, the brain’s process of snipping lesser-used connections to strengthen those that remain. Although slightly older children remember fewer things, their recollections are more detailed. “The ability to tell a good story is developing,” says Patricia Bauer of Emory University. “You place it in context, you tell me what you did, highlight certain events and activity.” All of those things are part of what we mean by autobiographical memory. This points to a possible strategy for hanging onto more of those early memories, or at least attempting to influence which ones stick. In cultures where family storytelling is a cherished pasttime, people are more likely to retain early childhood memories. Summoning and reviewing these memories, a process known as reconsolidation, can fortify them. So, if you want your child to remember a special trip to the beach, indulge in a little reminiscing, and get them to tell you the story.

Why does being stressed affect your memory?
We secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, when we are emotionally aroused, whether the result of a trauma or a fantastic concert. These hormones trigger the firing of signals in the brain, which improve memory function. However, when trying to retrieve memories, stress can hamper our efforts. It can also prevent us from updating existing memories with new information. This can explain why, despite our best efforts, it is all too easy for the mind to go blank in a stressful setting such as a presentation or the exam hall.

Does closing your eyes truly help you remember?
Yes, as vision is our dominant sense and an important source of new information. Seeing the world in front of you is a major distraction when you try to think of something. Closing your eyes helps limit the distraction. This is especially true when trying to retrieve a highly visual piece of information. Still not everyone finds this beneficial.

Why is it that you only remember some things when other people trigger your memory?
We store much more information than we can intentionally recall. What we retrieve depends largely on the cues given, either from other people or from the environment. An analogy is that memories are like a pile of jigsaw puzzles. Cues are the pictures on the box that activate the connections that memory fragments are attached to. But sometimes a friendly prompt can mess with your memory. Suppose you went to a concert with a friend who later asked: “Remember they sang such-and-such song?” Each time you recall a memory it is vulnerable to change. Even though you don’t actually remember that you’ve heard of this song, your friend looked very confident and you may end up convincing yourself about this experience, and this becomes a new memory.”

What is photographic memory?
Photographic memory is the ability to recall a past scene with great accuracy. Some people have better visual memory than others, especially those with highly superior autobiographic memory (HSAM). Although it is not entirely understand why, but their memory seems to work the same way, yet is somehow better recognized so that it can be recalled more readily and more accurately. Nevertheless, their memory isn’t perfect. Flashbacks as real and precise as photos are a myth.

Memory Special: Do We Even Know What Memory is For?

November 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Alison George in the 27 October 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Readers of the healthy memory blog should know the answer, and that is for time travel. It allows us to recall what has happened or what we have learned to help us deal with the future. We can recall this information and run mental simulations of what would work in the future. Memories enable us to plan for the future.

Imaging studies of the brain show that similar patterns of brain activity underlie both remembering the past and planning for the future. We are able to generate images of scenes in our mind’s eye. Eleanor Maguire at University College London says,” If you think about it, recalling the past, imaging the future, and even spatial navigation, typically involve us constructing scene imagery. Being able to picture the past enabled us to imagine the future, and therefore plan.

If we can’t recall past events and preferences, our ability to make good decisions deteriorates. This is because during the decision-making process, the brain uses previous choices and existing knowledge to assess options and imagine how they might turn out.

Memory is also provides the basis for our relationships with others. When memory is lost in the late stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, we no longer know who we are.

This is why the healthy memory blog is dedicated to now only maintaining memories, but to building and growing memories.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. 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.

It is Good for You to Spend Time in Natural Environments

November 23, 2018

This post is based on a presentation titled “Modulation of Cognitive Restoration Dependent on Time Spent in Natural Environments” by Rachel J. Hopman, Sarah B. Lotemplio, Emily Scott, and David L. Strayer at the 2018 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.

Attention Restoration Theory says that spending time in natural environments can restore cognitive functioning, decrease stress, and improve cognitive performance. EEG research shows that those who have spent prolonged time in natural environments have decreased theta power (4-8Hz) in the mid frontal regions due to down regulation of the attentional control network, thus restoring neural regions associated with attentional processing. However, research has yet to determine the time course of the restorative experience.

In a series of studies EEG recordings were collected during a resting baseline period from 104 participants before, during, and after a nature trip to determine amount of change in neural activity associated with attentional fatigue. Midfrontal theta power significantly decreased from pre-trip testing each day during the nature exposure and increased each week after the trip. These results show that exposure to natural environments influences attentional processing and that these effects are additive over time.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018!

November 21, 2018

This is the time of year not only to celebrate but also remember our blessings. One of the most precious blessing is our own personal mind. It allows us to time travel from the past into the future and back again. It is also the seat of our most pleasant memories.

There have been many posts on aging and how the active use of our minds can allow us to thwart dementia and Alzheimer’s even with the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques.

The common phrase is to use it or lose it, but HM thinks we should all do one step better, and that is to grow it and develop it. One can do this regardless of age. Mental processes can slow down, but that is largely due to the greater amount of information stored in our brains. But we can continue to learn new subjects and skills. We can learn to dance or learn new dances. We can take up new skills such as painting or acting.

Such activities provide for a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. Don’t be a cognitive miser.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. 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.

Going on Hiatus

November 8, 2018

HM will be doing some traveling and burying himself in basic research reported at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.

There is more than a thousand blog posts, so HM should not be missed.

The following website is also strongly recommended

https://centerhealthyminds.org

This blog should resume on Thanksgiving day unless technical problems delay its return.

Are the Republicans Complicit with the Russians?

November 2, 2018

The big question seems to be whether the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians. Conspiracy would be the crime, not collusion. Actually there is a more relevant question, and that is the question posed in the title to this post. Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives was discussing Russia with his fellow Republican congressmen. The Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy expressed the belief that Donald Trump was paid by Russia. Ryan reacted by asking that such suspicions be kept “in the family.” Apparently he thought that an embarrassment within the party was more important than the violation of the sovereignty of the country.

The meeting the heads of the American Intelligence agencies had with Senate majority leader McConnell was reported in a previous healthy memory blog post. McConnell refused to accept what the intelligence agencies were telling him that we were under cyberattack by the Russians. He argued that this was a lie he was being told, that it was entirely political even though these agencies are not political See the Healthymemory blog post “House of TRUMP House of PUTIN” to see the money that McConnell had accepted from the Russians. Republicans have been thwarting the investigations being done by relevant committees in the House and the Senate. Moreover, they are attacking the Department of Justice in exercising its responsibilities as their interest clearly is not in justice, but in protecting Trump.

There is already evidence that Russia is again at work interfering in the mid-term election. And it is also clear that any positive results the Democrats have in the elections will be called fraudulent by Trump. He will charge more false news, a charge he learned from the Russians. So will these charges be resolved and how will they be resolved?

Then there is the Mueller investigation. Will it be stopped by Trump? And even if Mueller has compelling legal charges, will the Republicans still protect Trump?

A previous healthy memory post, the same one cited above based on a book by Craig Unser titled “House of TRUMP House of PUTIN” detailed the large financial dealings of Trump with the Russians. It is clear that both his current wealth and his future wealth is dependent on Russia. How can such a man serve as President? Trump’s interests are in his wealth, not in the country.

Parts based on “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. 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.

Will the United States Become a Kleptocracy?

November 1, 2018

“During the Presidential campaign, Trump asked Americans to remember when America was great: what his supporters had in mind were the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, decades when the gap between the wealthiest and the rest was shrinking. Between 1940 and 1980, the bottom 90% of American earners gained more wealth than the top 1% did. This condition of growing equality was what Americans remember with warmth as the time of American greatness. The welfare state was expanding in the 1950s and the 1960s. Wealth was more evenly distributed, thanks in large part to government policy.”

“Inequality of income and wealth grew drastically from the 1980s through the 2010s. In 1978, the top 0.1% of the population, about 160,00 families, controlled 7% of American wealth. By 2012, the position of this tiny elite was even stronger: it controlled about 22% of American wealth. At the very top the total wealth of the top 0.01%, about 16,000 families, increased by a factor of six over the same period. In 1978 a family in the top 0.01% was about 222 times as rich as the average American family. By 2012, such a family was about 1,120 times richer. Since 1980, 90% of the American population has gained essentially nothing, either in wealth or income, All gains have gone to the top 10%—and within the top 10%, most to top 1%, most to the top 0.1%, and within the top 0.1% most to the top 0.01%.”

“in the 2010s, the United States approached the Russian standard of inequality. Although no American oligarchical clan has yet captured the state, the emergence of such groups in the 2010s (Kochs, Mercers, Trumps, Murdochs) was hard to miss. Just as Russians used American capitalism to consolidate their own power, Americans cooperated with the Russian oligarchy with same purpose—the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, for example. Most likely Trump’s preference for Putin over Obama, was not just a matter of racism or rivalry: it was also an aspiration to be more like Putin, to be in his good graces, to have access to greater wealth. Oligarchy works as a patronage system that dissolves democracy, law, and patriotism, American and Russian oligarchs have far more in common with one another that they do with their own populations. At the top of the wealth ladder, the temptations of the politics of eternity will be much the same in America as in Russia. There is little reason to expect that Americans would behavior better than Russians when place in similar situation.”

HM thinks it would be more accurate to call these oligarchs kleptocrats. Kleptocracy is more accurate than oligarchy since most of this money has been stolen, stolen from the people and given the the precious few. The first post mentioned that the Soviet Union was communistic and regarded as leftist. Indeed, one of the former Kochs founded the John Birch Society to fight communism. The wealthy did not like communism because it took away their wealth. But Russia’s kleptocracy allows them not only to build their wealth, but also to build their influence and power.

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder