Archive for the ‘Mnemonic Techniques’ Category

The Two Causal Reasoners Inside

July 5, 2017

This is the fourth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in that book. Drs. Sloman and Fernbach state that we are engaged in some type of causal reasoning almost all the time, but that not all causal reasoning is the same. Some of it is fast. It’s quick and automatic as when a man concludes that the reason his hand hurts is because he bashed it against the wall. Another type of causal reasoning is when we try to remember the causes of WW I.

This two process distinction goes beyond causal reasoning and can be used for all cognitive processing. Daniel Kahneman formulated this distinction in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” There have been many previous posts on this topic. There are sixty-nine hits using Kahneman in the healthy memory blog search box. Normal conversation, driving, and skilled performance are dominated largely by System 1. System 1 is called intuition. When we have to stop and think about something, that is an example of System 2 processing, which is called reasoning. The psychologist Stanovich breaks down System 2 processing into instrumental and epistemic processing in his efforts to develop a Rational Quotient (RQ) that improves upon the standard IQ.

Professor Shane Frederick has introduced a simple test to determine whether a person is more intuitive or more deliberative. It’s called the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT). Here’s an example problem.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Do you think the answer is 10 cents? If you do, you’re in good company. Most people report that as the answer (including the majority of students in Ivy League colleges). !0 cents pops into almost everyone’s mind. This is the product of System 1 processing. However, if System 2 is engaged, one realizes that if the ball costs 10 cents and the bat costs $1 more than the ball, then the bat costs $1.10 and together they cost $1.20. So 10 cents is the wrong answer. The small proportion of people whose System 2 processes kick in, realize that 10 cents is wrong, and they are able to calculate the correct answer. Frederick refers to such people as reflective, meaning that they tend to suppress their intuitive reasons and deliberate before responding.

Here is another CRT problem.

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it take 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?

The answer 24 comes to most people’s mind. But if the patch doubles in size every day, then if the lake is half covered on day 24, it would be fully covered on day 25. But the problem states that the lake is fully covered on day 48, so 24 can’t be correct. The correct answer is one day before it’s fully covered, day 47.

Here’s another CRT problem.

If it takes 5 machines to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

Try to solve this on your own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The correct answer is 5 minutes (each machine takes 5 minutes to make one widget).

The solution to all three problems requires the invoking of System 2 processing. Less than 20% of the U.S. population gets all three problems correct. This finding might reflect a reluctance to think and might account for many of the problems the United States is facing. About 48% of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) got all three problems correct, but only 26% of Princeton students did.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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 Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged) 2

July 2, 2017

If you have not read the immediately preceding post, please scroll down and read it. The immediate post presents HM’s thoughts about how the need to use knowledge from fellow humans fails. A good example of this can be found in the current debates about the Affordable Care Act and its replacement. Although the Affordable Care Act is flawed, information from fellow humans who have successfully dealt with this problem is being ignored.

The United States has the most expensive healthcare costs in the world, but results characteristic of a third world country. And it is the only advanced country that does not have a single payer system in which the single payer is the government. This progression did not happen all at once. It began in England after WW II and variants of it were gradually adopted over time by advanced countries with the notable exception of the United States.

How can this be explained? It can be explained most simply in one word, “beliefs.” In this case, the belief in free markets. Free markets are good, but what is frequently forgotten is that free markets do not remain free, they are manipulated and require government intervention to disrupt the development of monopolies. Moreover, free markets are not universally applicable. Economists have effectively argued that free markets are not appropriate for medical care.

However, even if one believed in the viability of free markets for medical care, how can they ignore the success of single payer systems in the developed world? The problem is that beliefs stymy new and creative thinking and using knowledge from knowledgeable people. New beliefs require thinking and thinking requires mental effort, which many people find uncomfortable.

Then there is the faux “Fair and Balanced” news. When the Affordable Care Act was being proposed, “Fair and Balanced” news featured an English Woman who had a complaint about a surgical procedure she had undergone. This woman was livid about this presentation on “Fair and Balanced” news. Although she had complaints about this one procedure, she was highly enthusiastic about the national health system in Britain. Moreover, none of the countries who have adopted a single payer system in which the single payer is the government have abandoned these programs. It should be noted that in the United States Medicare is a single payer system that works quite well. However, Medicare covers only a certain percentage of costs, so supplemental insurance is prudent.

So beliefs can thwart change and innovation. But not all beliefs are necessarily bad. Consider religion, particularly religions for which the medical suffering of fellow human beings is important. One would think that in the United States where such religious beliefs are widespread, medical care would be among the best, not the worst. What apparently happens here is compartmentalization. These religious beliefs are thwarted by beliefs about government and the supremacy of market forces. The result of this compartmentalization is that the health and finances of fellow citizens suffer.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Passing 71

May 6, 2017

Meaning that today I am entering my 72nd year.  Time appears to be flying by at an increasingly faster rate.  Unfortunately, this is the best time of my life, so I really wish it were not flying by so fast.  When I retired I told people that it was the happiest time of my life since I was five years old.  I am eternally grateful to my parents for keeping me out of organized activities until I entered school in the first grade.  But from then on, I was continuously occupied with education, the military, more education, and then professional activities.

Now I am a free man.  I sleep until I wake up and find that my time is my own.  If I did not have growth activities, along with meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, dementia would likely be setting it.  But I stay cognitively active.  I do a great deal of reading and some writing.  Unfortunately, there is not enough time to read all the interesting and important things to read.  I do indeed have a growth mindset.

I also do a great deal of walking, much of it with my wife.  And at times I do engage in the walking meditations in nature I wrote about in the preceding post.

I stay in touch with friends.

I meditate daily; sometimes several times a day.  And I tend to slip into a meditative state when I am forced to wait.  I try to spend as much time as I can fostering a healthy memory.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston.  Shortly after we return we’ll be off again on a tour of National Parks.  In August we’ll be taking a cruise out of Amsterdam, with port calls in Scotland, Norway, and Iceland.  This is an Insight Cruise with lectures in physics and anthropology.

I engage in ikigai, the Japanese term for the activities in Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose.”  My purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with my wife, is to learn and share my thoughts and knowledge with others.  That is the purpose of this blog, and at some time in the future a book or books might be in the offing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Freud and Repression

February 3, 2017

The psychotherapists  who did the inadvertent memory hacking reported in the immediately preceding post where either Freudians or strongly of the Freudian persuasion.  Freud thought that many mental problems were due to repressed memories of childhood abuse.  Freud was correct in pointing to not only the existence but also the importance of the subconscious mind.  The brain is constantly active, with only a small percentage of this activity reaching conscious awareness.  But Freud’s repressed traumas are not buried there.

Freud was a brilliant creative individual, but he was no scientist.  After 12 years of Freud being nominated for the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Prize Committee hired an expert to inquire into his work.  The expert came to the conclusion that “Freud’s work was of no proven scientific value.”

So not only was Freud’s work of no scientific value, his influence on psychotherapists resulted in a nightmare of false accusations of childhood abuse.  So be aware of this when there are reports of childhood sexual abuse (although it certainly does occur, children must be interviewed carefully to assure that false memories are not hacked into their brains).  And should you find yourself in therapy and the therapist suggests probing your mind for repressed memories, you should seriously consider changing therapists..

There is no such thing as false memory “syndrome.”  Although false memories are an omnipresent problem, there is no syndrome.  In 2015, out of 325 cases where modern DNA testing proved innocence beyond reasonable doubt, 235 cases involved eyewitness misidentification.  So false memories play an absolutely critical role in the imprisonment of the innocent.  Human memory is fallible, people are overconfident not only in their own memories, but also in the memories of others.  But this is do to normal memory processes.  There is no “syndrome.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic

December 26, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed there is a stupidity pandemic.  It’s a pandemic because it rages throughout the world.  Perhaps the most conspicuous example are the religious wars.  These wars are several centuries out of date.  Terrorism is a religious war being largely fought within the Islamic faith with some terrorists groups targeting the west.  Then there is Brexit, a phenomenon that was not predicted by professional politicians.  In general there is lack of faith in what is called the “establishment” and in bodies of knowledge such as science.

In the United States there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  When Trump began his campaign it was regarded as a joke and was quite funny.  It is still a joke, but one that is no longer funny.  If every vote had counted in the United States, the Trump problem would not exist.  But an archaic and stupid institution called the electoral college elected Trump, therefore nullifying the will of the majority of US citizens.

So what has Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman have to do with this?  His two process theory of human cognition provides a means of understanding this pandemic.  System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

Experiments have been run where statements are presented to the research participant.  The brain is monitored.  When a statement conflicts with a participant’s individual beliefs, a signature is reported from the brain.  The question is whether this statement will be ignored, or whether the participant engages in deeper thought to reconsider this statement.  There is a cognitive cost here and the simplest reaction is to ignore the statement and regard it as a mistaken belief.

Trump’s  victory was a victory for System 1 processing.  System 1 appeals to fears, emotions, bigotry, and so forth.  Trump is a genius at connecting with and exploiting the System 1 processes of people.  Trump himself rarely uses System 2 processing.  He does not read books, does not think he needs to attend briefings because he knows everything already.  His gut, his System 1 processing, tells him what is true.  However, Trump does not care what is true.  It is whatever he believes at the moment, and this does change from moment to moment.  This is one of the reasons he is such an effective liar.  He does not care what is true.  It is whatever is expedient for the moment.  When confronted with his lies, he denies the truth.  His promise to make America great again was predicated on the lie that the United States is not regarded throughout the world as a great country.  Enemies dislike the politics of Americans, but nevertheless respect its greatness.

Totalitarian countries have exploited the big lie, and so does Trump.  See the healthy memory blog “Sick Memory.”  Lying has become a profitable industry.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the 21 December 2016 Washington Post title “Hoping that he didn’t really mean it.”  Milbank pointed out that many areas of the country that went for Trump will suffer deeply from cuts in government spending that will occur if Trump acts on his promises.  The title of Milbank’s article provides the explanation of how these voters reconcile their vote with the adverse effects that will affect them personally.
It is clear that these people did not employ System 2 processing when they voted.  There is justification for believing that these people rarely engaging in System 2 processing.  Like Trump, they go with their gut feelings.  Unfortunately, there is some question if such people will ever realize that they have screwed themselves.  Trump can continue to exploit their fears and bigotry to keep them in line.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

A Good Reference on Meditation

June 18, 2016

That reference would be “How to Meditate” by Kathleen McDonald.  Should one be interested in learning more about the meditation techniques employed by the Buddhist Monks that were discussed in the post “Transforming the Emotional Mind,”  then this reference is highly recommended.  Many of the benefits from meditation can be gained just by practicing the relaxation response (see the healthy memory blog post, “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update”).  Moreover, the time demands for this type of meditation are quite reasonable.

Kathleen McDonald was born in California in 1952.  In 1973 she took her first courses in Buddhist meditation in Dharmsala, India.  Dharmsala is where the Dalai Lama resides since his exile from Tibet.  She was ordained  as a Tibetan, Buddhist in 1974.  In 1978 she moved to England to continue her higher Buddhist studies, and in 1982 helped establish the FPMT’s Dorje Pamo Monastery for Buddhist nuns in France.  From 1985 until 1987 she taught in Australia, then for a year in Nepal, followed by eleven years as resident teacher at FPMT’s Amitabh Buddhist Center in Singapore.  Since 2000 she has been teaching around the world, taking a break in mid-2005 for a year’s solitary retreat in Spain.

Ms. McDonald writes concisely and is easily understood.  She does not proselytize.  Instead she shows how other religious beliefs can be incorporated into meditations. The information provided about Buddhism is in the context of how to do the different types of meditation.

Healthy Memory is not a Buddhist, but he finds many of the ideas and practices of Buddhism promote a healthy memory.  Unlike some religions, which are anti-science and preach against evolution of global warming, the Dalai Lama’s Buddhism is pro-science and incorporates scientific findings rather than rejecting them.

Can Your Imagination Make You a Better Athlete?

March 22, 2016

This post is based largely on portions of the third chapter in Elixir J. Sternberg’s Book “Neurologic and the Brain’s idea Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior.” The title of this post is the title of Chapter 3.  The Chapter begins with a quote from the famous golfer Bobby Jones, “Golf is a game played on a five-inch course—the distance between your ears.

Let me remind you of the role of memory.  Memory serves as a source of information to help you plan for and execute actions in the future.  One of the functions of memory is to serve as a mental simulator.  We can simulate the outcomes of different course of action.  We can also simulate, mentally practice, actions for athletic performances.

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are two more famous golfers for whom mental practice was central to their preparation for tournaments.  Of course mental practice is not restricted to golf.  Steve Backley was the javelin thrower  who won the bronze medal  in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.  Just months before the 1996 games in Atlanta, he sprained his ankle.  He was unable to walk and needed crutches to walk for six weeks and was not able to train physically.  However, he was able to prepare mentally.  Barkley sat in a chair and closed his eyes and began a grueling workout in his mind.  He imagined the javelin in his hand and felt his fingers curl around the cool metal shaft.  He imagined using perfect throwing form, tensing his muscles as he released the javelin on a high-arching path.  He watched as it sailed into the distance, looking like a pin as it reached its peak, and came careening down as gravity thrust the spear into the earth.  When he recovered from his ankle injury, after one thousand imaginary throws, he found that he had not lost any ground in his preparation.  His throws were just as good as they were before he hurt his ankle.  He improved over his bronze performance in the 1992 Olympics and won silver in Atlanta.  Michael Jordan and Roger Federer are two more outstanding athletes who practice mentally.

Research has been done on this mental simulator.  When asked to imagine a particular course of action, say getting some food from the refrigerator, the mental simulation of the activity takes about the same time as the actual performance of the act.

Neurologists ran an experiment to compare the brain activity of people while they engaged in real versus imagined movements.  Participants faced a set of four numbered buttons and practiced pressing them according to a sequence:  4,2,3,1,3,4,2.  Their brain activity was recorded as their fingers pushed the buttons.  They then placed their hands in their laps and just imagined pressing the buttons in the same order.  When these two activation patterns were compared, they overlapped most notably in the area of the motor cortex that controls finger movements.  Mentally picturing finger movements triggered an fMRI signal that was nearly indistinguishable from the signal observed during actual finger movements.

Another experiment used three groups in a task in which cards were to be pointed to in defined numerically sequences.  One group performed this task physically.  A second group performed this task mentally.  A third group served as the control group.  When the actual performance of the groups was tested, the mental practice group performed almost as well as the physical practice group, and both groups clearly outperformed the control group.

Mental rehearsal can not only benefit physical performance, it can also enhance physical strength.   Dr, Guang Yue had participants imagine flexing one of their elbows and pinky finger  for fifteen minutes a day for five days a week.  After twelve weeks the strength of their muscle contractions had increased by 13.5% in the elbow and 35% in their little fingers.  For comparison physical practice for the same time period enhanced muscle strength by about 50%.  Of course,  participants who did not practice showed no improvement.

Some might be incredulous that mental practice could enhance physical strength.  Yue observed the brain waves that appeared in the motor cortex before, during, and after the practice sessions.  Yue’s hypothesis was that mentally rehearsing a motor act would amplify the signal voltage that reached the muscle cells, causing them to contract more intensely.  His hypothesis was correct.

Sports scientists Paul Holmes and David Collins propose a seven-point mental imagery program for athletes using the acronym PETTLEP.  Here’s what is stands for

Physical—mentally simulate every movement necessary for the activity.
Envionment—Imagine the environment and the sounds from the spectators.
Task—Imagine not only the task, but the objective of the task.
Timing—Simulate the time it would take to complete the act
Learning—Adjust the imagery as you improve to reflect you progress.
Emotion—Feel the big moment, the pangs of nervousness, your heart racing.
Perspective—Experience the imagery in the first person.

Mental rehearsal has been tried for people recovering from strokes.  It does not work if the parts of the brain involved in the rehearsal have been damaged.  However, if the relevant parts of the brain have suffered minimal or no damage, then mental rehearsal should work.

An Update of the Relaxation Response Update

November 29, 2015

Recently there was a heathymemory blog update of a 2009 post on the “Relaxation Response.”  The occasion of this was a review of a 25th anniversary publication for the original 1975 book.  The current posts are on the publication of the “Relaxation Revolution” by Herbert Benson, MD and William Proctor JD, which was published in 2010.  So please bear with me as I am coming up to date.

Dr.Benson’s finding of the relaxation response, which produced a response exactly opposite to the fight or flight response.  The fight or flight response produces stress, and the relaxation response relieves  this stress as indicated by the physiologic effects of reduced blood pressure, metabolism, heart and respiratory rates.  The most recent research shows that the relaxation response can beneficially effect the expression of genes.  There will be a special post on the research regarding gene expression.  Research on the relaxation response has added a third treatment option to the standard treatments of medication and surgery.

The Benson-Henry Protocol is divided into two phases.  Phase One is the Relaxation Response Trigger.
Step 1:  Pick a focus word, phrase, image, or short prayer.  Or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
Step 2:  Find a quiet place and sit calmly in a comfortable position.
Step 3:  Close your eyes.
Step 4:  Progressively relax all your muscles.
Step 5:   Breathe slowly and naturally.
Step 6:   Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts intrude, simply think, “Oh,             well,” and return to your focus.
Step 7:  Continue with this exercise for an average of12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Optional relaxation response exercises will be discussed later in this post.  My personal observations can be found in my post, “Personal Observations on Meditation Techniques in General and the Relaxation Response in Particular.”

The following Important Note is included at the end of Phase One.  “To ensure beneficial effects (to be described in the next healthy memory post0 Phase One should be practice daily for at least eight weeks.  For the maximal genetic effect as established by practiced many years.”

Phase Two involves visualization

“Use mental imagery, such as picturing a peaceful scene in which you are free of your medical condition, to engage healing expectation, belief, and memory.  This second phase will usual require an average of 8 to 10 minutes.  So the total time for Phases One and Two will be 20 to 25 minutes per session.”

Other Relaxation Response Exercises are discussed.  To be effective they all need to include the following three components:

A mental focusing device that will help you break the patter of everyday thoughts and concerns.  The device can involve words, images, or physical actions such as breathing or footsteps.
A passive, “oh well”  attitude toward distracting thoughts.  If distracting thoughts, including everyday worries or concerns, take over your mind during the exercise, the physiologic effects of the relaxation response might not occur.
Sufficient time—at least 12 to 15 consecutive minutes per practice session—to allow the requisite physiologic changes to occur.

The following suggestions, which are not claimed to be exhaustive, are regarded as additional ways to generate the relaxation response.

Repetitive aerobic exercise
Eastern meditative exercises
Repetitive prayer
Progressive muscle relaxation
Playing a musical instrument or singing
Listening to music
Engaging in a task that requires “mindless” repetitive movements
“ Natural triggers”

“These alternative techniques are discussed in detail in the book.

Here is how you can measure your success in eliciting the Relaxation Response

If you feel more relaxed after you finish a Phase One Session, the technique is working.

If the symptoms you experience diminish or disappear, even momentarily, during or immediately after a session, the technique is working.

If your symptoms diminish with a week or two, the technique is working.

If you feel that the stressors in your life bother you less now than they did within you started this mind body treatment process. the technique is working.

If you feel that you are more in control of your life now than when you started, the technique is working.

If you are observing the basic guidelines for eliciting the relaxation response, you can rest assured, in light of the extensive scientific studies, that the technique is working—no matter how you might feel on a day-to-day basis”

More detailed guidance is provided for the following conditions:
Angina Pectoris
Anxiety
Depression
Hypertension
Stress-Related Infertility
Insomnia
Menopausal, Perimenopausal, and Breast Cancer Hot Flashes
Nausea
Pain-General
Pain-Variations
Parkinson’s Disease
Phobias
Premature aging
Premature Ventricular Contractions and Palpitations
Premenstrual Syndrome

Dr, Benson writes that these treatments are only the beginning.  Being a physician he advises against self-treatment and for treatments under the guidance of a physician.

The Two Step Process

November 6, 2015

Dr. Benson has been conducting research with the Dalai Lama since 1979.  The Dalai Lamai  is very much interested in science and engineering.  If it were not for his position as His Holiness for Tibetan  Monks, he says that he would have preferred to become an engineer.

Tibetan monks have taken the potential of meditation to the extreme.  In one study monks dressed in nothing but small loincloths are draped in wet sheets while exposed to near-freezing temperatures.  Because these monks had developed amazing physiological control over years of practicing this type of heat-producing meditation, they experienced no distress in these conditions.  Within minutes the body temperatures they produced steamed and dried the wet, cold sheets.

Of course, these results were not obtained by the monks meditating for 20 minutes twice a day.  Meditation for many hours over many years is needed to obtain these results.  But they do demonstrate the control the mind can have over the body.

Usually a precaution is given that motivation should not be involved when meditating.  That is, no goals are to be achieved.  Noting this and noting the performance of these Tibetan Monks Dr. Benson developed the two-step process.  First the Relaxation Response is invoked.  Then, when the mind is quiet, when focusing has opened a door to your mind, visualize an outcome that is meaningful.  If you want to eliminate a pain, envision yourself without the pain.  If you want t improve your performance in a particular venue, imagine yourself performing well in these venues.  According to Dr. Benson, “Whatever your goal, these two steps can be powerful, allowing anyone to reap  the benefits of the Relaxation Response and take advantage of a quiet mind to rewire thoughts and actions in desired directions.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Relaxation Response Update

October 31, 2015

There was an earlier (2009) healthy memory blog post titled “The Relaxation Response.  The first book on the relaxation response was published in 1975.  A  25th anniversary of the publication of the first book was published with the same title by Herbert Benson, M.D. with Mirian K. Zipper.  Back in 1975 it was revolutionary to believe that the mind played a role in practical medicine.  The book was an instant hit and started inroads into the role of the mind in practical medicine.  By 2015 mindfulness loomed large.

I believe that the relaxation response is the easiest of all meditation techniques.  It is based on Transcendental Meditation, although the secret meditation word provided to TM initiates is not provided.  Everyone can provide their own word or object.

The relaxation response can be invoked with any of a number of techniques:  yoga or qiqong, walking or swimming, even knitting or rowing.  Prayer and religious meditative practices also work.  Although meditation and mindfulness are usually thought of in the context of Buddhism and Hinduism, it has also been central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The book provides many examples of how meditation was used to known practitioners throughout these religions.

According to Dr. Benson, “Here is a list of conditions that, to the extent caused or affected by mind/body connections  (such as stress and the fight-or-flight response), can be significantly improved or even cured when self-care techniques are employed:
angina pectoris
cardiac arryhythmias
allergic skin reactions
anxiety
bronchial asthma
herpes simplex (cold sores)
cough
constipation
diabetes mellitus
duodenal ulcers
dizziness
fatigue
hypertension
infertility
insomnia
nausea and vomiting during pregnancy
nervousness
all forms of pain—backaches, headaches, abdominal pain, muscle pain, joint aches, postoperative pain, neck, arm, and leg pain
postoperative swelling
premenstrual syndrome
rheumatoid arthritis,
side effects of cancer
side effects of aids
Being a physician, Dr. Benson is careful to caution against self-treatment, advising that self-treatment be undertaken under the care of a physician.  Should your physician find these techniques objectionable, I would advise finding another physician who has successfully made way into the 21st Century.

Techniques for inducing the relaxation response were provided in the original healthy memory post.  Here is a set of updated instructions:
Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system.
Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes.
Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
Breather slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.
Assume a passive attitude.  don’t worry about how well you’re doing.  When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, “Oh well,” and gently return to your repetition.
Continue for ten to twenty minutes.
Do not stand immediately.  Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return.  Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.
Practice the technique once or twice daily.  Good times to do so are before breakfast and after dinner.
He advises against doing meditation right after eating.  Apparently digestive processes interfere with meditative processes.

This list can be regarded as the ideal.  Dr. Benson notes that the Relaxation Response can also be elicited while exercising.  He writes that if you are jogging or walking to pay attention to the cadence of our feet on the ground—“left, right, left right”—and when other thoughts come into our minds, say “Oh, well,” and return to “left, right, left right.  Swimmers can pay attention to the tempo of their strokes, cyclists to the whir of the wheels,  dancers to the best of the music, others to the rhythm of their breathing.

In a subsequent post I’ll provide my own personal observations on meditating.

The Future of Technology and the Future of Terrorism

October 10, 2015

These topics are addressed in The New Digital Age:  Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives, a book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.  Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., is the executive chairman of Google.  He has a long history in the technology field.  Jared Cohen is the founder and director of Google Ideas.  He is a Rhodes Scholar and the author of two books, Children of Jihad and One Hundred Days of Silence.  From 2006 to 2010 he served as a member of the secretary of state’s Policy Planning Staff and as a close advisor to both Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.  He is now an adjunct senior fellow and the Council of Foreign Relations.  So it is clear that these gentlemen are experts in the areas of which they write.  Moreover, they are widely traveled, having been to both war torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, in Afghanistan they learned of an entire village that revolted against the Taliban when the extremist group tried to seize their phones.  In Kenya, they visited Maasi nomads in Loodariak who live without electricity or running water, but carry, along with their swords, mobile devices that they use to pay for items at the market.  In North Korea, citizens risk imprisonment in the gulags and in some cases death, which can also be applied to three generations of relatives, in order to obtain smuggled phones and tablets and make extremely risking trips to the Chinese border just to capture a signal.

There is simply too much material here to even attempt to summarize.   Descriptions by the experts on the development of technology can certainly be regarded as authoritative.  There are chapters on Our Future Selves, The Future of Identity, Citizenship, and Reporting, the Future of States, the Future of Revolution, the Future of Terrorism, the future of Conflict, Combat, and Intervention.  If one is prone to worrying, you might want to reconsider reading this book, for there is much to worry about, many nightmare scenarios.  Nevertheless , the discussion of cyberwarfare are detailed and informative.

Central to the discussion of terrorism is the question of what makes a person a terrorist? How can terrorism be fought?  General Stanley McChrystal draws on his experience from commanding troops against terrorist offers these suggestions.  “What defeats terrorism is really two things.  It’s the rule of law and then it’s opportunity for people.”  Young people need to be provide with context-rich alternatives and distractions that keep they from pursuing extremism.  Outsiders do not need to provide content, they just need to create the space.”

I think highly of the general’s ideas and recommendations.  However, I don’t think they provide a complete solution.  The terrorists who flew planes into the Trade Towers and the Pentagon were well educated and well off.  They had opportunity and context-rich alternatives.  These people need to be addressed at another level with helpful narratives to replace their distorted versions of reality.

The authors do identify the Achilles Heel of Terrorism, and that is technology itself.  To remain hidden, Osama bin Laden had to remain off-line to avoid capture.  But when he was captured his flash drives and hard drives contained a trove of information to fight the terrorists.

The authors remain optimistic.  They are especially optimistic about the future of reconstruction.  So once disasters or attacks strike, if communications technology is set up enough has bee learned about receiving from these disasters that recovery, if done right, can be done with increasing efficiency.

The authors note that there are physical and virtual civilizations.  Thy note that their case for optimism lies not in sci-fi gadgets or holograms, but in the check that technology and connectivity bring against the abuse, suffering, and distraction in our lives.

I hope the authors are correct, and they certainly know more than I do.  But there remains the potential of technology to be used by totalitarian regimes to control and abuse their populations.  RFID chips could be implanted in people so that their locations would always be known, and other technology could provide information on their activities.  So, I hope the authors are correct and that technology will be used for good rather than evil.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

BABES: New Hope for Alzheimer’s

July 15, 2015

BABES, which stands for Beating Alzheimer’s By Embracing Science (BABES), is an organization founded by a registered nurse, Jamie Tyrone, who found out that she carries a gene that gives her a 91% chance of developing Alzheimer’s around age 65.  This account is taken from an article in the July 5th Washington Post by Franklin Kunkle title “Alzheimer’s spurs the fearful to change their lives to delay it.”

Jamie decided to fight back.  She exercised.  She changed her diet.  She began taking nutritional supplements, including fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin B12, curcumin, turmeric, and an antioxidant called CoQ10.  She started meditating and working mind-bending puzzles, such as Brain HQ.  She joined a health clinic whose regimen is shaped by a UCLA medical study on lifestyle changes that can reverse memory loss in people with symptoms of dementia.  And she started the nonprofit group BABES, to raise money and awareness about dementia.  I hope this money will also be used for assessing and documenting the effectiveness of these practices.

A Harris Poll found that worries about Alzheimer’s crosses all generations;  more than 75% of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers worry about what will happen to their memory as they age.  It would have been interesting to find out what these individuals are doing about it.  Just worrying?  Hoping that a drug will be found to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s?  Or taking action such as advocated by BABES and the healthy memory blog.?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s, and as the population ages, the number of cases is expected to increase to 13.5 million by 2050.  The risks for Alzheimer’s  can also be overstated, especially for early onset forms of dementia.  Unless one has a genetic predisposition, Alzheimer.s strikes the majority of people after they reach the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  A history of high bloom pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, or cardiovascular problems increases the risk of  dementia.

The article notes that aging itself is the biggest risk factor:  the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s  or another form of dementia.  Although this is true, the fundamental question is why aging is a risk factor.  True, there is neurological decline, but is this a factor?  A significant fact not mentioned in the article is that there have been autopsies of people who exhibited no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, yet whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that provide the definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

I think a more significant fact is that are activity levels, both cognitive and physical, tend to decline as we age.  It is likely that these are primary factors in dementia.  Programs such as BABES and activities such as those recommended in the healthymemory blog are likely preventive.   They foster both mental and physical activity. The Washington Post article hopes that these activities will likely delay but not necessarily prevent Alzheimer’s.  This is a guarded scientific statement.  In life there are no guarantees.  Yet many manage to pass away before suffering from demential.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”   This is the title of a book whose is author was a researcher who was reaping large financial rewards looking for drug treatments to fend of the amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles.  He came to the conclusion that these research efforts were futile, that although there was dementia, and he is conducting research on coping with dementia, Alzheimer’s is not a disease.  It should also be realized that Alois Alzheimer, after whom the disease is named, was never convinced that it was a disease.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Redirecting Personal Narratives

July 9, 2015

This is the third post that reviews Wilson’s new book REDIRECT.  First of all it it important to realize that we all have personal narratives.  We might not even realize that we have them, but basically they are stories that inform us what we think about things, people, and most importantly, ourselves.  Consider a student preparing to take an exam.  This student thinks she is smart and expects to do well on the examination.  But supposes she fails the examination.  Then what becomes of her personal narrative.  She might decide that she was really wrong about herself and that actually she is stupid.  She might even drop out of school.  But suppose she decides that she did not study hard enough.  So now she can still think of herself as being smart, but as being a smart person who needs to study more and work harder.  So there are two ways of redirecting her personal narrative.  One that informs her to give up.  And the other that informs her to study more and work harder.

This approach began with the theorizing of Kurt Lewin, who helped found the field of social psychology in the 1930s and 1940s.  Lewin thought that to understand why people do what they do we have to view he world through their eyes and understand how they make sense of things.  Moreover, he had the radical insight that not only do we need to view a problem through other people’s eyes, we can also change they way they view i through relatively simple interventions.

New generations of social psychologists have refined Lewin’s ideas into an approach that Wilson calls story editing.  Storing editing is a set of techniques designed to redirect people’s narratives about themselves and the social world in a way that leads to lasting changes in behavior.  There are core narratives that help people understand some of the most basic questions in life.  At other times, people’s quick initial spin on events, such as the interpretation of the reason for failing a test that was described earlier, is changed.  Story editing in its simplest form induces people to make sense of an event that has gotten under their skin.  This is what Pennebaker’s writing exercise accomplishes (see previous post). This writing techniques is not a magic cure for all psychological problems.  Sometimes we can’t construct a coherent narrative on our own, and in such cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy is specifically designed to teach people how to turn negative thinking patterns into healthier ones.  But the writing technique has proved to be remarkable beneficial for people with a wide range of traumatic experiences.

Sometimes the goal is to provide people with a better interpretation of their  behavior, by spoon feeding them. For example  labeling children as “helpful people” encourages them to internalize this view of themselves.  Research has shown that  having this in their personal narrative has many beneficial effects.  The majority of the book shows how this approach works in a wide range of areas.  All of the research is based on sound experimental methods.  As was shown in the previous post, approaches that are highly appealing, do not necessarily work, and can have adverse consequences.   And this research must be based on actual behavior.  Asking people if it works, does not work.  Wilson has a section under the Testing chapter titled, Don’t Ask, Can’t Tell.

Making Working Memory Work for Older Adults

October 25, 2014

This blog post is taken from the article in Psychological Science (8 October 2014 DOI: 10.1177/095679761458725) by Julia Karbach and Paul Verhaeghen titled “Making Working Memory Work: A Meta-Analysis of Executive-Control and Working Memory Training in Older Adults.” It examined the effects of process-based executive-function and working memory training in older adults (>60 years). This analysis included 49 articles and 61 independent samples. This is an extremely important article for a couple of reasons. Weaknesses in the cognitive performance of older adults have been localized to fluid intelligence, the activities that involve executive control and working memory. As we know from the healthymemory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline” the crystalized intelligence of older adults holds steady and even grows. The sometimes apparent slowness in recall and the difficulty in recalling certain items is due to the enormous amount of information that has accumulated in memory. Most, if not all, of those memories are available if not accessible and will pop into memory at some later time.

The second reason that this article is so important is that it is a meta-analysis of the relevant literature. A meta-analysis is a review and synthesis of the research. And it is the most impressive meta-analysis I have every read. It uses a sophisticated quantitative methodology, one that circumvents the problems noted in the healthymemory blog post, “Most Published Research Findings are False.” This meta-analysis can be regarded as a Gold Standard for meta-analyses.

So the conclusion is clear that these interventions do improve cognitive functions in the aging brain. Moreover, older people benefit just as much as younger people. Previously found age differentials do not maintain.

As an item for future research the authors argue that follow-up research should address the question as to whether the benefits of these interventions will hold over time. Frankly I find this question to be naive and unnecessary. The answer depends on whether these individuals continue to exercise their capabilities after the formal training ends. If someone takes golfing lessons and then does not play golf, would it be surprising if golfing skill declined? If someone learns to play a musical instrument and then no longer plays once the lessons have stopped, would it not be expected that performance on the instrument would decline. So the answer to the questions depends on whether the individual continues to be cognitively engaged and continues to engage in effortful learning (see the healthymemory blog post “The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive.”

This is the constant theme of the healthymemory blog. Stay both cognitively and socially engaged and continue to learn till the very end.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Mindfulness As Continuous Process Improvement

July 12, 2014

Mindfulness is not just a matter of meditating on a regular schedule. Mindfulness is something we should practice whenever we are conscious. When we awake at night, we should monitor our thoughts. Are they negative? Are we having hostile thoughts about others? Are we ruminating on the mistakes we have made? Reviewing mistakes we have made is good if we can learn from them. But once we have learned from them, they should be discarded. We should not keep thinking thoughts about matters we can do nothing about. Of course during our waking hours our minds can become quite busy. Here it is good to remember the acronym from the healthymemory blog “A Simple Tip to Spark Mindfulness. That acronym is STOP

SStop. Simply pause from what you are doing.

T –Take a few slow, deep, breaths with awareness and tune in.

OObserve and curiously notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

P –Proceed with whatever you were doing with awareness and kindness.

Being busy we can find it difficult to find time to meditate. Research is currently underway to see how little meditation might be helpful as well as the benefits of doing frequent short periods of meditation throughout the day. Although I am interested in this research, I think each one of us should decide for ourselves. Remember the healthymemory blog post, “Randomized Control Trials, Mindfulness, and Meditation,”your personal results might be idosyncratic to yourself. So a general failure to find benefits for a general population might not apply to you. You can sense what is working.

Research done in memory and training has found that distributed practice is generally superior to massed practice. That is if you are going to spend four hours practicing something, it is better to have four spaced one hour sessions that to do the practicing in one four hour block. I would no be surprised if a similar result was found for meditation. And there might be different results for different types of medication.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 Seven Da Vincian Principles

July 2, 2014

According to Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci these are the seven principles Da Vinci used for guiding his thinking and life.The names of the principles are in Da Vinci’s native Italian.

Curiosita – An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Dimostrazione – A Commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Sensazione – The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Sfumato (literally “Going up in Smoke”)– A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

Arte/Scienza – The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination.
“Whole-brain” thinking.

Corporilita – The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.

Connessione – A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

Gelb goes into detail for each of these principles. He first documents how Da Vinci applied the principles to his own life. Then he provides exercises for developing each of these principles. There are also checklists for each of the principles, and advice to parents as to how to instruct children in them.

Needless to say, all these principles serve to benefit cognition, life, and most certainly a healthy memory. The problem is that there is so much that can be done. So we do what we can. We should most definitely benefit.

Also included in How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci is “The Beginner’s Da Vinci Drawing Course.”

A Neurocognitive Framework for Ameliorating Cognitive Aging

May 31, 2014

This post is taken from a chapter with the same name, “Ameliorating Cognitive Aging:  A Neurocognitive Framework”  in the book Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind  by Greenwood and Parasuraman.  Brain aging needs to be dealt with.  There is cortical shrinkage and there are white matter changes.  The shrinkage and white matter changes have a small effect on cognitive performance.  Neurotransmitter  dysfunction is a matter of more concern.  Then there are genetic factors.  First of all there is the genotype, then the gene expression from this genotype.  Although some individuals suffer from a genetic predisposition to dementia, these are not deterministic, but rather predispositions.  That is, given such and such experiences or external factors, the likelihood of dementia increases.  Then there are epigenetics, which determine how the genes are actuated.  Epigenetics are affected  by lifestyle and experiential factors such that favorable factors can enhance the probability of favorable genetic readouts.

Turning to the lifestyle and experiential factors, education, exercise, diet, learning and training, and combinations of these factors enhance the likelihood of good cognitive performance throughout one’s lifespan.   More details on these individual factors will be provided in subsequent healthymemory blog posts.

Then there is the matter of neuronal plasticity that includes neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, dendritic arborization, and network reorganization.   An example of network reorganization is the greater use of both hemispheres as we age.  When I was a graduate student I was taught that our nervous system was fixed and could not be modified when damaged or was damaged to aging.  Fortunately, what I was taught as a graduate student has been found to be woefully in error.  These processes can occur well into old age.  But they need to be activated by new learning and experiences for them to occur.

Next there is cognitive plasticity.  Top-down processing strategies can be used to make better use of our accumulated knowledge.  Then there are our well-developed prefrontal lobes for effective executive functioning.

I have often written of the importance of building a cognitive reserve.  Although advice was provided as to how to build one’s cognitive reserve, Greenwood and Parasuraman have provided the first neurocognitive framework to explain how this occurs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 Wheel of Awareness

May 10, 2014

The Wheel of Awareness can be found in Dr. Dan Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal NeuroBiology.  The purpose of this wheel of awareness is to provide a map to guide meditation.  This map was developed by Dr. Siegel to guide meditation independent of any specific religious practice.    At the center of this hub is the awareness of the meditator.  There are four spokes going out of the hub to the rim of the wheel.  One goes out to exteroception, the awareness of external inputs to our five senses..  The second spoke goes out to interoception, the awareness of feelings internal to our bodies.   The third spoke goes out to mental activity.  The fourth spoke goes out to interpersonal relationships.  The purpose of the wheel is to guide awareness  so that important issues are not bypassed or overlooked.
So the meditator can place awareness on  each of the five senses and try to be consciously aware of everything on each sense to the exclusion of everything else.  There is an exercise that can be done with a raisin.  First the raisin is examined visually.  Then the raisin is felt, perhaps with the eyes closed.  Then the raisin is sniffed.  Next the raisin is placed in the mouth.  In addition to tasting the raisin, the texture of the raisin would be felt.  Finally, when the raisin is swallowed, it’s progress down the alimentary canal would be followed.
Now for interoception the focus is on one’s internal bodily feelings.  That is, how does one feel internally?  Any complaints from vital organs, muscles, or nerves?
Mental activity covers a lot of ground.  What thoughts are coming to mind and why.  Here is where one thinks about one’s own thinking.  One question is whether I am thinking when I say or do certain things, or are these automatic responses from my System 1 processes (Kahneman).  Are there biases  in my thinking of which I am unaware?
The fourth spoke is concerned with interpersonal relationships.  How are they going?   If there are problems, they can be pondered for understanding and possible solutions.
Dr. Siegel says that this is about a twenty minute practice, and if time is a constraint, perhaps it can be divided into five minutes per spoke done on consecutive days.
As the hub becomes stronger with individual practice we can imagine that part of the neural correlate of the hub, the middle prefrontal region, also becomes synaptically enhanced as well.   One when becomes advanced meditating with the wheel the person can focus a spoke back on the hub as well.  “Bending the spoke, in the mind’s eye, back towards the hub enables people to experience first hand what direct awareness of awareness itself feels like1.
Information and exercises on the Wheel of Awareness, along with other resources can be found on Dr. Siegel’s website, http://www.drdsiegel.com.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS)

April 19, 2014

This post is based largely on entry point 25 (Time-In and Mindful Awareness Practices) of the Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology by Daniel J. Siegel. William James, who is regarded by many as the father of modern psychology, proposed more than one hundred years ago that the exercise of returning a wandering attention again and again would be the “education par excellence” for the mind. I remember reading his words when I was a student many years ago thinking “right on.” My mind wandering during my studies was a constant source of frustration. Later in my life I read James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. If memory serves me correctly, eastern religions were not among the varieties of religious experience discussed. Unfortunately there is an anti-eastern/pro-western bias in western education. Had James reviewed these eastern religions, he would have discovered practices in meditation and mindfulness that addressed this very problem.
The UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) uses the term mindful awareness practices (MAPS) to the many approaches for developing the skill of being mindfully aware. These strategies focus attention on the present moment. They focus attention on intention and also create awareness of awareness. When the breath is supposed to be the object of attention, the focus of the mind usually wanders and becomes distracted, the intended goal is to redirect attention back to the breath again and again. If the intention of the practice, to focus on the breath, is forgotten, then the exercise will not be performed well. Stabilizing attention requires being aware of awareness, and paying attention to intention. These are the keys to mindful awareness that strengthens the mind itself.
Time-in is a term used to refer to the ways in which we can take time to focus inward, to pay attention to our sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts (SIFT). That is, we SIFT the mind’s inner experience. Doing this each day can promote improvements in emotion regulation, attention, and empathy. Increasing the capacity to be aware of awareness and pay attention to intention strengthens the brain’s circuits for executive functions. These executive functions include the ability to sustain attention, to avoid distractions, to selectively change attention and then focus on the designated target, and to allocate the resources necessary to complete a task successfully. Research done at MARC found as much executive function improvement as is found using stimulant medication in adolescents and adults with attention deficit challenges. Other research at the University of California has found that sustaining mindful awareness can increase telomerase, the enzyme needed to maintain the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes that sustain the life of the cell.
There is some debate regarding whether being mindful is primarily a way of focusing attention on the present-moment experience or whether it also entails a state of positive regard for self and for others. COAL is an acronym for the notion of being aware that is imbued with kindness. COAL stands for curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love. One kind regard it as either ironic or justified, but being concerned for others also benefits one’s personal health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Mindfulness Meditation Helps Us Regulate Our Emotions

March 1, 2014

Recent research1 has helped us understand how mindfulness resulting from meditation helps regulate our emotions. First of all, mindfulness increases awareness of our internal states. So if something starts to anger us, such as an insult or an aggressive driver, the mindfulness person will recognize these feeling faster than less mindful counterparts.

The mindful person will also have greater emotional awareness. So should a mindful person encounter an aggressive driver, the mind sends a warning that this anger needs to be regulated. Similarly, when a mindful person starts to feel depressed, there is an awareness that this emotion needs to be controlled and that it can be controlled.

The following2 is a classroom exercise that is used to show the benefits of mindfulness. Students are each given a few raisins. Half of the class is asked to look at their feet and remain quiet for 4 minutes. These students serve as the control group. The other half of the class is the mindfulness group. The following phrases are shown on PowerPoint slides for 30 seconds each.

Holding: Take one raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand between your finger and you thumb. Focusing on it, imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life.

Seeing: Take time to really see it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights were the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique figures.

Touching: Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture, maybe with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.

Smelling: Hold the raisin beneath your nose, and with each inhalation, drink in any smell, aroma, or fragrance than may arise, noticing anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.

Placing: Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the raisin in the mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.

Tasting: When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing . Then, very consciously, take one or two bits into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment, as well as any changes in the raisin itself.

Swallowing: When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow it.

Following: Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into the stomach, and sense how the body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise in mindful eating.

Next all students write a paragraph about their biggest life stressors. Then the students are asked to identify the emotions that these stressors cause. The mindfulness group should list more emotion words than the control group because the mindfulness group should be more aware of their internal states. Finally the students are asked the following question: “How upset are you right now, that is AT THE PRESENT MOMENT, about the stressful things you listed” using a rating scale from 1= not at all upset to 10=extremely upset. The mindful students are expected to be less upset than the students in the control group because they are better able to regulate their emotions.

Bear in mind that this is one of many types of meditation. Entering either “mindfulness,” or “meditation” into the healthymemory blog search box will yield many healthymemory posts on these topics.

1Reper, R. Segal, Z.V., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Inside the mindful mind: How mindfulness enhances emotion regulation through improvements in executive control.

2DeWakk, C.N., & Meyers, D. G. (2014). Mindful Students: The Pain and Pleasure of Awareness and Acceptance. Observer, 27, 2, 30-31.

Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance

January 25, 2014

An important experiment demonstrated that mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) performance while reducing mind wandering.1 Forty-eight undergraduates were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness class or a nutrition task. The mindfulness class emphasized physical posture and mental strategies of focused-attention meditation. It required participants to integrate mindfulness into their daily activities and to complete 10 minutes of daily meditation outside of class. Classes met four times a week for 45 minutes for two weeks. During class, participants sat on cushions in a circle. Each class included 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness exercises requiring focused attention to some aspect of sensory experience (sensations of breathing, tastes of a piece of fruit, or sounds of an audio recording. Participants shared their experiences with the class and received personalized feedback from the instructor. Class content was designed to provide a clear set of strategies for and a conceptual understanding of how to practice mindfulness, Classes focused on sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered, distinguishing between naturally arising thoughts and elaborated thinking, minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present, using the breath as an anchor for attention during meditation, repeatedly counting up to 21 consecutive exhalations, and allowing the mind to rest naturally rather than trying to suppress the occurrence of thoughts.

The nutrition class served as a control group so that an equal amount of time would be spent training, but on an unrelated topic. Participants in the nutrition class were required to log their daily food intake.

The working memory capacity (WMC) task was the operation scan test mentioned in the immediately preceding post. A 20 minute verbal reasoning section was excerpted from the GRE that assessed reading comprehension. Mind wandering was measured during the performance of these tasks using the same scale for task unrelated thoughts (TUT) that was described in the immediately preceding post. These tests were administered both before the classes started, and after the classes were completed.

Mindfulness training improved both the GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts during completion of the GRE and the measure of working memory. Improvements in performance following mindfulness training were mediated by reduced mind-wandering among participants who were prone to distraction at pretesting.

The authors concluded that their results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences. I certainly agree, and I am impressed that these effects were achieved with so little training.

The descriptions of the mindfulness training are limited by the description provided in the research paper. More information on mindfulness and mindfulness techniques can be found by entering “mindfulness” or “meditation” in the healthymemory blog search box.

1Mrazek, M.D., Franklin M.S., Phillips, D.T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J.W. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and Graduate Record Examination performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychological Science, 24, 776.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 Importance of the Vagus Nerve in Relieving Stress

September 7, 2013

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve. It connects our brains to our lungs, digestive tracts, heart, and the parasympathetic nervous system. Remember that our sympathetic nervous system alerts us to new things and danger. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for helping us relax and calm down. The stronger the activity of our vagus nerve, the more readily we can assume a feed and enjoy state rather than being stressed out. The strength of this vagal activity is known as vagal tone.

The vagus nerve’s interplay with the heart rate as we breathe can be used to infer vagal tone. Inhaling temporarily suppresses vagal nerve activity. This increases heart rate that helps oxygenated blood circulate. When we breathe out, our heart rate slows. The larger the difference between our heart rate when breathing in compared with breathing out, the higher our vagal tone.

An article in the New Scientist1 explains why we should care about vagal tone, and what we can do to improve it. There are physical health benefits. The vagus nerve plays a role in stimulating insulin production. Consequently, people with low tone are not as good as those with high tone at regulating their blood glucose levels. They also have difficulty suppressing inflammation. These factors are association with heart failure, stroke, and diabetes, so it is not surprising that thee is a strong link between low vagal tone and dying from cardiovascular disease. There are also mental benefits. People with higher vagal tone tend to be intellectually sparkier. They are better able to focus their attention and have better working memories.

Naturally, the question is how can vagal tone be improved. Loving kindness meditation was highlighted in the New Scientist article. Buddhist monks will spend hours in this type of meditation. Given the state of the world, one might conclude that their efforts are ineffective. However, regardless of the state of the world, these monks should be in superb physical and mental health. Fortunately, it does not appear that lengthy meditations are needed . Here is the protocol described in the article:

Find a position that makes you feel relaxed, yet alert. With your eyes closed, try to envisage your heartbeat, and then consciously concentrate on your breathing. Now visualize someone—it can be yourself, a loved one, or someone you barely know—and think of their good qualities. Once you are feeling positive towards them, repeat these traditional phrases of loving kindness meditation: May X feel safe: May X feel happy: May X feel healthy: May X live at ease. After a few minutes, let go of X’s image and start thinking nice thoughts about someone else.

The article mentions people mentally wishing happy thoughts to strangers they are passing. Research into this area is fairly new. It does not seem that loving kindness meditation, although certainly worthwhile, is necessary to increase vagal tone. However, it is quite likely that positive thoughts and some type of meditation are important. Some unpublished research has shown that just reflecting on positive social experiences during the day boosts vagal tone. Physical exercise is also likely to be beneficial

1Young, E. (2013.Wishful Thinking, July, 46-49.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

A Simple Tip to Spark Mindfulness

August 7, 2013

This tip is from the Afterword, Mindfulness and Kindness Practice, by Dr. Susan Bauer-Wu, which is from A Mindful Nation by Tim Ryan. The healthymemory blog highly recommends A Mindful Nation.

An easy way to remember how to be mindful in the course of a busy day, or when you are overwhelmed, preoccupied, worried, angry, or uncomfortable, is to STOP”

S – Stop. Simply pause from what you are doing.

T –Take a few slow, deep, breaths with awareness and tune in.

O – Observe and curiously notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

P – Proceed with whatever you were doing with awareness and kindness.

Putting Mindfulness to Work

July 24, 2013

Putting Mindfulness to Work is the title of an article by Tara Healey of Harvard University in the August 2013 edition of Mindful (pp. 70-74). Although the article is specifically about putting mindfulness to work in the workplace, it generalizes to the application of applying mindfulness to life. People need to think of mindfulness not just with respect to meditation but to the an activity that can be applied to thinking and life. The following is taken directly from the article:

The mind contains untold resources and possibilities—for creativity , kindness, compassion, insight, and wisdom. It’s a storehouse of tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a matter of annoyance, an untamed animal, or a millstone that drags us down. Sometimes we would just like to shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment’s peace.

Yet the mind is one thing we can’t shut off. So why not make the most of it instead? Why not put it to good use? Through mindfulness we can train our minds to work better.”

Healey provides four general guidelines:

“Check Your Lenses.” Here she is referring to the deeply held views, ideas, and opinions that serve as lenses through which we perceive. In Kahneman‘s Two system View, these would be System 1 processes that run off automatically. “Check Your Lenses,” reminds us to engage our System 2 processes and try to think from a different perspective. This might enable us to understand or be more receptive to the way others do or think about things. It might even allow us to think of a more encompassing view that allows us to merge or develop new ideas.

“Put Some Space Between You and Your Reactions.” Again, this is a matter of engaging System 2 processes, thinking. One way of doing this is regarding ourselves from a third person perspective. So if it is a matter of a perceived slight or wrong done by another person, we examine the situation as a yet a third person looking at both of us and develop a narrative or storyline of the situation. This has the potential of thinking of a way of, at least, accepting or coming to grips with the situation, or, at best, of coming up with a resolution to the problem.

“Pay Attention to the Small Stuff.” Here is another quote to the article, “No action, reaction, or relationship ever feels uninteresting or unworkable if a curious mind is brought to bear on it.” If all else fails, the default activity is to focus on our breathing. That is, to disengage our System 1 processes and think about our breathing. Or we can focus on how different parts of our body feel, or on simple activities such as the way we place a phone to our ears when we hear it ring.

“Make a Habit of It.” We need to have a formal practice of mindfulness and to extend mindfulness into our everyday life. A formal practice of mindfulness means meditative practice done on a regular schedule. Many posts on meditation can be found in the healthymemory blog. Placing yourself in an uncomfortable position is not required, it could even be counterproductive. Simple practices such as simply focusing on one’s breath can be beneficial. It is hope that this current blog post has provided some ideas as to how to integrate mindfulness into everyday life.

Mindfulness is a means of training our brains, so that they function more effectively and so that we lead more satisfying lives. Mindfulness actually changes our brains and develops new synaptic connections.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

Achieving Mindfulness

April 3, 2013

Mindfulness has become a hot topic. There is a new monthly magazine, Mindful, www.mindful.org, the the March/April edition of Scientific American Mind features articles on mindfulness. Most approaches to mindfulness involve meditation. The healthymemory blog has many posts on meditation. The psychologist Richard Davidson has identified six dimensions of emotional style (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style): resilience, outlook, self awareness, social intuition, sensitivity to context, and attention. He has techniques, which can be found in the healthymemory blog (use the blogs search box), for cultivating each of these dimensions.

Meditation techniques range from exercises designed to train concentrative focus, a narrowing of attention, to exercises designed to train open monitoring, a broad awareness of sensations and surroundings. Both skills are necessary. There are times when we need to focus on a particular problem or idea and there are types where we need to allow new thoughts into our consciousness without rejecting them out of hand as a result of selection biases. In the March/April edition of Scientific American Mind there is a piece on Capturing Attention on page 33. This is an exercise by Scott Rogers, the Director of Programs and Training, Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative at the University of Miami, that incorporates both types of training into a single meditation session. Here is the technique:

“Sit in an upright, stable position, hands resting on your thighs or cradled together.

Lower or close your eyes, whichever is more comfortable.

Attend to your breath, following its movement throughout your body.

Notice the sensations around your belly as air flows into and out of your nose and mouth. You have been breathing all day—all of your life—and in this moment, you are simply noticing your breath.

Select one area of your body affected by your breathing and focus your attention there. Control your focus, not the breathing itself.

When you notice your mind wandering – and it will – bring your attention back to your breath.

After five to ten minutes, switch from focusing to monitoring. Think of your mind as a vast open sky and your thoughts, feelings and sensations as passing clouds.

Feel you whole body move with your breath. Be receptive to your sensations, noticing what arises in the moment. Be attentive to the changing quality of experience – sounds, aromas, the caress of a breeze…thoughts.

After about five more minutes, lift your gaze and open your eyes.

Six Tips for Improving Your Memory

November 4, 2012

These tips were taken from an article, “Master Your Memory,” in the New Scientist.1

      1. Hit the Sweet Spot. The sweet spot referred to here is the most effective means of remembering information that you want to remember. This topic is covered quite thoroughly in the Healthymemory Blog (see the category on mnemonic techniques). In addition to specific mnemonic techniques, it is good to space the study of material rather than cramming. Also important is testing yourself (see the Healthymemory Blog posts, “The Benefits of Testing,” “To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First!,” and “Trying to Recall Benefits a Healthy Memory.”). I’ve thought that the difference between students who get As and Bs, and students who get Cs, Ds, and Fs, is that the former recall the highlighted portions of their texts whereas the latter simply read them.
      2. Limber up. A bit of exercise can offer immediate benefits to anyone trying to learn new material. Exercise seems to increase mental alertness. One study found that students taking a 10-minute walk found it much easier to learn of list of 30 nouns when compared to a group who just sat around. Short, intense bursts of exercise appear to be more effective. In one experiment students learning a new vocabulary performed better if they studied after two 3-minute runs as compared to a 40-minute gentle jog. They believe that the exercise encouraged the release of neurotransmitters involved in forming new connections among brain cells.
      3. Make a gesture. It is easier to learn abstract concepts if they can be related to simple physical sensations. A variety of experiments have found that acting out an idea with relevant hand gestures can improve later recall, whether the subject is the new vocabulary of a foreign language or the rules of physics.
      4. Engage your nose. The French novelist Marcel Proust could write pages inspired by a remembered odor. Reminiscing about the good old days and recalling whole events from our past has been linked to a raft of benefits and can combat loneliness and feelings of angst. One way to assist in releasing these memories is by using odors. Andy Warhol used to keep an organized library of perfumes, each associated with a specific period of his life. Sniffing particular bottle would bring back a flood of memories associated with that odor. Research has supported the validity of Warhol’s approach for others. Odors do tend to trigger particular emotional memories such as the excitement of a birthday. They are also good at retrieving childhood memories.
      5. Oil the cogs. Diet can be helpful, and I think you can anticipate what is going to follow. Avoid high-sugar fast foods that seem to encourage the build-up of protein plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Now diets full of flavonoids (see the Healthymemory Blog posts, “Flavonoids for a Healthy Memory,” and “31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012”) are good for us. Flavonoids are found in blueberries, strawberries, and omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in oily fish and olive oil. They seem to stave off cognitive decline by a few years as a result of the antioxidants protecting the brain cells from an early death perhaps.
      6. Learn to forget (or rather how not to remember). There might be ways of stopping fresh memories of painful events from being consolidated into long term storage. One study asked participants to watch a disturbing video before asking them to engage in various activities. Participants who played the video game Tetris experienced fewer flash backs to the disturbing as compared to the participants who took the general knowledge quiz. It is thought that the game made greater demands on attentional resources that reduced the processing of the disturbing film. Playing relaxing music after an event that you would rather forget also seems to help. Perhaps it takes the sting out of the negative feelings that cause these events to stick in our minds.

1Jarret, C. (2012). Master Your Memory. New Scientist, 6 October, p. 42-43.

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

Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Might She Tell Us?

September 12, 2012

Perhaps the first question is what is a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). There have been a variety of studies about people with superior memories. Perhaps the first was Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. This was about an individual with synesthesia wherein different senses interacted with each other, sound producing images for example. This ability to readily form images produced remarkable abilities. The man made a living demonstrating these abilities. Unfortunately this amazing ability to remember also had the downside of an inability to forget. Consequently his life wasn’t as happy as it might have been. There are also books by people like Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas who discovered mnemonic techniques, like those covered in this blog, developed a great deal of proficiency with them, performed, wrote books, and taught classes about mnemonics.

The discovery of HSAM is very recent. This is not to say that HSAM has not been present in certain individuals for centuries, but the research community has been unaware of such individuals. I was unaware of these people until I viewed a piece on the TV Program Sixty Minutes. Dr. James McGaugh, a Research Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and a Fellow in the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, became aware of and started studying these extraordinary people. To the best of my knowledge only about 34 such individuals have been identified and studied so far. The nature of this recall ability as shown on Sixty Minutes was the ability to recall what happened on a specific day in the past. So if you asked one of them what happened on 6 August 1999, they would be able to tell you what day of the week that was, and what they did. They might even be able to tell you what they wore and what they ate. If they had watched a sporting event, they could tell the score and the particulars of the event. Marilu Henner, who most of us know from the TV show Taxi and who has had a very successful acting career, was one of the people on the show. When I later learned that she had written a book, Total Memory Makeover, I was tempted to buy but was a little put off by the hype in the title. As I looked further into it I learned that Marilu had a self-improvement business. So my initial decision was not to purchase the book. As time passed, I realized that I could not pass up the opportunity to learn what someone who had such a remarkable memory had to offer. It was a good decision. Here’s what Professor McGaugh wrote in the Foreword to the book. “This book is like no other book about memory, and the insights offered are unique. In these pages we learn from Marilu what it is like to have such a memory, why it is important to her, and why she thinks we can all benefit by taking steps to improve our own remembering. Readers will learn that Marilu is as well organized as she is thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and, well, delightfully humorous. The advice she offers us may not turn all of us (or any of us)into HSAMers, but every reader will learn much about the importance of memory, as well as things we might do to help us maintain memories of our own personal experiences.”

Brain scans of Marilu have shown that certain brain structures important to memory, such as the hippocampus, are larger than normal. But it is important not to confuse cause and effect here. London cab drivers have also found to have hippocampi larger than normal, but this has been attributed to them having to memorize the entire map of London. So it is likely that Marilu’s larger than normal memory structures are the result of her use of them rather than having been born with them.

I found her home life significant. Her father emphasized anticipating an event, participating in the event, and then recollecting the event (her book is organized into three sections of anticipating, participating, and recollection). They liked to have parties and enjoyed the anticipation and the recollection of the parties, and not just the participation in the parties. As a small child she would not only pay attention to the day, date, and month, but would also remember what happened during the day. Then she would periodically review what happened during a past day, week, or month. I was gratified to learn this as I suspected this is what these HSAMers had been doing. Most often, I do not even know what day it is now and need to consult a calendar. So I pay little attention to when something is happening, and I do not systematically review what has happened during these dates. This is something that is entirely feasible, if one has the discipline. Recall actually increases as the time between recall attempts increases. So one might review what happened during the preceding week. Then not review it again until the next month. Then two months, four months, six months, one year, two years, four years. So systematic review is feasible and such review could result in becoming a blossoming HSAMer.

Marilu developed a variety of techniques throughout her life and shares them with you. She also discusses uses of technology and our fellow humans to enhance memory. This is termed transactive memory in the lingo of the healthymemory blog. She discusses memory games for friends, family, and for the development of the memories of children.

The book delivers what the title promises, a Total Memory Makeover. However, there is no requirement that the makeover be total. You can devote as much time as your interest and schedule permits. I think whatever time you devote to this effort will foster a healthy memory. Virtually everything offered in the book will foster a healthy memory.

If you are a parent or grandparent, I would strongly recommend that you get the book and use some of the games and exercises with your children. Perhaps the best gift you can give them is a healthy, well functioning memory. This is even more important with the temptation to rely increasingly on technology instead of our biological memories.

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

A Retrieval Exercise for a Healthy Memory

August 12, 2012

Mnemonic techniques provide good mental exercise and can significantly increase your success at recalling information you want to recall. But what about information that is already in your memory? What is the point in trying to retrieve it?

There are a number of points here. The act of trying to remember information aids memory as has been noted in previous Healthymemory Blog posts (“The Benefits of Testing, for example). There is also the distinction between information that is available in your memory, but which you can’t retrieve. That is information that is available but not accessible. Trying to remember information is a good exercise for rendering information that was previously only available, accessible. It reestablished previous memory circuits that have wasted away and can establish new memory circuits.

Here is an exercise. Try to remember the precise year when significant events occurred during the past ten years. Here is part of my experience when I tried this exercise. I made two trips to Japan. I had difficulty remembering the year although I did remember that both trips took place in the same year. I did remember that the trips took place before we moved from our apartment to our house, and I remember that that year was 2003, because it was one year before the election in 2004. But when did I go to Japan. I knew it was sometime in 2003 or earlier because I remember being picked up by a limo at our apartment house for one of the trips. So I knew that it was 2003 or earlier. Then I remembered that the FIFA World Cup was taking place during one of the trips. I looked that up on the internet and discovered that the year was 2002. So now I know that 2002 was the year I took two trips to Japan.

I also took a trip to London with my wife, but when did that happen? I remembered that the trip was taken for our 25th wedding anniversary. Now something I need to remember, and do remember, is our anniversary. We were married on January 3, 1978. So I can safely infer, and now remember, that that trip took place during 2003.

I used the same strategy to remember when we moved my Mom from Florida. That was shortly after celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, so that was 2008.

So I gave my memory circuits a good workout and established or reestablished some memories. I remember events with respect to their relative position to other events. When I traveled to Japan or London, I was not trying to remember the years I took those trips. At the time it was irrelevant information. Similarly when we moved my Mom, that was irrelevant information at the time. But I was able to establish the specific years by throwing the order of the events I was trying to remember against the years I did remember for other reasons.

They have recently discovered people who have super memories and can remember, as best as can be ascertained, what happened during each day of their lives by date. I am curious as to how they do this. It is possible that they consciously attend to the days and what happens and are effectively keeping a mental diary. I don’t do that. Perhaps if I did, I would have a similar phenomenal memory and would appear on 60 Minutes with Marilu Henner. But I don’t see any purpose in doing this, regardless of how much I like Marilu Henner, so I don’t spend the attention necessary to recall what happened during these days. This recall does imply a substantial amount of attentional processing to recall this amount of detail with significant accuracy. This is pure conjecture on my part, but we all are working with basically the same amount of brain, and it is mainly a matter of how we spend our attentional resources as to what and how much we’ll remember.

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

Improving Nonjudgmental Awareness

May 20, 2012

If you have read the Healthymemory Blog post “Attentional Style” (and if you have not, you should read it before proceeding) you should remember that Dr. Davidson states that there are two types of attention: selective attention and nonjudgmental awareness.1 This blog post deals with nonjudgmental awareness.

Dr. Davidson recommends open-monitoring meditation, in which your attention is not focused on any particular object. Instead you cultivate an awareness of awareness itself. Before beginning this type of meditation, Dr. Davidson recommends beginning with focused-attention meditation such as breath meditation to to give you a level of basic attentional stability. This should make open-monitoring meditation.

He provides the following basics of open-minded meditation:

“1. Sit in a quiet room with a comfortable chair, with your back straight but the rest of your body relaxed. Keep your eyes open or closed whichever is more comfortable. If your eyes are open, gaze downward and keep your eyes somewhat unfocused.

      1. Maintain a clear awareness and openness to your surroundings. Keep your mind calm and relaxed, not focused on anything specific, yet totally present, clear, vivid and transparent.

      2. Lightly attend to whatever object rises to the top of your consciousness, but do not latch on to it. You want to observe the thinking process itself, perhaps saying to yourself, Oh, I notice that the first thing I think about as I sit down to meditate is…

      3. Give your full attention to the most current salient object of consciousness, focusing on it to the exclusion of anything else, but without thinking about it. That is, you are simply aware of it, observing it as disinterestedly as possible, but do not explore it intellectually.

      4. Generate a state of total openness, in which the mind is as vast as the sky, able to welcome and absorb any stray thought, feeling, or sensation like a new star that begins shining. When thoughts arise, simply let them pass through your mind without leaving any trace of it. When you perceive noises, images, tastes, or other sensations, let them be as they are without engaging with them or rejecting them. Tell yourself that they can’t affect the serene equanimity of your mind.

      5. If you notice your mind moving toward thought or feeling, let it do so, letting the newcomer slip into consciousness. Unlike in attention-strengthening forms of meditation, you do not try to shoo away the “intruding” thought, but allow your mind to turn to it. The key difference between breath-focused attention discussed previously is that in open-monitoring meditation there is no single focus to which the attention is redirected if it wanders. Rather, you simply become aware of whatever is in the center of attention at the moment.

      6. Turn to this new object of attention as you did the first.

      7. Do this for five to ten minutes.2

Dr. Davidson lists the following meditation centers that offer courses, books, and CDs on open-monitoring meditation: Insight meditation Society in Barre, MA; Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodcare, CA; and Tergar Meditation Group in Minneapolis, MN.

Dr. Davidson did a study in 2009 in which it was found that practitioner of open-monitoring meditation showed phase locking in their EEGs. That is, their brain waves were modulated to make them more receptive to outside stimuli. It is somewhat ironic to note that this phase locking is also an indication of selective attention as we noted in the “Attentional Style” Healthymemory Blog Post. But as it was noted in that blog post, these two types of attention complement each other.

You can also alter your environment to expand your attentional awareness. Put books and magazines around to tempt yourself to read something new. Keep your room or office open to the outside world. Place photos of loved ones on your desk so you can glance at them as you work. Set the alarm on your cell phone or computer to chirp every twenty to thirty minutes to cue you to think of something else.

1Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

2Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press. pp. 240-241.

Improving Selective Attention

May 16, 2012

If you have read the Healthymemory Blog post “Attentional Style” (and if you have not, you should read it before proceeding) you should remember that Dr. Davidson states that there are two types of attention: selective attention and nonjudgmental awareness.1 This blog post deals with improving selective attention. Selective attention involves the enhanced activation of the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex.

Dr. Davidson recommends mindfulness meditation for improving selective attention. The following section, copied for your convenience from the immediately preceding Healthymemory Blog post, “Improving Self-Awareness”, is how Dr. Davidson recommends that you begin mindfulness meditation.

1. Choose a time when you are awake and alert. Sit upright on a floor or chair, keep the spine straight and maintain a relaxed but erect posture so you do not get drowsy.

        1. Focus on your breathing and on the sensations it creates throughout your body. Notice how your abdomen moves as you inhale and exhale.

        2. Focus on the tip of your nose and that different sensations that arise with each breath.

        3. When unwanted thoughts or feelings arise, simply return your focus to your breathing.

Keep your eyes open or closed, whichever feels more comfortable. Try this for five to ten minutes twice a day, if possible. Increase the length of your practice sessions as you feel more comfortable.

Dr. Davidson writes that the best mindfulness instruction can be found at www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx?id=41252

He recommends CDs by Jon Kabat-Zinn or Aharon Salzburg.

He also recommends the Body Scan, which is also copied from the preceding Healthymemory Blog post for your convenience.

Sit upright on the floor or a chair maintaining a relaxed but upright posture so you do not become drowsy.

      1. Systematically move your attention to your toe, foot, ankle, leg, and knee and pay attention to the specific sensation of each such as tingling, or pressure, or temperature. Experience the sensations rather than thinking about the body parts. The goal is to cultivate awareness of your body in the context of nonjudgmental awareness.

Should you get lost in a chain of thought or feeling, reengage with your breathing to settle your mind.

Dr. Davidson also recommends the following focused attention meditation, also known as one-pointed meditation.

“1. In a quiet room free of distractions, sit with you eyes open. Find a small object such as a coin, a button on your shirt, or an eyelet on your shoe. It is important that your focus of attention be visual, rather than on your breath, your body image, or other mental objects.

      1. Focus all your attention on this one object. Keep your eyes trained on it.

      2. If your attention wanders, calmly try to bring it back to that object.”2

        He recommends that you do this daily for about ten minutes. Once you are able to maintain your focus of attention for most of that time, increase your practice about ten minutes per month until you reach one hour.

You can also modify your environment to improve your selective attention. Minimize distractions, clear out your environment eliminating as many distractions as you can. Close your door. AND DO NOT MULTITASK!

1Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

2 Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press. p.239.

Improving Self Awareness

May 13, 2012

If you have not already read the Healthymemory Blog post “Self-Awareness”, it would be good to do so before reading this post on improving self-awareness. Self-Awareness is another “Goldilocks” variable in that there can be too much or too little of it. People with high levels of Self-Awareness have greater activation of their insula, whereas people with low levels of Self-Awareness have low activation of their insula. However, more than the insula is involved. How outputs from the insula are interpreted are also critical. For this reason mindfulness meditation provides a good method of achieving an optimal level of self-awareness. The following advice is taken from Dr. Davidson’s book.1 This advice can also be found in the “Improving Resilience” post.

Mindfulness meditation begins with a focus on breathing. Dr Davidson suggestions the following way of beginning:

1. Choose a time when you are awake and alert. Sit upright on a floor or chair, keep the spine straight and maintain a relaxed but erect posture so you do not get drowsy.

        1. Focus on your breathing and on the sensations it creates throughout your body. Notice how your abdomen moves as you inhale and exhale.

        2. Focus on the tip of your nose and that different sensations that arise with each breath.

        3. When unwanted thoughts or feelings arise, simply return your focus to your breathing.

Keep your eyes open or closed, whichever feels more comfortable. Try this for five to ten minutes twice a day, if possible. Increase the length of your practice sessions as you feel more comfortable.

Dr. Davidson writes that the best mindfulness instruction can be found at www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx?id=41252

He also recommends CDs by Jon Kabat-Zinn or Aharon Salzburg.

Dr. Davidson also recommends what he calls the “body scan”.

        1. Sit upright on the floor or a chair maintaining a relaxed but upright posture so you do not become drowsy.

        2. Systematically move your attention to your toe, foot, ankle, leg, and knee and pay attention to the specific sensation of each such as tingling, or pressure, or temperature. Experience the sensations rather than thinking about the body parts. The goal is to cultivate awareness of your body in the context of nonjudgmental awareness.

        3. Should you get lost in a chain of thought or feeling, reengage with your breathing to settle your mind.

A 2008 study found that people who had practice mindfulness meditation every day for about eight years had larger insula that people of the same age and sex who did not meditate.2 This apparent paradox of a practice that increases the size of the insula but does not produce pathological levels of self-awareness is resolved when it is realized that these meditative practices also improve and modulate the messages from the insula.

1Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

2Holzel, B.K., Ott, U. Gard, T. Hempel, H., Weygandt, M., Morgen, K., Vaitl, D. (2008). Investigation of Mindfulness Meditatin Practitioners with Voxel-Based Morphometry. Social Cognitive and Affeciive Neuroscience. 3, 55-61.

Improving Your Sensitivity to Social Context

May 9, 2012

If you have not already read the Healthymemory Blog post “Social Intuition and Social Context,” it is recommended that you do so before reading this current post. This post will deal with ways of diminishing or eliminating social contexts that make you feel frightened or uncomfortable. It is based on The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Dr. Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a pathological condition in which a person, due to past traumatic experiences, becomes frightened inappropriately in a relatively innocuous environment. Exposure therapy has proven successful in treating this disorder just as it has with phobias of specific objects or situations. Exposure therapy involves progressively more direct exposure to cues that are associated with the trauma, but in a safe context. For example, if someone had a fear of flying you might first have them watch movies about flying. Then you might drive them to the airport. You might make several trips each involving more exposure to airplanes. Then you might arrange sitting I an airplane while its on the ground. Finally, you might arrange a series of progressively longer flights in an airplane.

Dr. Davidson recommends the following exercise for gradually inuring yourself to cues that make you anxious or angry.1

1. To help you relax, start with a breathing exercise from hatha yoga. With your eyes closed attend to your breathing as you would in mindfulness meditation, counting the duration of each inhalation and exhalation.

      1. Once, you have counted several breaths, lengthen you breathing cycle so that it takes one more second. Keep increasing their length as long as it feels comfortable.

      2. Pay attention to whether inhalation and exhalation are the same length. If one is longer, try to increase the length of the other so that they both are about the same length. Do this for five minutes and then open your eyes.

After you feel comfortable with this exercise, you can move on to context training.2

      1. Make a list of the cues or behaviors that upset you. Form images of these cues or behaviors. Be as specific and as detailed as you can.

      2. In a safe context conjure up these images in as much detail as possible.

      3. At the same time, practice the breathing exercise described just before this one. Continue to do this until you feel comfortable with the images you formed. Continue at this for about fifteen minutes.

        Dr. Davidson writes that you should experience from doing this after four sessions, and that the hour spent doing this is well worth it.

1Davidson, R.J. & Begley, S. (2112). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

2Ibid.

Improving Social Intuition

May 6, 2012

If you have not yet read the Healthymemory Blog post “Social Intuition and Social Context” it is recommended that you read about it before considering improving it. These recommendations for improving social intuition can be found in The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Dr. Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley. It you have already read “Social Intuition” then you might anticipate that he would advise you to pump up your fusiform activity and quiet your amygdala activity. In practical terms he offers the following advice:

“1. Start with strangers. When you are out in public pick a couple or a small group of friends and discreetly watch them. Pay particular attention to their faces, which communicate so much social information. Remind yourself to look at other people’s faces when you watch them, and, particularly when you interact with them.

  1. See how well you can predict how they will touch each other (or not), how close they will walk together, whether they will look into each other’s eyes when speaking.

  2. Get close enough to overhear them (assuming you can do this unobtrusively. I recommend doing this is a crowded public place such as a party, a packed department store, or a jammed movie theater lobby). See if their tone of voice seems to match their body language and facial expression.

  3. If not, then you are probably misunderstanding something. Take note of that and apply this lesson to the next people you observe.

  4. Once you feel confident that you can tell what people are feeling, try it with friends or colleagues.”1

    I have the utmost respect for Dr Davidson, but I would strongly advise against staring into a stranger’s face or eyes. This can lead to uncomfortable situations. I also cannot understand why he recommends working with strangers rather than friends first.

    He also offers exercises for becoming proficient at interpreting specific cues.

    1. When you are in a public place where friends are chattering or at an airport terminal close you eyes and pay attention to the voices around you. Tune in to specific voices and focus on the tone rather than the content.

      1. Describe to yourself what that tone conveys. The open your eyes and see what comes next. Were you able to anticipate it based on your interpretation of the tone.

      2. Now repeat the exercise with posture and body language (without closing your eyes, of course).

      3. Designate one channel, tone of voice or body language, and concentrate on it throughout the entire day.

      4. The next day switch to the other channel and repeat the exercise.

Dr. Davidson write that you should see results after a short period of time.

Now some people might be too tuned in to social cues. For example, someone might be excessively tuned in to social cues and will always be trying to please other people. Dr. Goldman would say that such people need to give their fusiform a respite. They should try to focus on other parts of the environment and increase their amount of introspection.

The next Healthymemory Blog post will deal with improving your sensitivity to context.

1Davidson, R.J. & Begley, S. (2112). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

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

Improving Resilience

May 2, 2012

If you have not already read the Healthymemory Blog post “Resilience,” it is suggested that you do this now. Before it can be improved you must understand what resilience is and roughly where you stand on the resilience dimension. Resilience is one of Dr. Davidson’s Six Dimensions of Emotional Style1. Dr. Davidson stresses that you can adjust your emotional style and provides suggestions as to how you can do so.

If you are slow to recover from emotional setbacks, Dr. Davidson recommends mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness produces emotional balance and helps you recover, but not too quickly, from emotional setbacks. Mindfulness weakens the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and wallowing in a setback. Mindfulness strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala promoting equanimity and braking the obsessive associations.

Mindfulness meditation begins with a focus on breathing. Dr Davidson suggestions the following way of beginning:

  1. Choose a time when you are awake and alert. Sit upright on a floor or chair, keep the spine straight and maintain a relaxed but erect posture so you do not get drowsy.
        1. Focus on your breathing and on the sensations it creates throughout your body. Notice how your abdomen moves as you inhale and exhale.

        2. Focus on the tip of your nose and that different sensations that arise with each breath.

        3. When unwanted thoughts or feelings arise, simply return your focus to your breathing.

Keep your eyes open or closed, whichever feels more comfortable. Try this for five to ten minutes twice a day, if possible. Increase the length of your practice sessions as you feel more comfortable.

Dr. Goldman writes that the best mindfulness instruction can be found at www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx?id=41252

He also recommends CDs by Jon Kabat-Zinn or Aharon Salzburg.

If mindfulness training does not work for you, Dr. Goldman suggests cognitive reappraisal therapy.

On the other hand, if you are too close to the fast to recover end of the resilience dimension try a type of meditation from Tibetan Buddhism called tonglen,which means “taking and receiving.” This meditation is designed to foster compassion and involves visualizing another person who might be suffering, taking in that suffering and transforming it into compassion. This is very effective at fostering empathy. Dr. Goldman recommends doing the following exercise for five to ten minutes, four or five times a week.

      1. Visualize as vividly as you can someone who is suffering. The closer this person is to you , the stronger and clearer the visualization will be. You can also visualize a generic sufferer, such as someone starving in Africa, or a cancer patient in a hospice.

      2. Imagine the suffering leaving this person as you inhale. Conjure an image of the suffering leaving this person’s body like fog dissipating as the sun burns it off.

      3. On each exhalation imagine that the suffering is turned into compassion. Direct this compassion towards this person. As you exhale imaging your breath flowing towards this person with a gift of empathy and love that will assuage the pain.

You can also arrange your environment to accommodate variations in resilience style. To speed up recovery from adversity leave the situation where the adversity occurred and go to a place les emotionally charged. To slow down your recovery, do the opposite.

1Davidson, R.J. & Begley, S. (2112). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Improving Your Outlook

April 29, 2012

If you have not already read the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Outlook,” it is recommended that you read it prior to reading the current post. You should remember that you can be too optimistic or too pessimistic, so you should first assess where you are on this outlook dimension before deciding how it might be improved. Dr. Davidson provides suggestions1 to make yourself more optimistic or less optimistic.

To increase your level of optimism, Dr. Davidson suggests the following:

Every day for a week, do these three exercises:

      1. Write down one positive characteristic of yourself and one positive characteristic of someone with whom you regularly interact. Do this three times a day. Ideally write down a different trait each time.

      2. Express gratitude regularly. Pay attention to times you say thank you and look directly into the eyes of the person you are thanking and display genuine gratitude. Keep a journal and note the specific times you felt a genuine, however brief, connection with this person to whom you expressed gratitude.

      3. Complement others regularly for such things as a job well done, a well kept yard, or something they are wearing, even if they are a stranger. Again, look directly into the eyes of the person you are complementing and record your feelings in your journal.

At the end of the week reassess your level of optimism. If you are where you think you should be, continue to monitor your optimism and repeat the above exercises if you feel you have regressed. If you think you have become too optimistic, you can try some of the suggestions for people who feel they are too optimistic.

Envision negative outcomes. Try to imagine how things could go wrong. If you are considering a purchase, be sure to consider all the negative consequences that do or could result from the purchase. To build your negativity, work at it until you think you are at the right dimension along the optimistic pessimistic outlook dimension. I would also recommend making a practice of regularly watching and reading the news.

You can also adjust your environment. To move to the positive end of the dimension fill your workspace and home with upbeat, optimistic gratifying times, and people who bring meaning to your life. Try to change pictures often so that you do not become habituated to them.

To move to the negative end of the dimension, fill your home and workspace with reminders of threats to your well being, such a pictures of disasters, and newspapers, magazines, and books dealing with all the problems facing the world.

If you feel you have moved too far in either direction, rearrange your environment accordingly.

1Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Attend to Your Senses

March 18, 2012

Failures of memory are primarily due to failures in attention. Either you were distracted and did not pay attention or you were just failing to attend and registering what was going on around you.1 It is true that typically more is going on around you for you to attend to all of it, but, if you are like me, you often fail to attend to any of it. According to Dr. Restak, “…the first step to an enhanced memory involves exercises in sharpening our senses.”2

Actors are encouraged to perform sense-memory exercises. Here is an example. After filling a cup of coffee conduct a detailed sensory analysis of every aspect of a cup of coffee for fifteen minutes (this exercise is recommended to be repeated on a daily basis). Every visual aspect of the cup was to be examined in detail, to include the height of the cup, its diameter, its color, its material composition and the dimension’s of the cup’s handle. Look for the ridges of the cup’s lips, and note the shape and color of the artwork or ceramic design on the cup. Also check for the shape and color of any reflections from the lights of the room that might be visible on the cup. After every possible question regarding the visible aspects of light have been considered, repeat the exercise with the other senses smell and touch.

For a sound memory exercise, focus on the ambient sounds around you. You want to do this in a quiet area that allows you to distinguish individual sounds clearly. How many sounds can you hear? Can you identify them. Concentrate on one sound at a time and try to write down as many features as you can that enables you to distinguish it from other sounds. You can try the same exercise with bird songs. CDs are available of bird songs, which you can play and learn. There are also CDs of other animals such as frogs. Also listen to human speech and try to distinguish and identify different nuances. Record a conversation and try to mentally recall everything that was said in its correct sequence.

Do not forget the sense of touch. Arrange articles of clothing made with different materials on a bed and try to identify them by touch alone. Try to identify objects in your closet by touch alone. Randomly set out similar-sized objects, and sort them with your eyes closed, trying to identify each one by touch alone.

Nor should you forget taste and smell. Exercises can be found in the nearest garden, spice rack, or wine tasting group. Take a number of spices at random and set them on a table. Try to identify each spice by smell alone. Sometimes you might need to add the sense of taste to make the identification.

Sensory motor exercises can also be quite beneficial. No part of the body is more functionally linked to the brain than the hands. Any activity requiring finger dexterity enhances the brain. So, playing a musical instrument (particularly keyboard and string instruments), and hobbies such as knitting, model ship or train building, bike repair, painting, carpentry, painting and drawing are quite beneficial.

So attend to and sharpen your sense memory!

1Most of this post is adapted from Restak, R. (2009). Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. New York: Riverhead Books.

2Ibid., p.78.

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

Forgetting Is Important to a Healthy Memory

March 14, 2012

The common complaint is forgetting. Consequently the importance of forgetting is overlooked. A recent article1 provides a strong reminder of the importance of forgetting. The famous study of someone who remembered everything he experienced or tried to remember is recounted in a book by the Russian psychologist Alexander R. Luria, The Mind of a Mnemonist. Although this person made a good living giving demonstrations of his phenomenal memory, he regarded his exceptional talent as a curse. He wanted to forget, but he could not. His was truly a pathological case.

Traumas, in particular, and unpleasant thoughts, are things we want to forget. There unwelcome recall makes our lives unpleasant and can lead to depression and serious mental problems. We should all be aware of the benefits of optimism, and these memories make it difficult to be optimistic.

Fortunately, we can learn to forget and Michael Anderson and his colleagues have developed an experimental paradigm that not only shows that we can, but shows how to forget more effectively.2 Here’s how the experiment works. The first stage is simple paired associate learning. Words are paired and the research participants learn to recall the second word when the first word is presented.

In the second stage some of these same word pairs are presented and the research participants are asked to think about the second word when the first is presented. However some of the word pairs are presented and the research participants are asked not to think about the second word when the first word is presented. And some of the word pairs are not presented and serve as controls for the third stage of the procedure.

In the third stage the research participants are given the first word of all the three sets of the word pairs that have been presented. The word pairs in which the research participants were asked to think about both words in the second stage recalled the most words. The word pairs in which the research participants were asked not to think about the second word remembered the fewest words (showed the most forgetting) and the word pairs that were not presented during the second stage were recalled second best. So even those words that were seen less than the words with the forget instructions were better remembered. It is also interesting to note that forgetting increases as a function of the number of “not think” trials. So we can control our forgetting.

According to the theoretical account of these results that have been substantiated by brain imaging studies, the prefrontal cortex is the executive control area that inhibits the activity of the hippocampus, which is a primary subcortical structure for learning and apparently also for forgetting.

You might still be curious as to how to make yourself forget things you don’t want to remember. Well, technically you are not forgetting them. Rather you are instructing yourself not to think about them, so they will not pop up unwanted in your consciousness. In the experiment the research participants were implicitly recalling the words but instructing themselves not to think about them. This led to the nonintuitive finding that the more times they did this, the less likely they were to recall them.

Anderson and his colleagues have also presented research indicating that our ability to exercise this voluntary forgetting declines as we age.3 However, other research has failed to find this result and concluded that there was no difference in the ability to forget between old and young research participants4. The only difference I could find between the two studies, besides the second study using German research participants, and the first study using U.S. research participants, was that the elderly research group was slightly older in the U.S. than in the German study.

Regardless, I am not impressed by research showing that older research participants perform more poorly than younger research participants without providing any suggestions as to how the deficit might be remediated. Given the importance of the prefrontal cortex for deliberate forgetting I would suggest the possible benefit of exercising the prefrontal cortex (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “Improving Working Memory”).

1Wickelgren, I. (2012). Trying to Forget. Scientific American Mind, January/February, 33-39.

2Anderson, M.C. (2009). Suppressing Unwanted Memories, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 189-194.

3Anderson, M.C., Reinholz, J., Kuhl, B., & Mayr, U. (2011). Psychology and Aging, 26, 397- 405.

4Alp, A., Bauml, K-H, & Pastotter, B. (2007). No Inhibitory Deficit in Older Adults’ Episodic Memory, Psychological Science, 18, 72-78.

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

Improving Working Memory

January 15, 2012

As readers of the Healthymemory Blog well know, the primary constraint on cognitive performance is our limitation in working memory. The simplest way of thinking about working memory is that it is the information you can hold at one time. Phone numbers are a common example, although they are less relevant with today’s technology than they use to be. But suppose someone shouts out a phone number you want before you can get to your desk and either write it down or dial it. It is likely that you will need to keep rehearsing the number or it will be forgotten before you return to your desk. Phone numbers might appear to be trivial, but working memory limits the number of ideas you can keep active in your memory at one time. In other words, it limits the number of things that you can actively think about at the same time. Unfortunately, working memory is a function that tends to decline as we age. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is the physiological substrate where working memory takes place. It requires glucose to operate. As working memory improves, the rate of glucose metabolism decreases (that is, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex functions more efficiently).

Given the importance of working memory, exercising it to improve its efficiency is highly recommended. Fortunately, there are exercises that do just that. Paul Verhaegen published a paper titled “A Working Memory Workout: How to Expand the Focus of Serial Attention from One to Four Items in 10 Hours or Less” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, vol. 30. no.6, 2004. Suppose you toss a handful of coins, somewhere between 10 and 15, and then count the number of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. The easiest way to do this is to count each denomination before moving to the next. Unfortunately, this places minimal demands on working memory. If you want to expand your working memory, begin by tossing two denominations of coins. Rather than counting them systematically, count them randomly removing each coin as you count it. Here you need to keep a running count of each denomination in working memory. This should be easy, but do this until you can count each denomination without error. Then move on to three denominations. This will place much greater demands on working memory as you need to keep track of three tallies. Keep doing this until you can do it accurately consistently. This might take some time, multiple days, weeks even. When this is mastered move on to four denominations and keep working until you can keep count of four denominations accurately. This will probably take even more time. But once you reach this point you will have reached what is currently as the capacity of working memory, four items. You can be proud to have a highly efficient dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

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

How Using Mnemonic Techniques Exercises the Brain

December 18, 2011

The Healthymemory Blog has a category labeled “Mnemonic Techniques.” Not all of the posts in this category are strictly speaking mnemonic techniques. Posts on specific activities you can do to foster a healthy memory, meditation, for example, are also included here. But the mnemonic techniques specific to remembering specific items of information are touted as being doubly beneficial as they not only directly improve memory, but they also provide good mental exercise for the brain. Today’s post elaborates on how the different parts of the brain are exercised.

The first action that needs to be taken on information that you want to remember is to pay attention. Paying attention involves using working memory. This involves the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Maintaining information here requires glucose metabolism. The initially encoding is done in the hippocampi (there is one hippocampus in each of the two brain hemispheres) from which it is distributed throughout the rest of the brain. This distribution is needed to determine the meaning, or lack of meaning, of this information. Where there is meaning, this meaning is used to elaborate the meaning by relating it to other associations in the associative cortex. When there is little or no meaning, then the mnemonic provides a means of making the apparently meaningless information meaningful. This involves recoding, which involves the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activating other associations found in the associative cortex. Often the technique involves the formation of a visual image which activates associative networks in both cerebral hemispheres via transmissions across the corpus callosum. There is no central memory center in the brain. Rather information is stored throughout the brain. Sensory information in the sensory portions, motor information in the motor portions, and verbal and semantic information is the associative portions. Information that you know well likely has many many links to other items of information, the job of the mnemonic technique is to establish solid new links to this new information you want to remember.

Mnemonic techniques require you to pay attention. Paying attention increases the glucose metabolism to the brain. This, in turn, activates the all important hippocampi and activates memory pathways throughout the associative and sensory cortices of the brain.

Click on the Category “Mnemonic Techniques” and you find a comprehensive listing of mnemonic techniques along with descriptions of the techniques and exercises. Try starting at the bottom of the category and proceeding up. There is a specific Healthymemory Blog post, “Memory Course”, which suggests an order in which the mnemonic techniques should be approached.

There are also some websites for learning and developing proficiency in mnemonic techniques. One is www.NeuroMod.org. Click on the Human Memory Site. Then click on the “read more” link under your preferred language. You can open up an account and record and track your progress. Another site is www.Thememorypage.net. Both of these websites are free.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Deliberate Practice

December 14, 2011

Deliberate practice is a term coined by K. Anders Ericsson1 to define the type of practice needed to achieve superior performance or expertise. He wrote, “ For the superior performance in any field the goal isn’t just repeating the same thing again and again, but achieving higher levels of control over every aspect of performance. That’s why they (experts) don’t find practice boring. Each practice session they are working on doing something better than they did the last time. Intense solitary deliberate practice is the hallmark of the superior in every competitive field that I have studied over my forty year career.” He contrasts the practice method of professional versus amateur golfers: Most amateurs participate almost exclusively in recreational play with others. When they ‘practice’ they tend to do things that they are comfortable with and can do with minimal control, such as whacking buckets of golf balls at a driving range. Professionals, in contrast, engage in practice activities that require full concentration to improve specific aspects of their performance, Further, they voluntarily choose practice routines in which they initially experience difficulties in order to improve a specific weakness…The expert golfer’s ability to perceive minute differences and exert control of the ball trajectories does not emerge naturally but through the process of acquiring refined mental representation for perceiving, monitoring, and controlling the muscles involved in the various required movements.”

The pianist Angela Hewitt wrote, “In my recording sessions I find that the improvement comes not in endlessly repeating a piece, but in listening intently to what has been recorded and then thinking about how it can be done better. The editing process then becomes an art in itself and requires intelligent musical decisions.”

In formulating his theories of relativity Einstein needed to master non Euclidean geometries. Acquiring expertise requires constantly going beyond what you know and mastering new material.

See the Healthymemory Blog Post “How the Memory Champs Do It” to understand the fantastic feats of memory that they can perform as well as the types of deliberate practice they employ to build these phenomenal skills.

Remember the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice man, practice.” This needs to be changed to, “Deliberate practice, man, deliberate practice.”

It is remarkable what you can do. But true expertise requires deliberate practice.

1Anderson, K.A. (2007). Deliberate Practice and the Modifiability of Body and Mind: Toward a Science of the Structure and Acquisition of Expert and Elite Performance. International Journal of Sports Psychology.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Focusing on Your Breathing

November 20, 2011

A short article1 in Scientific American Mind reported a couple of studies that demonstrated the benefits of focusing on your breathing. One study reported in the May issue of the International Journal of Psychophysiology and conducted at the Toho University School of Medicine in Japan taught research participants to breathe deeply into their abdomen and to focus on their breathing. They did this for 20 minutes. They reported fewer negative feelings. More of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin was found in their blood. The prefrontal cortex, an area associated with attention and high-level cognitive processing, exhibited more oxygenated hemoglobin.

Another study reported in the April issue of Cognitive Therapy and Research conducted at Ruhr University in Germany examined the effect focusing on breathing had on depression symptoms. The research participants were asked to stay in mindful contact with their breathing and to try to maintain continual awareness without letting their minds wander. During 18 minute trials the researchers asked the participants whether they were successful in doing so. Those who were successful reported less negative thinking, less rumination and fewer other symptoms of depression.

You can do this. You can sit up comfortably and breathe naturally (or deeply, if you prefer). Focus your attention on your breath and feel it in detail, in your nasal cavity, in your chest, and in your abdomen. Don’t be critical if your mind wanders, just try to refocus. With practice, you should improve your ability to stay focused. Try to build up to 20 minutes. Once you become skillful, even a few minutes of this mindful breathing can help you become more calm and collected.

See the Healthymemory Blog Post “The Benefits of Meditation,” for more information. It does not appear that you need to be a Buddhist monk to benefit from meditation. It is thought that even very short periods of meditation can be beneficial.

1Rodriguex, T. (2011). Therapy in the Air. Scientific American Mind, November/December, p. 16.

Lucid Dreams

November 13, 2011

Lucid dreams are dreams that are extremely intense while the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. Approximately eight out of 10 people have had a lucid dream at least once in their life and a small fraction of these have them as often as once or twice a week.1 Lucid dreams are of interest as their study can inform us about both dreaming and the functioning of the brain. There is evidence that lucid dreaming is useful for treating chronic nightmares and perhaps even anxiety.2

One of the first problems is studying lucid dreaming is to have a method for determining whether a lucid dream is occurring. Sleep researcher Stephen LaBerge of Stanford University came up with the technique of instructing research participants to move their eyes a certain way when they realized they were dreaming. These eye movement signals enabled the researchers to distinguish them from REMs that occur during regular dreaming. Later Ursula Dross and her research team discovered another electrical signal from the brain that distinguished lucid dreaming. This was increased activity in the 40-hertz range(the “gamma band”), that occurred primarily in the frontal lobe. These are the same high frequency waves we generate when we concentrate on a particular object. The coherence of electrical activity in the brain is increased, whereas it is generally decreased during REM sleep. You can thinkof the brain’s activation during REM sleep as being similar to a party where all the guests are speaking simultaneously. In lucid dreams, the party guests tend to converse with one another with lower overall background noise.3

Lucid dreaming has been found useful in treating people who suffer from nightmares. People who learned how to increase their frequency of lucid dreams reported fewer nightmares. It is also hoped that lucid dreaming might alleviate anxiety or phobias, but more research is needed. Lucid dreaming has been helpful for creative endeavors such as creating metaphors, but not for rational exercises such as solving brain teasers.4 Much more research into clinical and practical applications is clearly needed.

It is said that people who follow the following regimen regularly are able to have one or two lucid dreams per week:

Throughout the day, ask yourself repeatedly if you are awake. When this habit becomes ingrained, you might find yourself asking the same question in a dream—at which point your chances of realizing you are dreaming skyrocket.

Look in a mirror or read a bit of text every so often as a “reality check.” In dreams our appearance is often altered and the written word can be hard to pin down. You may carry the habit of checking for these dream signs into sleep, where they could alert you to the fact that you are dreaming.

Keep a dream journal by your bed and jot down the dreams you remember immediately upon waking. Studies who that this practice makes you more aware of your dreams in general, and people who are more aware of their dreams are more likely to have a lucid dream.

Before falling asleep, focus intently on the fantasy you hope to experience in a much detail as possible. Research show that “incubating” an idea just before bed dramatically increased the likelihood that you will dream about it . And if you suddenly notice that you are dancing with a moving star you hoped to meet, you might just realize you are having a dream and be able to take control of what happens next.5

Leonardo da Vinci is said to have practiced this “incubation” before he went to sleep.

1Voss, U. (2011)/. Unlocking the Lucid Dream. Scientific American Mind, November/December 2011, pp. 33-35.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

5Adapted from the Lucidity’s Institute Web Site, www.lucidity.com.

Dreams Can Work For You

November 9, 2011

An article1 by Deidre Barret recounts incidents in which dreams resulted in creative discoveries. Perhaps the most famous is the dream of a snake of atoms biting its tale that lead to his discovery of the benzene ring. Others include Mendeleyev’s dream enabling him to come up with the final form of the periodic table. A dream enabled Loewi to design a neuroscience experiment that ultimately lead to a Nobel Prize. Paul Horowitz dreamed of the designs for laser telescope controls and Alan Huang dreamed of laser computing.

It is not just science and engineering, bu dreaming has had beneficial impacts on the arts. Mary Shelly‘s dreams helped her write Frankenstein. Dreams also helped Robert Louis Stevenson write Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. As for music, Beethoven, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel all awoke with ideas for new themes and tunes. An in the area of social activism, Mahatma Gandhi reported that it was a dream that lead him to call for a nonviolent protest of British Rule of India.

Leonardo da Vinci made it a practice to mull over a problem before falling to sleep.

That dreaming can be productive should not be too surprising to readers of the Healthymemory Blog, as a large part of mental activity takes place below the level of conscious awareness. Our minds are actively working even when we are not aware that they are working. Dreaming is just another cognitive state; one that can result in productive results. Barret reports a variety of studies that report some success in setting up people so that their dreams will solve problems. Often, the results are nil, but sometimes they are fruitful.

Barret provides the following tips on how to intentionally try to dream about a problem in the hope that it will lead to a solution:

At bedtime, imagine yourself dreaming about the problem, awakening, and writing on a notepad besides your bed.

If possible, arrange objects connected to the problem on a bedside table or on the wall across the room.

Write down a brief description and keep this note close to your bed. Also keep pen, paper, and a flashlight besides it.

Then review the problem for a few minutes before actually going to bed.

When in the bed, imagine the problem, as a concrete object if possible.

Convince yourself that you want to dream about the problem before your drift off to sleep.

Lie quietly when you awake before you get out of bed. Try to recall as much of the dream as you can and write it down.

If you are interested in this topic, Barret has written a book, The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving__and How You Can Too. Crown (Random House) 2001. The International Association for the Study of Dreams also has a website: www.asdreams.org.

1Barrett, D. (2011). Answers in Your Dreams. Scientific American Mind, November/December, 27-33.

Self Hypnotism

October 30, 2011

It has been said that all hypnotism is actually self hypnotism. The New Scientist published an interesting article1 on hypnotism. It describe the treatment program that Peter Whorwell has developed for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a serious disorder that results in some sufferers contemplating suicide. Whorwell presents a tutorial to his patients on how the gut functions. Then he has his patients effectively hypnotize themselves to use visual and tactile sensations of warmth and to imagine the bowel working normally. The United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended hypnosis as an effective treatment for IBS. Whorwell has shown that under hypnosis some IBS patients can reduce the contractions of their bowel, something that can not normally be done under conscious control2. Their bowel linings become less sensitive to pain.

The question is why this works. Irving Kirsch of the University of Kull thinks that hypnosis taps into physiological pathways that are similar to those involved in the placebo effect (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Placebo and Nocebo Effects”). The medical conditions that benefit from the placebo effect and hypnotism are similar. They both involve suggestion and expectation. The disappointing part is that there are individual differences in how well people respond to hypnosis.

For those who do respond well to hypnosis, the effects can be quite impressive. A common test used in studies of pain perception is called the cold presser test. The research participant is asked to keep her hand in ice water for as long as she can stand it. This does become quite painful. The research participant gives ratings of the pain as it increases as the time in the ice water increases. Eventually, the pain becomes unbearable and the participant removes the hand. People who are effectively hypnotized can keep their hand in the bucket for a long period of time. They are told when to remove their hand to prevent organic damage. They also give accurate ratings of the pain, so although they remain aware of the painful stimulus, the pain remains bearable.

1Marchant, J. (2011). Hypnotise Yourself. New Scientist, 27 August, 35.

2Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 64, p. 621.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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 Benefits of Meditation

October 26, 2011

The benefits of meditation are many.1 There is evidence that meditation boosts the immune system in vaccine recipients and people with cancer. Meditation protects against relapses in major depression and soothes skin conditions. It has even been shown to slow the progression of HIV.

There is even some evidence that meditation might slow the aging process. A proposed theoretical process by which this might happen is interesting. It is believed that telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes play a role in aging. These telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides. It is thought that this process fosters aging. Research conducted by Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, found that the levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a three-month meditation retreat than in a comparable control group who did not meditate.2 The increase in this enzyme and the build up of telomeres, could play a role in slowing aging.

It is also likely that meditation works by influencing stress response pathways. Meditators tend to have lower cortisol levels. A study sowed that meditators also have changes in their amygdalae.3 Amygdalae are brain areas involved in fear and the response to threat.

The good news is that you do not need to be a monk meditating in a monastery or a participant in a three-month study to benefit from meditating. Imaging studies have shown that meditating can cause structural changes in the brain in as little as 11 hours of training. A psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco, Elissa Epel, suggests that fitting in short “mini-meditations” during the course of a day, such as taking a few minutes at your desk to focus on your breathing can be effective. “Little moments here and there all matter.”

Previous Healthymemory Blog posts on this topic can be found by entering “The Benefits of Meditation” in the search block.

1Much of this post is based on an article, Meditate, by Jo Marchant in the New Scientist, 27 August 2011, pp. 34-35.

2Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36., p.664

3Social and Affective Neuroscience, 5, p.11.

Mnemonic Techniques for Cognitive Exercise

September 18, 2011

The Healthy Memory Blog is concerned with developing and maintaining a healthy memory throughout one’s lifespan. Mnemonic techniques are techniques that have been developed specifically for enhancing memory. So it should not be surprising that one of the blog categories is titled mnemonic techniques. It might be surprising that the category is relatively small and that postings to the mnemonic techniques are not that frequent. Mnemonic techniques are very old; they go back to the ancient Greeks at least, and probably further. At one time they played a key part of education, rhetoric and elocution. With the development of external storage media, what the Healthymemory Blog calls transactive memory, less and less reliance was placed on mnemonic techniques. So when paper became generally available, they became less commonly used. Now that we have electronic storage, some might argue that they have become irrelevant.

I would argue that they are not irrelevant and that it was a mistake to drop them from formal education. Although I could make that argument, I shall not make it in this blog post. Instead, I am going to argue that they provide a good form of cognitive exercise, one that promotes memory health. First of all, they obviously involve the memory circuits in the brain. They also require recoding and creativity. Imagery is typically involved, so both hemispheres of the brain are exercised.

Most of these mnemonic techniques are found in older posts. The reason that postings in this category are infrequent, is that practically all of these techniques have already been presented. That does not mean that simply reading these old posts will be sufficient. You need to do them conscientiously and then continue practicing on your own.

I would recommend by beginning with the Healthymemory Blog Post “The Method of Loci.” This is a classic mnemonic technique used by the ancients and also used in contemporary memory contests. Then I would do “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic” post. The next post would be “Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs” The I would recommend “How to Memorize Abstract Information,” followed by “Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs,” “Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs,” and “Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Abstract Pairs.” Then I would recommend “Remembering the Names of People.” Then I would recommend “More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words.”

Numbers are abstract and one of the most difficult types of information to remember. Here I recommend “Remembering Numbers,” “More on Remembering Numbers,” “Three Digit Numbers,” and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.”

If you want to learn about memory competitions and how memory champs become memory champs I would recommend “Moonwalking with Einstein,” and “How the Memory Champs Do It.” Given the importance of preserving memory as we age, I think it would be a good idea to start memory competitions for Baby Boomers and Senior Citizens. I think this is an activity the AARP should seriously consider.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Cognitive Training and Fluid Intelligence

July 24, 2011

An earlier Healthymemory Blog Post, “Improving Cognition”, reported an interesting and important study on the successful training of fluid intelligence. Crystalized intelligence refers to knowledge that we have learned. Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to comprehend new information and to solve problems. Typically, it is fluid intelligence that declines as we age. Absent dementia, crystalized intelligence remains fairly constant and can increase. So, although this study was done using elementary and middle school children, it still holds promise for us baby boomers. Research using baby boomers is in the future. This experiment was too detailed and complicated to include in a short blog post. Fortunately, this research is available on line for free. It is “Short- and long-term benefits of cognitive training” by Susanne M. Laeggi, Martin Buschkuehl, John Jonides, and Priti Shah. It is available at www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1103228108.

The experiment did present evidence not only for the boosting of fluid intelligence, but also for its successful transfer after a 3 month hiatus from training. Unfortunately, not all students benefited from the training. Only those students who performed well on the training tasks exhibited the benefit. Students who had difficulty with the training tasks did not show the benefit. The authors also presented the following conclusion, which is as valuable as the findings themselves.

“We conclude that cognitive training can be effective and long lasting, but that there are limiting factors that must be considered to evaluate the effects of this training, one of which is individual differences in training performance. We propose that future research should not investigate whether cognitive training works, but rather should determine what training regimens and what training conditions result in the best transfer effects, investigate the underlying neural and cognitive mechanisms, and, finally, investigate for whom cognitive training is most useful.”

When you read statements like, “IQ cannot be increased”, or “Cognitive training does not transfer to other tasks,” remember that you cannot prove that there is no effect. Rather, the null hypothesis (no difference) fails to be rejected. The distinction here is subtle, but important. Moreover, the conclusion is restricted to the particular training programs, and to the population of subjects from which the sample in the study was drawn. So we need to understand why programs work and for whom they work. And when programs do not work we need to understand why and for which populations they do not work. Then they need to be modified so that they do work for specific populations. And we need to research for whom different types of cognitive training are most useful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Does Meditation Promote a Healthy Memory?

April 20, 2011

An interesting article1 in AARP online describes the benefits of meditating. It cites a study done by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in 2005. It found that a group practicing meditation for about 40 minutes a day had measurably thicker tissue in the left prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain important to cognitive emotional processing and well-being.

At the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro-Imaging the brains of experienced mediators were compared with a control group of nonmediators. The mediators’s brains contained more gray matter than those of the nonmediators. This gray tissue is responsible for high-level information processing especially in the areas associated with attention, body awareness and the modulation of emotional responses.

In a study published in 2010, neuroscientists scanned the brains of volunteers before and after they received eight weeks of training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). They found growth in the hippocampus and shrinkage in the amygdala. As readers of the Healthymemory Blog probably know, the hippocampus is an important part of the brain that is critical to memory and learning. The amygdala is a portion of the brain that initiates the body’s response to stress.

An MRI study at Emory University showed that experienced meditators were much better than a nonmeditating control group at ignoring extraneous thoughts and focusing on the matter at hand when bombarded by stimuli. This capability to focus at will is especially important in today’s multitasking world when we are constantly bombarded by information, often noise, from a variety of sources. This capability grows more important as we age, because research has indicated that the elderly have more difficulty focusing their attention that those who are younger.

Meditation along with positive emotion might even result in a healthier immune system.

This quote from Dr. Richardson is worth remembering. “We know that the brain is the one organ in our body build to change in response to experience and training. It’s a learning machine.”

It should be understood that meditating does not require going to an ashram or sitting in the lotus permission. Here are some guidelines for meditating that were provided in the AARP article.

  1. Sit in any position that’s comfortable for you; a chair is fine. Or, and this is my personal favorite, you can lie down.

  2. Start with a 5-minute session and then gradually increase to longer times.

  3. Start by just feeling your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. You don’t need to adjust the breath to make it deeper or finer; simply notice it as it is and as it changes.

  4. Sometimes thoughts or emotions come up and sweep us away, or we fall asleep. Know that your mind will wander, just notice where it went and then gently bring it back to the breath—every time, over and over.

  5. Above all, have patience with yourself. The more you practice meditation, the easier it gets to stay focused. So don’t get discouraged by your wandering mind. Eventually, it will get easier to return to concentrating on your breathing.

I would add that whenever you feel stressed or upset, it is a good idea, if possible, to go someplace where you will no be noticed and try to meditate. Even five minutes can be helpful in such situations.

1Salzberg, S. www.aarp.org/personal-growth/life-long-learning/info-0202011/meditation_grows_t…, February 25, 2011

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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 Talented Tenth

April 6, 2011

The Talented Tenth is the title of a chapter in Joshua Foer‘s Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 . The Talented Tenth refers to a class in Raemon Matthews’ class in the Samuel Gompers Vocational High School. This school in located in the South Bronx in New York City. In this neighborhood nine out of ten students are below average in reading and math. Four out of five are living in poverty, and almost half don’t graduate from high school. Matthews named his class the Talented Tenth after W.E.B. DuBois‘ notion that an elite corps of African Americans would lift the race out of poverty. He teaches his students mnemonic techniques and how they can be used to learn the names, dates, and places in the content he presents. He does not only use mnemonic techniques. He does not even use the word “memory” in his class. Matthews says that education is the ability to retrieve information at will and analyze it. But you can’t have higher-level learning, you cannot analyze, without retrieving information. Mnemonic techniques are useful in enabling the students to quickly assimilate names, dates, and places so they can more readily think about the historical events, their context, how these events developed, and why they developed as they did. He also places demands on his students in his tests. Every in-class essay his students write must contain at least two memorized quotations.

He also uses mind maps. Mind maps are drawings where information written in boxes is linked to other information. Each of his students creates an intricately detailed Mind Map of the entire history book.

His methods are successful. Every single member of the talented tenth has passed the New York State Regents exam in the last four years, and 85% of his students have scored ninety or better. It is not surprising that his students do well on advanced placement tests. And they come across as quite impressive individuals. Matthews has a little over forty students in his class. He brings the best twelve students along with him when he attends the U.S. Memory Championships where they compete.

At this point a reasonable question is why are mnemonic techniques not commonly employed in classrooms. One reason might be that teachers don’t know them (and if they had known them, they probably would have done better in college). You might want to read, or reread the Healthymemory Blog Post “Pseudo-Limitations of Mnemonics.” There are pronounced biases against using mnemonics in instruction that are ill-founded. Mnemonics are not to be used for all materials, but rather to provide a means of making initially meaningless material meaningful. It expedites the efficient coding of material so that it can be used for more meaningful higher level cognitive processing.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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 Poems

April 3, 2011

According to Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 memorizing poetry is a standard task for memory competitions. I find this a tad ironic. One of the reasons for poetry, at least poetry that rhymes and has a specific meter, is to aid memory. Epic poems originated in preliterate societies before there was a written language. There are mechanical techniques used to memorize poems that are used by many competitors in memory competitions. But remember that mnemonic techniques are intended primarily for material that has little or no inherent meaning. The material might be meaningful, but the learner has not advanced far enough to decipher that meaning, so mnemonic techniques are called upon.

Some people in these memory competitions use the meaning and the emotion inherent in the poem to memorize the poem. To me, this is the appropriate technique for poetry. Using a mechanical technique circumvents the inherent meaning, emotion, and beauty of the poetry. I find using poetry in memory competitions somewhat obscene. Random digits, playing cards, names and faces are fine, but not poetry. It encourages the skirting of the essence of poetry.

Poetry should be read for enjoyment and savored. True, there are educational situations when one is forced to read and sometimes to memorize poetry. Make an effort to understand and feel poems on their own terms. This reminds me of one of my friend’s opinions regarding speed reading. He said that for technical material, speed reading did not work because the material would not be understood. And when he was reading for pleasure, he saw no sense in rushing through it. True, there are times when it is either necessary or convenient to skim material, but skimming should be done to find meaningful material that should be read more slowly.

I find an analogy between poetry and the way that most actors learn their lines. Some may use mnemonic techniques, but these are the exceptions. Most use what are termed “beats.” This is referring to the motivation and feelings of the character when the actor is delivering the lines. The actor is really into the script. And if an error occurs, it might even be an improvement to the script!

So if there is meaning or feeling in the material to be learned, use that meaning or feeling to aid memorization. Mnemonic techniques are appropriate when no meaning of feeling is apparent in the material.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press.

How the Memory Champs Do It

March 30, 2011

In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 Joshua Foer describes the memory techniques that memory champions use and that he emulated in his preparation for participation in the U.S. Memory Championships. A familiarity with mnemonic techniques or with the postings under the Healthymemory Blog category “Mnemonic Techniques” would be helpful in understanding these techniques.

To become a Grand Master of Memory, the following requirements must be met:

Memorize a list of 1,000 random digits in one hour.

Memorize the precise order of ten shuffled decks of cards in one hour.

Memorize the order of one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.

Memory competitions involve additional tasks such as remembering lists of words, the names of pictures of individuals, and poems.

I was surprised by the prominent role that the Method of Loci (see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Memory of Loci”, it was the first posting in this category so consequently it is at the bottom of the “Mnemonic Techniques” posts) played. They use the strategy of creating what they term “memory palaces.” A memory palace could be your home. You would place items you wanted to be remembered in different locations in your house and form a mental image of the object in specific locations. When it came time to recall, you would simply take a mental walk through your home and see the images of the different items as you examined the part of the house in which you had placed them. Obviously a memory palace need not be a palace or even indoors. You could take a mental walk in a familiar park forming mental images of the items you wanted to remember in different locations throughout the park. These memory experts use an extraordinary number of these memory palaces. I found it interesting that about a week before an important competition, they would mentally clean out these memory palaces from the items they had placed there so they would not be unwanted intrusions in the memory competitions. I did find this reliance on the method of loci surprising. I usually present this method as a matter of historical interest. For myself, I’ve found numeric pegwords more useful for remembering lists of items. This requires having a system for recoding numbers (see the blog posts “Remembering Numbers,” “More On Remembering Numbers,” “Three Digit Numbers,” and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.” I’ve used numeric pegwords developed using these techniques in lieu of the loci provided by memory palaces. I’ve found this more convenient, and you can recall the precise numerical order of any item without having to take a mental walk through some memory palace. Regarding remembering numbers, Foer credits Johann Winkelmann for developing this technique known as the “Major System” around 1648. My references (see Blog Post “Remembering Numbers” credits Pierre Hergione (1540-1643) a French mathematician and astronomer with eventing the technique. It is possible that they developed their systems independently, but the systems appear to be identical, Perhaps Winkelmann plagiarized the system or was improperly credited with its development.

The Person Action Object (PAO), Einstein Walking on the Moon for example, is another technique, although the fundamental forming of mental images is central to all mnemonic techniques. These images need to be vivid. Bizarre and/or obscene images can be quite effective. I found it curious that the PAO system was used to remember numbers. For example, Frank Sinatra might be used for 34. The number 13 could be David Beckham kicking a soccer ball. And 79 could be Superman. So 791334 could become an image of Superman kicking a soccer ball into Frank Sinatra. So unique arbitrary images are used for these number. A unique PAO image is developed for each number from 0 t0 99 is created. Advanced mnemonists might generate unique PAO images from 0 to 999. Why they do this rather than relying on the Perionne or “Major System” is beyond me. Perhaps they want an independent system to avoid confusion. I don’t know. But compared to these guys, I’m a village idiot.

What is interesting is the time needed to become proficient enough in these techniques to compete in a world championship and have any chance of winning. Foer practiced about four hours a day. He also used earplugs and goggles that restricted his field of view to focus his attention. He employed what is termed deliberate practice where the focus was on remediating errors and increasing speed and proficiency. So when a performance plateau is hit one needs to challenge oneself by practicing failing and putting onesself in the mind of someone more accomplished with the task. One needs to maintain some conscious control to improve and not remain on autopilot. Actually four hours a day is a reasonable amount of time to spend in an activity at which you hope to be expert. It is remarkable that Foer was able to achieve the proficiency that he did in what was a little less than a year.

Although it takes an extraordinary amount of commitment to be able to compete on a national or world level, it does not take that much time to benefit from mnemonic techniques. Usually in a simple experiment where one group of people is given a memory technique and another group is not, the benefit of the memory technique is quite apparent. To achieve some immediate benefit should not take much effort. The greater the proficiency desired, the greater the effort that needs to be extended. The techniques presented in this Healthymemory Blog should be quite helpful. And since they require creativity, imagination, and recoding, and that they force you to attend and to used both hemispheres of your brain, they should provide helpful mental workouts.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Moonwalking with Einstein

March 27, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 is one gem of a book. Its author, Joshua Foer, is one remarkable individual. This book was an exercise in participatory journalism. The memory of participatory journalism I have is George Plimpton‘s Paper Tiger. Back in the sixties George Plimpton convinced the Detroit Lions that they allow him to participate during the preseason. So he worked out as a quarterback and, if memory serves me correctly, took a couple of snaps during an exhibition game. He wrote a book about this time from which a motion picture was made. Although this was entertaining, it was a lark as Plimpton clearly participated in an activity to which he didn’t properly belong. Joshua Foer became intrigued about the competitive memory circuit after attending the World Memory Championships. After consulting with a variety of experts he decided to take it upon himself to train his memorization skills so that he would be able to participate in the U.S Memory Championship. This was a daunting undertaking. For example, the world memory champion, Ben Pridmore, is able to memorize the precise order of 1528 random digits in one hour. To become a Grand Master of Memory, of which there were 36 at the time the book was written, the following requirements must be met:

Memorize a list of 1,000 random digits in one hour.

Memorize the precise order of ten shuffled decks of cards in one hour.

Memorize the order of one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.

The memory championships involved a variety of tasks that are described in the book and each of them requires their own preparation. Joshua had what we would regard as a normal memory. He was willing to learn the mnemonic techniques that the experts employ and to bring them to the proficiency so that he would be a credible competitor at the U.S. Memory Championships.

Moonwalking with Einstein chronicles his journey from novice to participating in the championship in a most entertaining fashion. Along the way he addresses many interesting issues, issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts to the Healthymemory Blog. However, I would advise you against relying on this blog for learning the content of Moonwalking. I cannot do justice to the book. You would be missing a great read.

For the ancient Greeks mnemonic skills were an essential component of rhetorical skills. In pre-literate societies stories were memorized and historical records committed to memory by skilled memorizers. A skilled memory was essential to scholarship until the printed word became commonplace. Ever since then reliance has been increasingly placed on transactive memory, a term Foer does not use. Transactive memory refers to external storage media like paper, books, journals, storage media, the internet, and even fellow humans. Our brains remain biologically capable of doing what the ancient Greeks did. I should take pains to point out that although the title is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, the book argues that remembering everything would be a mistake and might be a personal handicap. But it is also most likely a mistake to rely almost exclusively on transactive memory. The book states that on average, people squander forty days annually compensating for things that they have forgotten. Although the book is fairly well documented, I do have to regard this particular claim with skepticism. I would be willing to accept “ a lot” rather than the precise estimate. But there might be even more compelling reasons for making greater use of biological memory. The Healthymemory Blog argues that mnemonic techniques provide a good means of exercising our cognitive skills to include focusing attention, creativity, imagination, and recoding. They activate memory circuits and exercise both hemispheres of the brain.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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 of People

March 23, 2011

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

However remembering names is only part of the problem. The name usually needs to be associated with a face. Linking the mnemonic to an image of the individual will work, if you can do it.  Another technique that was advocated by the famous mnemonist Harry Lorayne was to link the mnemonic to something conspicuous or salient in the person’s face. 

Suppose you meet a lady with a broad nose named Hamilton. You could form a mental picture of someone hammering a ton on her nose.

Suppose a Mr. Forbes has a distinctive hairline. You could imaging four bees coming out of his hairline.

You encounter a Mr. Zimmer whose most distinguishing feature is a deep indentation from the center of his nose to the center of his upper lip (this is called a philtrum). You could form a mental picture of a pot simmering in this indentation (philtrum).

Let’s consider a Mr. Ingram next.  Perhaps the most distinctive features on his face are his large, bushy eyebrows.  You can imagine a ram pouring ink on his eyebrows.

Now consider Ms. Lembo.  She has an upswept hairdo.  You could imagine someone doing the limbo on the top of her hairdo.

Next consider Ms. Coldwell.  She has a tunnel-like, or inverted V-shaped hairline.  You could form a picture of some drawing water from a cold well in this tunnel.

Now consider Mr Kim.  You can picture in his mouth his next of kin eating M&Ms.

Notice Ms. Ku’s hair.  You can imagine a coup taking place in her hair.

Here is Ms. Yu. You can imagine large letter “”U’s” placed around her hair.

This is Mr. Rodriguez.  You can imagine a rod reeking of gas coming out of his nose.

This is Ms. Lopes.  You can imagine someone loping across her eyes.

The more information you can associate with the person, the better the overall memory.  So what is important about the person?  Knowing the occupation or the position someone holds is important.  Recoding and forming images to remember are not always necessary.  Of course, you can form an image of this person performing her job it you find this helpful.  Knowing the person’s hobbies and interests is another plus.  Again, you can form images of the person with her hobbies and interests if you find this helpful.  Knowing if the person is married and how many children, and of what kind and ages these children are good things to know.  If you find images helpful here, fine.  But the very act of devoting the time and attention to remember this information will facilitate memory.  Not only will this facilitate memory, but it will also facilitate your relationships.   Being able to recall this information and to work it into the conversation demonstrates to the individual that you both know and care about them. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Pseudo-Limitations of Mnemonics

March 6, 2011

I’ve recently reread an article by Higbee, “Some Pseudo-limitations of Mnemonics.1” This article reminded me of the resistance that has, and presumably continues, regarding the use of mnemonic techniques. So I am using Higbee’s article to refute this limitations.

One pseudo-limitations is that mnemonics are not practical. There is much information to the contrary. Mnemonic techniques provide a good means of dealing with absent-mindedness, remembering people’s names, remembering numbers and dates, in learning foreign vocabulary, as well as in other educational applications.

Another criticism is that mnemonics do not aid understanding. Although it could be argued that mnemonics can aid understanding, it should be conceded that in learning a new subject there often is a problem of learning new vocabulary and terms that appear to be meaningless. Mnemonics provide a means of rendering the meaningless meaningful. So mnemonics can be quite helpful in the early stages of learning. As the student progress and as what was once meaningless becomes meaningful, the need for using mnemonics diminishes. No one advocates using mnemonics all the time. But for certain tasks and for certain stages of learning they can be quite helpful.

A third criticism is that mnemonics are a crutch. But so is writing something down, what the Healthymemory Blog terms using transactive memory. Yes, they are a crutch, but technology is also a crutch. There is a very interesting educational problem here. One might argue that with the proliferation of handheld computers, one need never remember anything provided they new how to look it up. That is a rather extreme position. There is likely an epistemological need to maintain some information and knowledge, other than knowing how to look things up, in one’s personal memory.

A fourth criticism is that mnemonics are a trick similar to the tricks done by magicians. Although both mnemonics and magic are a part of show business, that provides no reason for discounting either of them. Cognitive psychologists have started studying magic tricks to learn about human information processing. Mnemonics are used in show business, but they were essential to knowledge and oratory in the time of the ancient Greeks. They remained a central part of education until the ramifications of the development of the printing press and the availability manifested themselves. What happened was that technological “crutches” replace mnemonic “crutches.” There remains the question of how extensively these technological “crutches” should be used.

The Healthymemory Blog, being about healthy memory advocates the use of mnemonic techniqus as a mental exercise. Mnemonics involve creativity, recoding, visualization, and employ both hemispheres of the brain.

Please peruse the offerings under the “Mnemonic Techniques” Category. The blog post, “A Memory Course” provides a suggested order in which to read the Mnemonic Techniques postings.

1Higbee, K. L. (1978). Some Pseudo-limitations of Mnemonics. In Gruneberg, M.M., Morris, P.E., & Sykes, R.N. (Eds.) Practical Aspects of Memory. New York: Academic Press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

A Day in the Life of Mr. and Mrs. Healthymemory

February 6, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Healthymemory are a retired couple who are interested in memory health and stay mentally active. The following is a summary of a typical day in their lives.

They sleep in as they are careful to be sure that they get enough sleep. During breakfast the share the morning paper and discuss topics of mutual interest. They include flavonoids in their breakfast as they do with all their meals (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Flavonoids for a Healthy Memory”). They discuss their plans for the day both to assure that they are efficient (they are not making unnecessary trips or taking routes that are time consuming) and mutually supportive (their plans fit well together). They commit both their plans to prospective memory so that each know where the other will be at what times. They use mnemonic techniques to commit their plans for the day to memory. They don’t feel a need to use technical transactive memory (to write the plans down or enter them into a Personal Digital Assistant) because they are confident that they will remember and that nothing catastrophic will result in the event that either forgets something.

Mrs. Healthymemory prepares to leave to go to the supermarket. Again she chooses not to write down a shopping list, but rather uses a mnemonic technique to commit the list to memory. Mr. Healthymemory goes to the computer to work on a history of their families. Currently, he is using geneological websites to see how far back he can trace their family histories.

Later in the morning, they take a walk before lunch, recognizing that physical health is important to a healthy memory. During lunch they converse about topics of mutual interest.

In the afternoon they meet with their separate friends. Mrs. Healthymemory meets with her book discussion group. Her group not only discusses the book, but also does research online regarding the author, critiques of the book, and about the context in which the book takes place. So in addition to reading the book, each member spends time doing research online and preparing presentations to the group.

Mr. Healthymemory is in a sports trivia group. Currently they are researching the history of baseball. Most of this research is done online. This research involves numbers in addition to names. They are especially interested in how such statistics as batting averages, home runs, complete games pitched and earned run average have changed over time and have animated discussions regarding possible reasons for these changes.

During dinner they discuss their respective days. Each makes an effort to understand some of the interests of the other in the interests of fostering mutual transactive memories. This is beneficial both to their respective memories and their relationship. They also discuss strategy for the bridge games they have planned with another couple for the evening. They have developed a fairly sophisticated bidding strategy using mnemonic techniques. Later that evening, they find that they are tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Costly Gadgets or Software Not Required for a Healthy Memory

January 26, 2011

The Healthymemory “Blog has consistently maintained that costly equipment or software is not required for a healthy memory. Indeed, that is one reason why memory techniques are recommended. Even transactive memory does not require a computer. Conventional storage media like books, journals, and magazines will suffice as well as your fellow human beings. Meditation can also provides a less costly beneficial activity in terms of monetary expense, but the time demands can be substantial. Research1 by Posner and his colleagues indicates that beneficial meditation need not consume excessive amounts of time.

The training technique is called integrative body-mind training (IBMT; or integrative meditation). This technique integrates body relaxation, breathing adjustment, mental imagery and mindfulness training, There was also a coach who could help each participant increase the amount of mindfulness experienced to maximize the benefit of each practice session. Comfortable background music was also employed. Forty Chinese undergraduates took this training for five days. Each session lasted twenty minutes. An additional forty Chinese undergraduates were assigned to a control group that was given a form of relaxation training.

Both groups were given a battery of tests one week before the training and immediately after the final training session. The Attention Network Test (ANT) measures the ability to resolve conflicting demands upon attention, in other words, selective attention. Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrix provides a measure of fluid attention. Measures of mood were also taken. A mental arithmetic task was used to present a stress challenge followed by measures of cortisol and secretory IgA, which provide indications of the body physiological response to stress. The two groups did not differ on any of these tests before undergoing training.

After training, the IBMT group showed superior performance with respect to conflict resolution. The IBMT group also showed better regulation of emotion. The IBMT group also performed better on the Raven’s Test indicating improvement in fluid attention. Five days of IBMT training reduced the stress response to the mental challenge especially after an additional 20 minutes of practice.

All-in-all, these are most impressive results given the limited total amount of IBMT training.

1Tang, Y.Y., Yinghua, M., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Sui, S., Rothbart, M.K., Fan, M., & Posner, M.I.. (2007). Short-term Meditation Training Improves Attention and Self-Regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. October 23, 104(43): 17152:17156. Published online 2007 October 11. doi: 10.1073/pnas.07067678104. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

 

Neurobics

January 3, 2011

Neurobics1 purports to do for the mind/brain what aerobics does for the cardio-pulmonary systems. It is very much in synch with the Healthymemory Blog. The authors are Chris Maslanka and David Owen. Maslanka is an experienced puzzler and puzzle creator. He sees puzzles and games as a way of stimulating creativity and of promoting healthy cognitive processes. Owen is an engineer who moved from the aerospace industry into scientific writing and journalism. They have collaborated on a splendid volume.

The first two chapters provide background for the book. They discuss the potential for building a better brain and a strategy for assessing the relative strengths and weaknesses of your brain.

Chapter 3, “Build Mental Muscle”, consists of logical puzzles. These involve common-sense reasoning, proceeding from information that is already known. The chapter provides strategies for solving these puzzles.

Chapter 4, “Find Yourself in Space”, consists of spatial puzzles. Tactics for solving these problems are presented.

Chapter 5, “Boost Your Word Power”, consists of verbal puzzles. Methods for solving these probems are discussed.

Chapter 6, “Figure It Out”, presents of numerical puzzles. The different types of numerical puzzles and their solutions are provided.

Chapter 7, “Hold That Thought”, presents memory puzzles along with memory techniques for dealing with them. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should find many of the postings under Mnemonic Techniques helpful here.

Chapter 8, “Get Creative”, discusses means of promoting creativity and, of course, creative puzzles.

In each of the chapters each puzzle is labeled as a “Light Workout”, “Getting Harder”, or “Feel the Burn.” The second chapter recommends going through the “Light Workout” puzzles in each chapter to see how many you can solve. This should provide a indication of the relative strengths and weaknesses of your current cognitive functioning. The solutions to all of the puzzles are provided at the end of each chapter apart from the initial presentation of the puzzles (so there will be less of a temptation to cheat).

Chapter 9, “Brain Conditioning”, discusses diet and exercise issues that are relevant to a healthy brain.

The only criticism I have of this book is its lack of documentation. Although I agree with most of the claims made in the book, and could find the references for many of them, I still think it is incumbent on authors to provide as much documentation as is feasible. 

1Maslanka, C. & Owen, D. (2010). A Reader’s Digest Book. Quintet Publishing Limited.

A Review of Brain Exercises and Training Induced Learning

December 1, 2010

This post in based on a review article in Psychology and Aging.1 This article notes that there are volumes of evidence that even as we age, training in specific tasks generally results in improved performance on those tasks. The problem is that most of this research indicates that improvements are specific to the task and do not generalize to measurable benefits in daily life. This does not mean that this training is worthless. It can still provide beneficial exercise to the brain. Consider doing push-ups for physical exercise. Undoubtedly, doing push ups regularly is beneficial to your health. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find that doing them provided measurable benefits in daily life outside your exercise regime.

So providing measurable benefits in daily life, say an overall increase in the rate of learning, is a difficult goal to achieve. Yet certain programs have provided evidence to this effect, and the authors of this article sought to capture the features of these programs that lead to generalizable results. They identified the following characteristics: Task difficulty, motivation and arousal, feedback, and variability.

With respect to the characteristic of task difficulty it is important to begin with an easy level of difficulty and then gradually advance through levels of increasing task difficulty. Obviously, if the task is too difficult to begin with, people become discouraged and learning suffers. However, if people are able to accomplish the task fairly easily, then can gradually increase their skill while advancing to increasing levels of difficulty.

Perhaps it is obvious, but if people are motivated to learn, they are more likely to succeed. Arousal goes hand in hand with motivation. Aroused learners, within limits, learn faster. So tasks that are enjoyable and rewarding increase arousal levels, and so forth, and so forth.

Feedback is important so that people know that they are performing the task correctly. This also relates back to motivation, arousal, and task difficulty. When task difficulty can be accommodated, the feedback is positive, which is arousing and increases motivation. Now task difficulty can be too easy, in which case the feedback is trivial, not rewarding and does not lead to arousal and increased motivation. So task difficulty is what is termed a “Goldilocks” characteristic—not too easy and not too difficult, but just right.

Variability is the final key characteristic. The training program should exercise a wide variety of skills. It is this variability that increases the likelihood that the benefits will transfer to everyday life and learning.

Unfortunately, too many Baby Boomers and looking for the magic exercise, the magic program, or the magic vitamin or dietary supplementary to ward off the effects of aging. There is no magic exercise or pill. What is required is a range of activities and exercises to ward off the effects of aging. The Healthymemory Blog recommends such activities. Its blog posts provide a variety of mnemonic techniques (click on the category mnemonic techniques) that increase the efficiency of memory and provide mental exercises that make requirements on creativity, recoding, and both hemispheres of the brain. The Healthymemory Blog provides information on human cognition, that provide both exercise and insight into cognitive processes. Transactive memory provides for cognitive growth via the technology, the internet, books, as well as for interactions with your fellow human beings.

1Green, C.S., & Bavilier, D. (2010). Exercising Your Brain: A Review of Human Brain Plasticity and Training-Induced Learning. Psychology and Aging, 23, 692-701. 

© 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.

Intensive Meditation Training Increases the Ability to Sustain Attention

November 11, 2010

Vigilance tasks require an observer to note when a target occurs. Much research has been done in this area due to important military and security applications. For example, an observer might need to detect enemy planes approaching on the radar scope. Or it might be security personnel monitoring baggage at an airport. Moreover, there is need to distinguish dangerous from benign targets on the scope. Although this is obviously a very important task, it would also appear to be a very simple task. The problem is that over prolonged periods of time performance drops off. In spite of all the research that has been done, techniques for sustaining attention have been found lacking. A recent article1 presented research that found that intensive meditation training can aid sustained attention. Other research2 has found that vigilance requires hard mental work and is stressful. Research using questionnaires and measurements of cerebral blood flow velocity have documented that vigilance is stressful and hard mental work. Attentional resource theory has been used to account for the vigilance decrement. The notion is that attentional resources are rapidly depleted by the demands of the vigilance task.

The meditation training used in the first article was quite intensive. It involved going to a retreat. Shamantha3 meditation training was used in at least five three day retreats. The meditation training was found to sustain vigilance for a longer time, presumably by increasing attentional resources.

You might ask, so what? My job does not involve vigilance tasks. The relevance to you is that meditation apparently does increase attentional resources. Meditation training has been found to be beneficial to temporal attention, attentional alerting, and visual discrimination. Moreover, readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be well aware of the critical role of attention in cognitive performance, and that many failures and breakdowns in cognitive processing are due to limited attentional resources.

See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Relaxation Response,” “Attention Its Different Roles,” “Restoring Attentional Resources,” and “More on Restoring Attentional Resources.”

1MacLean, K. A., and many others (2010).  Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention.  Psychological Science, 21, 829-839.

2Warm, J.s., Parasururaman, R., & Matthews, G. (2008). Vigilance Requires Hard Mental Work and is Stressful. Human Factors, 50, 433-441.

3Wallace, B.A, (2006). The Attention Revolution. Boston: Wisdom 

© 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.

Efficacy of Group Memory Training for Older Adults

November 4, 2010

Given the importance of memory for successful aging, programs for improving memory that work for older adults are especially important. A recent article1 provides evidence for just such a program. The program involved the training of groups of 15 people with an average age of 67.8. The training involved the types of techniques discussed under the Mnemonic Techniques category in the Healthymemory Blog. The training consisted of ten sessions lasting 90 minutes each. Two sessions were conducted each week. Here is a synopsis of what was covered in each session.

Session 1 – Introduction to the course and instructor. Discussion of stereotypes and beliefs about memory. Attention exercises and homework assignment.

Session 2 – Explanation and exercises on the visualization technique. Application of the technique to daily life. Attention exercises and a homework assignment.

Session 3 – Visualization exercises. Explanation of the different tion of the types of memory and states. Attention exercises. Homework assignment.

Session 4 – Group comments on the application of the visualization technique in their daily lives. Visualization of text and visualization of things they were going to do (prospective memory). Homework assignment.

Session 5 – Explanation of the cognitive simulation concept. Perception, language and attention exercises. Homework assignment.

Session 6 – Cognitive simulation exercises. Homework assignments.

Session 7 – Explanation of the association exercises. Group discussion on the use and application of the technique. Homework assignment.

Session 8 – Association as a technique to remember names. Name recall exercises. Homework assignment.

Session 9 – Strategies to overcome everyday forgetfulness. Practical exercises for everyday forgetfulness. External cues. Homework assignments.

Session 10 – Review of memory types and stages. Review of true and false beliefs about memory. Participants’ comments on what they learned in the workshops.

Memory was assessed by both objective and subjective assessments. The objective memory test was the Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test (RBMT)2. This test evaluates associative memory (remembering first names, surnames, and faces), prospective memory (tasks to be performed)memory with both visual and verbal material, and topographical memory (getting around a room). The subjective memory test was the Memory Failures in Everyday Life (MFE) questionnaire.3 This was a subjective report by each individual with respect to the frequency of common memory errors.

These tests were administered three times: before the training course, just after the training course, and 6 months after that. For comparison purposes there were two control groups. A Placebo Group attended the same number of sessions, except that they were on health and did not involve memory training. A second control group simply took the two tests at the three different testing intervals.

On the RBMT scores between 0 and 3 indicate severe memory impairment, between 4 and 6 moderate memory impairment, 7 and 9 weak memory impairment, and between 10 and 12 normal memory. For the memory training group the average scores were 7.66, 9.93, and 10.84, for the Pre, Post, and 6 month tests, respectively. This improvement is impressive and continued to increase 6 months after completion of the course. The comparable scores were 7.40, 7.66, 8.78 for the Placebo Group, and 8.06, 7.60, and 7.30 for the Control Group.

For the MFE higher scores indicate more forgetting and lower scores less forgetting. The Pre, Post, and 6 month scores for the training group were 74.80, 56.26, and 50.75, respectively. These decreases in incidents of forgetfulness are impressive. The comparable scores were 67.46, 66.66, and 56.92 for the Placebo Group, and 61.33, 57.33, and 62.46 for the Control Group.

This is impressive evidence for the effectiveness of this group memory training. Benefits lasted and grew well after the end of the formal training.

1Postigo, J.M.L., Viadel, J.V.H., &b Trives, J.J.R. (2010) Efficacy of Group memory Training Method for Older Adults Based on Visualization Techniques: A Randomized, Controlled Trial with a Control Group. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 956-968.

2Wilson, B.A., Cockburn, J., & Baddeley, A. (1985).The Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test. Titchfield: Thames Valley Test Company.

3Sunderlan, A., Harris, J., & Gleave, J. (1984). Memory Failures in Everyday Life Following Sever Head Injury. Journal of Clinical Neurology, 6, 127-142.

© 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.

Positive Results for Mnemonic Training of the Aged

October 24, 2010

A meta-analytic study is an analysis of a large number of experiments on a given topic. Meta-analyses not only indicate what works and what does not, but they also provide a quantitative estimate of the benefits. A meta-analytic study of the benefits of mnemonic training of the aged provides some highly promising results.1 This study measured the pre-posttest gains in memory tasks that required the memorization of lists of items for healthy people aged 60 or above. The overall mean age was 69.1 years, but the mean age for some experiments was as high as 73. The summary of all the results indicated that the average elderly person can be expected to perform at the 77th percentile of the performance distribution of his or her age group. This means that the average elderly person can be expected to move from the 50th percentile to the 77th percentile as a result of the memory training. So that is 27 percentile points. That means that if you were in the mean center of your group before memory training, you would move to the upper quarter of the group as a result of the memory training.

A variety of mnemonic techniques were used in the different studies that were meta-analyzed, mnemonic techniques that have been covered in the Healthymemory Blog. They include the method of loci (The Method of Loci); the pegword technique (The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic). The name mnemonic (Remembering Names); Paired Associates Imagery (Paired-Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs, Paired-Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs, Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs, and Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Abstract Pairs), and Relaxation (The Relaxation Response) You can find these blog posts by entering the blog post title in the search box, or by clicking on the Mnemonic Techniques category and perusing the blogs in that category, You will find additional blogs on remembering numbers, remembering foreign words, remembering historical dates and appointments, to name just a few.

It is the belief of the Healthymemory Blog that using these mnemonic techniques accomplishes more than improving your memory. They also provide mental exercises that help build healthy memories (hence the name for this blog). This be of benefit to everyone, but especially to baby boomers who need to start preparing to counter any adverse effects of aging.

1Verhaeghen, P., Marcoen, A, & Goosens, L. (1992). Improving Memory Performance in the Aged Through Mnemonic Training: A Meta-Analytic Study. Psychology and Aging, 7, 242-251.

© 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.

World Memory Championships’ U.K. Open

October 6, 2010

The Washington Post reported on the Memory Championships that were recently completed in England.1 Some of the feats reported were memorizing the order of 930 binary digits in five minutes, the order of 364 playing cards in 10 minutes, and the order of a deck of playing cards in less than 25 seconds.

The competition consisted of ten categories of competition, some of which were, in addition to the memorization of play cards, abstract images, random words, and photographs of strangers. Contestants scored points in each of the ten categories and awards were presented for the winners of each category.

The U.K Open is preliminary to the World Memory Championships, which will be held in China this year. The winner of that competition will receive a $92,000.00 cash prize. The rumor is that the Chinese government has been conducting a memory boot camp for its competitors. If so, the competition will likely be especially intense.

The tenor of the Post article was that these memory competitions were fun, but of little practical value. Given today’s PDAs, smart phones, and ubiquitous technology, such skills have little value. I beg to differ.

First let me provide some historical context. Memory skills were trained and highly valued in Ancient Greece and Rome. These skills continued to be valued until paper became more generally available and Gutenberg invented the printing press. As technology advanced, memory techniques became less and less popular. These lost or forgotten skills can be regarded as a casualty of technological advances.

I submit that these skills are still valuable. And the feats do not need to equal or even come close to these competitive mnemonists to be valuable. Both human memory and technology are vulnerable. Sure, human memory is vulnerable, you say, but how is technology vulnerable? First of all, due to hardware or software problems, technology is not always available. Then, there are data entry errors that yield incorrect information when you try to retrieve it. And what about all the logons and passwords you need to remember to even gain access to the technology? And what about credit cards? Should you write the numbers down, someone can always find them, but if you commit them to memory? Remembering names and personal information that goes with the names is invaluable, especially during unanticipated encounters.

But there is an even more fundamental reason that the Healthymemory Blog recommends mnemonic techniques. They provide splendid exercise for your memory to keep it healthy. Not only is your memory exercised, but your creativity and both hemispheres of your brain also receive workouts.

These memory techniques can be found under the Category mnemonic techniques. Remember that a blog is presented in reverse order, so you might want to start at the beginning, bottom, of the category.

1Moyer, J. & Omonira-Oyekanmi, R. (2010). Memorize 364 Playing Cards? In Ten Minutes? Piece of Cake, Style Section Washington Post, C9.

© 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.

The Prosecutor’s Fallacy

June 2, 2010

There are 175 accredited law schools in the United States. Only one of these schools requires a basic course in statistics or research methods.1 This is unfortunate as this deficiency in education has had adverse effects on justice. Prosecutors have even had a statistical fallacy named after them, the Prosecutor’s Fallacy. Here is the Prosecutor’s Fallacy:

p(match) is mistaken for p(not guilty|match).

 Suppose that you have been charged with first degree murder, a capital offense. You undergo DNA testing. Your DNA is found to match a DNA sample taken from the scene of the crime. The expert witness testifies that only one person in 100,000 would be able to match the DNA sample. You might conclude that it is all over for you. Many prosecutor’s would conclude that they had an open and shut case. But suppose that you lived in New York City and that the crime took place in New York. I believe that the population of the metropolitan New York is around eight million. So within the metropolitan New York area there are about eighty other individuals who could provide matching samples. So, given no other evidence against you, the probability is only 1/80 (0.0125) that you are the murderer.

DNA evidence can be more beneficial to the defense than than to the prosecution. For example, if the DNA from the semen sample taken from a rape victim does not match that of the accused, it is fairly certain that the accused is not guilty. It is difficult to understand how judges, if they are truly interested in justice, would ever deny DNA tests for rapists convicted before DNA testing had advanced to its present state.

A related fallacy in statistical reasoning can be found in the O.J. Simpson case. Simpson’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz presented the data that as many as four million women are battered annually by husbands and boyfriends in the United States in 1992. In 1992 913 women were killed by their husbands and 519 were killed by boyfriends. So out of these four million cases of abuse, there were only1,432 homicides. From this Dershowitz concluded that there is less than 1 homicide per 2,500 cases of abuse. If you do the computations, you will find that this is still a conservative estimate. Although this is a conservative estimate, it is the wrong statistic. What we need to know is of the battered, murdered women, how many were killed by someone other than their husband or boyfriend. When this is considered we find that 89% of these women were murdered by their husband or boyfiend and only 11% by someone else. This statistic casts a dramatically different light on the probability of Simpson’s guilt. Yet the prosecution let this past without offering this relevant statistic.

Courts are frequently given the responsibility of determining whether violent people should be released back into the community. Psychiatrists are given a difficult task when they need to render an opinion as to whether a violent or potentially violent person should be released. The American Psychiatric Association provided this statement to the Supreme Court of the United States: “our best estimate is that two out of three predictions of long-term future violence are wrong.” Still the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that such testimony is legally admissible as evidence. Here is their reasoning, “mental health professionals are not always wrong…only most of the time.”

1Faigman, D. L. (1999). Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law. New York: Freeman and Co.

Another Memory Stunt to Build a Healthy Memory

May 20, 2010

Here’s another memory stunt that should impress, friends, enemies, and strangers. Should you protest that you are not interested in impressing any of these parties, then consider this memory stunt as memory exercise. The task is to recall the states of the union in the order in which they were admitted to the union. At the end of this list you’ll find tips on how best to accomplish this stunt.

  1. Delaware
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. New Jersey
  4. Georgia
  5. Connecticut
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Maryland
  8. South Carolina
  9. New Hampshire
  10. Virginia
  11. New York
  12. North Carolina
  13. Rhode Island
  14. Vermont
  15. Kentucky
  16. Tennessee
  17. Ohio
  18. Louisana
  19. Indiana
  20. Mississippi
  21. Illinois
  22. Alabama
  23. Maine
  24. Missouri
  25. Arkansas
  26. Michigan
  27. Florida
  28. Texas
  29. Iowa
  30. Wisconsin
  31. California
  32. Minnesota
  33. Oregon
  34. Kansas
  35. West Virginia
  36. Nevada
  37. Nebraska
  38. Colorado
  39. North Dakota
  40. South Dakota
  41. Montana
  42. Washington
  43. Idaho
  44. Wyoming
  45. Utah
  46. Oklahoma
  47. New Mexico
  48. Arizona
  49. Alaska
  50. Hawaii

Tricks for these stunts can be found in the previous blog posts, “More on Remembering Numbers,” and “Remembering Names.”

  1. Picture Della Wearing a Tie
  2. Picture Noah landing the ark in Pennsylvania
  3. Picture Ma wearing a New Jersey

    You 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.

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.

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.

To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First!

March 22, 2010

A recent article, “The Pluses of Getting it Wrong” by Henry Roediger and Bridgid Finn has profound implications for students, in particular, and education, in general.1 They present research that makes the case not only for difficult tests in school, but also for testing before any instruction takes place. Students who make an unsuccessful attempt to answer a test question before receiving the correct answer the material remember the material better than if they simply study the information. One can certainly ask, how can this be?

One possibility is that asking questions before studying the material focuses the students’ attention on critical concepts. This could be beneficial, but might not the same benefit be achieved by allowing students to preview the questions without having to answer them? This issue was addressed by comparing three groups in a study. One group, which you might call the standard control group, was allowed to study the material in advance of the first test. A second group previewed the questions before studying the material. The third group not only saw the questions, but was also required to attempt to answer them. All groups were allowed to study the material again and were given a final test.

The third group, the one that not only previewed the test questions, but were also required to attempt to answer them, performed the best. The group that previewed the questions came in second, and the standard traditional group performed the poorest. So testing in advance not only facilitates the identification of key concepts, but the attempt to answer the questions provides additional benefit. This might activate memory circuits that facilitate learning.

A previous blog post “The Benefits of Testing” also cited the work of Roediger. Testing before studying resulted in better recall. Roediger has used his results and the results of others to modify his teaching. Every class begins with a test on the material of the day. When this test is completed he proceeds to cover the material. This results in better retention, long term retention, in particular.

When or whether the educational establishment acts upon these findings remains to be seen. However, the industrious student can use these results to improve the effectiveness of her own study. If there are questions in the back of a chapter, attempt to answer them before reading the chapter. If there are no questions, then read headings and try to construct questions based on the headings and then attempt to answer them before reading the chapter. Then read the chapter.

1Roediger, H. L. III & Finn, B. (2010). The Pluses of Getting It Wrong, Scientific American Mind, March/April, 39-41.

© 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.

The Benefits of Testing

February 9, 2010

The distinguished psychologist Roddy Roediger was invited to give the keynote address for the 50th Anniversary meeting of the Psychonomic Society. The title of the address is “The Critical Role of Retrieval in Enhancing Long-Term Memory: From the Laboratory to the Classroom.” A streaming video of this keynote address came be found at

psychonomic.org/annual_meeting.html

Roediger begins his address by stating the implicit bargain that is usually made between teachers and students. Students don’t like taking tests and teachers don’t like giving them. Not only does the teacher need to construct the test, but she also needs to grade them, a time consuming task. So testing and exams are usually kept to a minimum. Moreover, testing is used to measure learning and the assumption has been that little or no learning takes place during testing. Roediger’s address should disabuse anyone of this notion.

Roediger presents a series of studies that vary the respective number of study and test trials. Little difference was observed during learning. But on retention tests that were given two days later, retention was solely a function of the number of test trials. He presents a series of studies varying the materials and the nature of the tests, but they all basically hammer home the same theme. Not only does learning occur during testing, but more learning occurs during testing than during study. One study done with a group of middle schoolers showed that repeated testing had the result of raising the average grade from a C+ to an A-.

It is interesting to examine the subjective ratings of students and test participants. They feel that they are learning more during study than during testing. When students keep re-reading highlighted material in a textbook, they get the filling that they really know the material and their confidence goes up. However, when a student tries to recall material from memory and fails, confidence is lowered. Yet the looking up of the material that was forgotten is more beneficial and the student has a more realistic appraisal of what is known and what needs to be studied. In the end, this latter experience is more beneficial.

The actual attempt to remember information forces the person to access the correct retrieval routes to that information. If the information is found, then that retrieval route is strengthened. When it is not found, the information is restudied and the retrieval route relaid. More effort is involved in testing than simply studying material, and there is evidence that this increased effort is also beneficial.

So what are the lessons to be learned here? First of all, cramming is not recommended. Even if you learn enough to pass the test, the information will quickly be lost. So its availability on a final exam or later in life is questionable.

Secondly, test yourself and recited the material frequently. This testing should be even more effective if spread out over time.

And what, if any, are the implications for the education system? Break the silent bargain between teachers and students and test more frequently. Roediger and his colleagues have taken to the practice of having a ten minute test at the end of every lecture. This practice not only forces students to keep up, but it also leads to better lifelong learning.

© 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 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.

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.

A Memory Course

December 23, 2009

Buried among these blog posts is what could be construed as a traditional memory course. These posts are scattered throughout this blog. Here is the recommended order in which you should do them:

Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs

Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Abstract Pairs

The Method of Loci

The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic

How to Memorize Abstract Information

More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words

Remembering Numbers

More on Remembering Numbers

Three Digit Numbers

Remembering Even Larger Numbers

You can easily find these by using the search this site block and entering the title of the post.

The most fundamental type of learning is paired associates, the learning of what word has been paired to which word. Concrete words are the easiest to learn, so the first post to take is the learning of concrete word pairs. Abstract words are more difficult so the next three posts increase the abstract content of the pairs. These posts are not to read only. To benefit you need to do them. After mastering techniques for paired associate learning you move on to the classical method of loci. This is followed by the simple one bun rhyme mnemonic, which should make it easy for you to remember ten item lists. The ten item list you learn in the next post, “How to Remember Abstract Information,” is the Bill of Rights. The next post is long and difficult and presents techniques for learning not only foreign vocabulary words, but unusual English words which appear to be foreign. The final four posts are on remembering numbers. Developing a facility with this number recoding technique is needed for most advance mnemonic techniques.

Remember, these posts are not simply to be read. They also provide exercises that need to be practiced to develop facility with the techniques.

I hope you also find the remaining posts under mnemonic techniques useful. The above posts present the material most common to conventional memory courses.

© 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.

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Abstract Pairs

December 22, 2009

(If you have not done so, it is recommended that you read, and do, the preceding post, “Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs”)

Consider these word pairs:

AFTERLIFE   EGO

ALLEGORY  TRUTH

FAULT           MATHEMATICS

Note that both words of each pair are abstract and need to be made more concrete in the image.

The following are possible mental images to help you remember.

Someone being rejected at the Pearly Gates in the AFTERLIFE due to his excessive EGO.

A wise man telling an ALLEGORY about TRUTH

A student finding FAULT in their MATHEMATICS

Now try these ten pairs:

ADVANTAGE          DALLIANCE

CRITERION              JEOPARDY

ADAGE                      CAUSALITY

ESSENCE                  LEGAL

WISTFULNESS         DUTY

WITNESS                   JUSTICE

DEMOCRACY          DEBACLE

ARRAY                      SIMILE

ARBITER                   ELABORATION

CLEMENCY              FIGMENT

Now, without looking above, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

WISTFULNESS

UNBELIEVER

ESSENCE

DEMOCRACY

ADAGE

ARRAY

CRITERION

ARBITER

ADVANTAGE

CLEMENCY

Now try these ten word pairs

CONTEXT                 EXPLANATION

BELIEF                      CRISIS

CONTENTS               DYNASTY

GENDER                   INANITY

INSOLENCE             PACIFISM

SOBRIETY                SENSATION

STEERAGE               OPPORTUNITY

DUTY                         DEMON

UNIFICATION         BOAT

SITUATION              VANITY

Now, without looking, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

INSOLENCE

GENDER

CONTENTS

BELIEF

CONTEXT

SOBRIETY

STEERAGE

DUTY

UNIFICATION

SITUATION

I think you will agree that this is healthy mental exercise that makes demands on your imagination and creativity as well as your memory.  Undoubtedly you noted that the task became more difficult as the words became more abstract.  It takes more practice to become proficient with the abstract words, but this practice can be quite worthwhile, as you have likely noted that much information that you want to remember is abstract, sometimes even nonsensical. 

  I have stressed using mental images. However, it is also possible to use verbal linkages, phrases and sentences.  You might find that the latter technique works better with abstract material. 

Please repeat these blog postings as often as you think it is needed to develop proficiency.  This will serve you in good stead for the remainder of this book.

If you have done all the exercises in this blog, you have accomplished quite a mental workout.  You have exercised both hemispheres of  your brain as well as your imagination, recoding, retrieval, and decoding skills.  You should also be beginning to develop some effective new memory skills.  Remember that you are engaged on a course from which you do not finish and graduate.  You need to keep practicing these skills both to improve your specific memory skills and to exercise and improve your mind and brain.

© 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.

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs

December 22, 2009

(If you have not done so, it is recommended that you read, and do, the preceding post, “Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs”)

Consider the following word pairs:

PERJURY                  REVOLVER

ABASEMENT           INN

FOIBLE                      AMBULANCE

Here the stimulus, or cue, is abstract, and needs to be made more concrete in the image and the response is concrete.  Here are some possible mental images to help you remember these pairs.

Someone committing PERJURY because there is a REVOLVER pointing at their head

Someone taking a room in ABASEMENT of an INN

Someone committing some type of FOIBLE and ending up in an AMBULANCE.

Now try these ten word pairs:

ADVERSITY             FOAM

REMINDER               TROOPS

RATING                     PROFESSOR

REPLACEMENT       CASE

FUNCTIONARY       LEAFLET

SENTIMENT             BOOK

BANALITY               FLESH

FACILITY                 BAGPIPE

PREDICAMENT       ARROW

BELIEF                      BOSOM

Now, without looking at the above, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

ADVERSITY

RATING

FUNCTIONARY

BANALITY

PREDICAMENT

REMINDER

REPLACEMENT

SENTIMENT

FACILITY

BELIEF

Now let’s try another ten pairs

ANSWER                   PICTURE

EXACTITUDE          FIREPLACE

PROFESSION           SUNBURN

IRONY                       YACHT

UNREALITY             GRADUATION

FALLACY                 ENGINE

EXCUSE                    GIANT

FACT                          RIVER

FATE                          ROCK

EMANCIPATION     FLOOD

Now, without looking back, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

ANSWER

EMANCIPATION

EXACTITUDE

FATE

PROFESSION

FACT

IRONY

EXCUSE

UNREALITY

FALLACY

I think you will agree that this is healthy mental exercise that makes demands on your imagination and creativity as well as your memory.  Undoubtedly you noted that the task became more difficult as the words became more abstract.  It takes more practice to become proficient with the abstract words, but this practice can be quite worthwhile, as you have likely noted that much information that you want to remember is abstract, sometimes even nonsensical. 

I have stressed using mental images. However, it is also possible to use verbal linkages, phrases and sentences.  You might find that the latter technique works better with abstract material. 

Please repeat these blog postings as often as you think it is needed to develop proficiency.  This will serve you in good stead for the remainder of this book.

If you have done all the exercises in this blog, you have accomplished quite a mental workout.  You have exercised both hemispheres of  your brain as well as your imagination, recoding, retrieval, and decoding skills.  You should also be beginning to develop some effective new memory skills.  Remember that you are engaged on a course from which you do not finish and graduate.  You need to keep practicing these skills both to improve your specific memory skills and to exercise and improve your mind and brain.

© 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.

Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs

December 20, 2009

(If you have not done so, it is recommended that you read, and do, the preceding post, “Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs”)

In the preceding post, the words being associated were fairly concrete, so it was not difficult to form images for them.  Now consider the following word pairs:

BLACKSMITH          ATROCITY

CHIN                          HINT

HORSE                       LAW

In these pairs the stimulus, or cue, is still concrete, but the response is somewhat abstract and difficult to image.  The word needs to be recoded into a meaningful picture.  Here are some possible mental images you can form to remember these word pairs:

A mental image of a BLACKSMITH  committing some sort of ATROCITY

A  mental image of someone playing a game of charades pointing to her CHIN as a HINT

A mental image of a HORSE attending LAW school.

 Now try forming mental images for these word pairs:

CIGAR                       PERMISSION

FISHERMAN                        FOLLY

LARK                         LEGISLATION

PRIEST                       CHANCE

CAR                            MALICE

FOREHEAD              INTERIM

KETTLE                     MASTERY

ADMIRAL                 MISCONCEPTION

LOBSTER                  ANTITOXIN

MICROSCOPE          AMOUNT

Now, without looking above, try recalling the word that was paired with each of the following:

FISHERMAN

PRIEST

FOREHEAD

ADMIRAL

MICROSCOPE

CIGAR

LARK

CAR

KETTLE

LOBSTER

Now let’s try another set of ten pairs

MACARONI              TEMERITY

TRUMPET                  LENGTH

UMBRELLA              TRUTH

LIBRARY                  SAVANT

MEAT                         PROXY

TOAST                       UNBELIEVER

LEOPARD                 PROMOTION

KING                          METHOD

SOIL                           INGRATITUDE

ROBIN                       PERMISSION

Now, without looking back, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

SOIL

LEOPARD

MEAT

UMBRELLA

MACARONI

ROBIN

KING

TOAST

LIBRARY

TRUMPET

I think you will agree that this is healthy mental exercise that makes demands on your imagination and creativity as well as your memory.  Undoubtedly you noted that the task became more difficult as the words became more abstract.  It takes more practice to become proficient with the abstract words, but this practice can be quite worthwhile, as you have likely noted that much information that you want to remember is abstract, sometimes even nonsensical. 

I have stressed using mental images. However, it is also possible to use verbal linkages, phrases and sentences.  You might find that the latter technique works better with abstract material. 

 Please repeat these blog postings as often as you think it is needed to develop proficiency.  This will serve you in good stead for the remainder of this book.

If you have done all the exercises in this blog, you have accomplished quite a mental workout.  You have exercised both hemispheres of  your brain as well as your imagination, recoding, retrieval, and decoding skills.  You should also be beginning to develop some effective new memory skills.  Remember that you are engaged on a course from which you do not finish and graduate.  You need to keep practicing these skills both to improve your specific memory skills and to exercise and improve your mind and brain.

© 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.

Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs

December 19, 2009

A wide variety of mnemonic techniques have been presented to this point. This posting is presented for practicing the most elemental of associations, word-word pairs. Although this is elemental, it provides practice on a skill important for all mnemonic techniques.

Memory is based upon associations.  A simple type of learning is paired associates learning in which a stimulus word is associated with a response word.  When that stimulus word, or retrieval cue, occurs, we remember the word.  Many of our everyday recall tasks involve this type of memory. 

            Consider the following word pairs:

            ARM               CITY

            FLAG             REFRIGERATOR

            TRIPOD         GEM

            A good way of remembering these word pairs is to form interactive mental images of them.  For example,

            Imagine a giant ARM wrapped around a large CITY

            Imagine a FLAG draped across a REFRIGERATOR

            Imagine a TRIPOD with a giant GEM sitting on top of it.

Try to form vivid mental images of each of these pairs. 

Now some may regard this business of forming mental images as silly.  Certainly some of the images will seem silly, but they serve the purpose of making two words that do not normally go together, meaningful via the image.  You should also  bear two facts in mind.  First of all, the techniques work.  If at first you experience difficulties, please be patient and persevere.  Secondly, you are giving your mind and brain a good workout.  You are being required to use your imagination.  By forming visual images you are using both hemispheres of your brain.  When you recall the images and decode the target word you will be exercising your retrieval and decoding skills.

 Now, without looking, try to recall the items below.

FLAG what mental picture does this elicit and what is the word you recall being associated with it?

TRIPOD what mental picture does this elicit and what is the word you recall being associated with it?

ARM what mental picture does this elicit and what is the word you recall being associated with it?

This was probably easy for you.  If not, relax and try imagining each of the three pairs again. 

Now let’s try this again, but this time you form the mental images.  Take the time to form a good mental image for each pair:

ACCORDION                       FOOTWEAR

TWEEZERS                          APPLE

COIN                                     JUGGLER

BUNGALOW                        IRON

STUDENT                             JELLY

KEG                                        ANIMAL

INSECT                                 ALCOHOL

PLANT                                  ACROBAT

CASH                                      DOVE

MARKET                                KISS

Now, without looking at the above pairs, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

 STUDENT

TWEEZERS

CASH

ACCORDION

INSECT

MARKET

KEG

BUNGALOW

COIN

PLANT

Now let’s try another ten pairs:

ALLIGATOR             JUDGE

JAIL                            SUDS

HURRICANE           ARMY

STRING                     TRUCK

VALLEY                    CORPSE

DAFFODIL                HARP

EARTH                       ABDOMEN

HAIRPIN                   GRASS

GEESE                       INFANT

HOTEL                       AMBULANCE

HOUND                     LEMON

Now, without looking at the above pairs, try to remember the appropriate response to each stimulus or cue by remembering the mental image.

 VALLEY       

JAIL

HOTEL

GEESE

HAIRPIN

ALLIGATOR

STRING

HOUND

EARTH

DAFFODIL

 © 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.

SQ3R

December 16, 2009

The mnemonic techniques posted thusfar on this blog have dealt primarily with learning arbitrary associations.  For example, the posting on learning the Bill of Rights by the number of each right.  Although the Bill of Rights is certainly meaningful, the number associated with each right is not.  Similarly the posting on foreign vocabulary.  Although these words initially will become meaningful at the outset they are arbitrary sounds.  So these techniques provide strategies for converting material that is initially not meaningful into something meaningful and memorable.

 However, when the material you are trying to learn is inherently meaningful, you want to capitalize on that meaning and store they key information so that it is easily remembered.  SQ3R is a proven technique for mastering school coursework and other meaningful information.  SQ3R stands for Survey, Query, Read, Recite, and Review.  Here is how the technique would be applied to a reading assignment you might be given or to reading material you wanted to understand and master.

Survey refers to paging through the material to gather what is being covered and how it is organized.  You will encounter books that use what are termed advanced organizers that describe the topics that are going to be covered.  So you are conducting an initial survey of the information.  Sometimes when you are doing research on a topic this initial survey might indicate to you that it did not contain the information you were seeking, or you did not like the organization of the material, that you already knew this material, or that the material was being presented at either a too advanced or a too elementary a level.  When this is the case and the reading is not required, you can stop here.

 However, if the material appears to meet your needs, or if it is required reading,  the next step is to query, ask questions that you hope will be answered in the material.  Actually, you will encounter texts that do this for you.  They will state that at the end of the chapter you should know this, this, and this.  But if this is not done for you, and it usually is not, then it is good for you to construct questions like this before you start reading.

The next step is to read the material.  This must be done by you.  And you want to read it at a speed governed by the organization you gathered during your survey and by questions you generated during your query.  Do not hesitate to reread sections that are not clear.  Do not just read straight through without considering the organization of  the material or the questions you want answered.

The next step is to recite, that is to try to recall the important points from the text from memory.  When you cannot recall something go back and look for it in the text and make an effort to store the meaning in memory.  This recitation is not a one shot thing.  It should be done repeatedly.  Many students remain being poor students because they simply reread material or mark it with a highlighter and do not practice retrieving the information from memory.  Multiple retrieval attempts are important and it is beneficial if you space these retrieval attempts further and further apart.

The final step is review.  This is a matter of reviewing the material and not only putting it in the organizational structure of the material you are reading, but relating it to the larger body of information you know.  These 3Rs are to be repeated many times until you have mastered the material to the desired level.

© 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 Even Larger Numbers

December 10, 2009

(It is recommended that you read the posts “Remembering Numbers,” “More on Remembering Numbers,” and “Three Digit Numbers,” before proceeding with this post.

       There will be times, and you have probably encountered them already, when it is difficult to develop reasonable words using just the consonants.  Jerry Lucas, the former Ohio State University All America and Hall of Fame basketball player, is an accomplished mnemonist who has written many good books, as well as training courses, on learning and memory improvement.  One of them is Learning How to Learn1 He calls the memory consonant system used in previous blog postings the one sound method.  He has developed another technique, the one word method, not to replace the one sound method, but rather to supplement it when it is difficult developing mnemonics to the consonants available for a given number.  In the one word method, the same consonants are used, but the only the first consonant in a given word is used.  Consider the following number:

208117111889

Here is a recoding using the one word technique.

Now iS THe Time To Come To The aiD oF The Party.

Now consider this number:

1942198087

And a recoding using the one word technique.

To Be oR Not To Be That iS The Question

or

8021589

and a recoding using the one word technique

THere iS No Time Like The Present.

Of course the two techniques can be combined as the problems presented by the number dictate. 

Consider the following number

4307699

And a recoding using a combination of the one sound and one word techniques

RaMS Can’t Jump Big Pigs

So here 430 was recoded by the one sound technique and the remainder of the number by the one word technique.

Now consider

5039051

LeaSe Me Before Someone Else Does

So 503 is recoded using the one sound method and the remainder of the number by the one word method.

And here’s another

5718303

Let’s Go To The MuSeuM

Now here the first four digits are recoded using the one word method and the remainder using the one sound method.

            From now on, feel free to use both techniques.

            Let’s try some five digit numbers now

It is good to try your own recodings before looking at the possible recodings.

41946

10553

99477

32195

27335

Here are some possible recodings

41946  raT BRuSH (a rat brushing himself)

10553  TuSSLe LaMb (a lamb in a fight)

99477  BoB ReGGae (Some guy named Bob doing the reggae)

32195  MooN DouBLe (two moons)

27335  MuG MoMMa Law (momma testifying to a judge about being mugged)

Now for some six digit numbers

246802           

200201

296621

939766

844764

Here are some possible recodings:

246802            hoNoR SHaVe sun (a judge shaving the sun)

200201            Noah SeeS hoNeSTy

296621            NaP CHoo CHoo NeT  (a train taking a nap in a net)

939766            BuM BaG CHoo CHoo (a bum with a bag on a train)

844764            FiRe RuG CHaiR (a rug and chair are burning)

Now for some seven digit numbers

7487337

9720454

9720386

Here are some possible recodings

7487337          CaR RaCK MoMMa Cow

972454            BaG iN SouR LaiR

9720386          Big Nose Move SHoe

If you can handle seven digit numbers, then you can remember phone numbers less the area codes. 

Now for some eight digit numbers

19461492       

22429131       

50293450

63027120

78902134

85673022

And here are some possible recodings.

19461492        TuB RoaCH TiRe PiN

22429131        NaNNy RaiN BaT MuT

50293450        LiCe MaP MaRe LooSe

63027120        JaM SuN CaT NoSe

78902134        CalF BooZe NighT MaRe

85673022        ViLe SHaKe MooSe NuN

Often, before I resort to this recoding technique, I look for any meaning inherent in the number.  For example for 19461492, I would recode it by the year of my birth,1946   and the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue 1492.  The consonant sound systems provide a fall back technique when there is no inherent meaning. 

Now for some nine digit numbers

134498919

324457890

464856789

585450220

693279044

747254321

889122020

Here are some possible recodings

134498919      DaM RoweR PaVe BeD Bee

324457890      MiNoR RiLe CalF BooZe

464756789      RaSH RaKe LaTCH FoP

585450220      LauGH LuRe LiCe NuNS

693279044      SHiP MaN CaPS RoweR

747254321      CaR CaN LuRe MeN Die

889122020      FiFi BaT NuNS NoSe

As was mentioned previously, the first step can be to look for personal meaning in the numbers.  For 747254321 above, I could have recoded it as the year (last 2) I finished my Ph.D., the year (last 2) I finished my Masters Degree, then to count down from 5.

Now here are some ten digit numbers.

0287591313

1345980217

2738598211

3585903510

4211980221

5877352120

6410948296

7686430910

And here are some possible recodings.

0287591313    SuN MuG LaP ToM ToM

1345980217    ToMb RaiL BeeF SuN DoCK

2738598211    NeCK MoVie LaP MaN ToT

3585903510    MaLe FaiL BooZe MaiL DoZe

4211980221    RuN ToT TouGH SuN NeT

5877352120    LoVe Coo Coo MaiL MaT MooSe

6410948296    SHaRe TieS BeeR MeN BuSH

7686430910    CaSH fiSH RuM SouP TieS

Once you’ve mastered ten digit numbers, now you can handle phone number to include the area codes.

            Now for some 11 digit numbers

19834589020

33941127820

53859123998

Here are some possible recodings.

19834589020              TuB FoaM RoLL SoNS

33941127820              MuMMy BeeR RaiDeD NeCK FaNS

53859123998              LooM VeiL BuTToN MaP BeeF

Twelve digit numbers

298764529874

697234902210

821309567841

029913434571

And their possible recodings.

298764529874            NaP FiG CHaiR LioN BuFF CaR

697234902210            SHiP CaN MooR BooZe NuN ToeS

821309567841            ViNe TiMe SouP LuSH CalF RaT

029913434571            SoN Boo Boo duMb RuM RiLe CaT

Thirteen digits

1357982441123

5012897843291

765732143592

And possible recodings

1357982441123          DuMb LuCK BeeF NeaR RaT TiN Ma

5012897843291          Louse TiN FoP CalF RaM KNee BooT

7657321435921          CaSH FiG MaN TouR MaiL BiN NeT

fourteen digits

22428917312250

66223904678123

02913221471121

And possible recodings

22428917312250        NuN RaN iVy BiTTeN NaiLS

66223904678123        CHoo CHoo NooN MaPS RoaCH CalF FooT NuMb

02913221471121        SuN BooT MoNey GNoT Tie DiNNeTTe

fifteen digits

166289123422178

332178934567012

545658213131332

994433891221345

and possible recodings

166289123422178      TuSH CHiN CalF BooT NaMe ReigN  GoaT CaVe

332178934567012      MuMMy GNaT CaVe BooMeR LuSH CaSe DoNe

545658213131332      LuRe LuSH LiVe FaN DiMe ToMb TiMe MeN

994433891221345      Boo Boo RoWeR MuMMy FiBBeD NuN TiMe RaiL

Now you’re to the point where you can handle some credit card numbers.

sixteen digits

4973568902120034

6490345782341229

8292785437212102

and possible recodings

4973568902120034    RoPe CoMb LaSH FiBS NeT NoSe SuMMeR

6490345782341229    SHaRe BooZe MoweR RaKe FuN MaRe TiN kNoB

8292785437212102    FuN BooN CalF LuRe MuG NeT kNoTS Noah

Now you should be able to handle most credit card numbers.

We shall go no further here.  If you want to make it to 79 digits, as the student at the beginning of this chapter did, or memorize pi to 100,00 decimal places or more, you are now on your own.

[1] Lucas, J.(2001).  Learning How to Learn. Dallas:  Lucas Educational Systems

© 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 Historical Dates and Appointments

December 5, 2009

(This blog will be much more meaningful having read the following blogs: “Remembering Numbers,” “More on Remembering Numbers,” and “Three Digit Numbers.”)

 Some years are easy to remember, when Columbus discovered America for example.  In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue is likely the mnemonic you used to learn the year.  An image of Columbus on his ship embedded in a large TiRe BuN is another mnemonic using the consonant sound system.  Most every American knows the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, 1776.  But fewer Americans can recall the year that the Constitution was written, 1787.   TaCK FiG is a recoding for 1787.  You could imagine a tack being driven through a fig into a copy of the Constitution.  Most everyone knows the years for World Wars I and II, but what about the Mexican-American War?  It ran from 1846 to 1848.  DoVe RiCH DiVe RooF (a rich dove diving from a roof into a unit of Mexican soldiers).  What about the Spanish-American War?  The Spanish-American war took place in 1898.  DoVe BeeF (a dove having a beef with a Spanish soldier).  It took place between April and August, but we shall get to months later.   What about the Korean War?  This war raged from 1950 to the signing of a cease fire in 1953.   You could imagine a TuB of LiCe and a TuB with a LaMb on a hill in Korea.   And that War in Viet Nam?   With respect to American involvement, this war ran from 1959 (TaBLe Bow) to 1975 (ToP CLay), when the North Vietnamese entered Saigon.  You could imagine a table with a bow on it on top of a mound of clay in Viet Nam.

I taught my wife this trick when she was studying Art History in graduate school.  She found it quite helpful in remembering historical dates.  It has obvious uses for remembering numeric pin numbers and passwords, phone numbers, and for credit card numbers, to name just a few.

Now let’s consider the 12 hour clock.  Here you can use only the numbers 1 through 12 and indicate AM and PM with some sort of image.  For example, you could use the sun or a rooster to denote AM, and the moon in a dark sky to indicate PM. 

            Using numeric peg words for 1 through 12 we have

1          Dye

2          kNee

3          hoMe

4          haiR

5          Lye

6          Chow

7          Key

8          hooF

9          Bow

10        Dice

11        ToT

12        TuNe

 Now the half hour can be handled by adding MouSe (30) to each of the above hours.  You can do this to any level of precision desired by simply adding appropriate numeric pegwords.            

Suppose you want to remember the day of the week for a particular appointment.  This can be done by numbering the days of the week and using the corresponding pegword.  That is,

Sunday            1          Tie

Monday           2          Noah

Tuesday           3          Ma

Wednesday     4          Rye

Thursday         5          Law

Friday              6          SHoe

Saturday          7          iVy

 So suppose you have a dental appointment at ten o’clock Tuesday morning.  As your dentist does not have evening hours, you can dispense with either the AM/PM distinction or with the 24 hour clock.  So you would form an image of Ma playing DiCe at your dentist’s office.  Or suppose you wanted to remember your son’s baseball game being played at 2 on Saturday.  Again, you can dispense with AM/PM considerations.    You could form an image of your son playing baseball standing in iVy up to his kNee. 

Or suppose you needed to remember that you were meeting your wife after work at 6 on Thursday for dinner.  You could form an image of your meeting your wife for dinner at a Law office, having Chow.

 © 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.

Three Digit Numbers

December 2, 2009

This blog has the following blog posts as prerequisites: “Remembering Numbers” and “More on Remembering Numbers.” Now let’s consider some three digit numbers.    If you do not like the suggested recoding, please generate your own. 

 201      NiCe Tie

202      iNSaNe

203      NiCe Ma

204      Nice Seer

205      NiCe Lie

206      NiCe Show

207      NiCe Cow

208      NiCe Fee

209      NiCe Boy

210      NeTS

212      NoT Now

213      ANaToMy

214      wiNTeR

215      NeTTLe

216      kNoTCH

217      iNDiGo

218      NaTiVe

219      NighT Pay

224      NuNNeRy

225      soN iN Law

226      NuN Shoe

228      NuN Fee

229      oNioN Bee

231      gNoMe Tea

234      New hummer

239      No MoP

240      No RoSe

242      No RaiN

246      No RuSH

248      HonoR Fee

250      kNee LiCe

251      kNee LighT

252      kNeeLiNg

253      NiLe Ma

254      NaiLeR

256      kNowLedGe

260      kNotCHeS

262      NoSHiNg

264      iNJuRy

267      No CHecK

268      No CHieF

269      No CHiP

270      kNecKS

276      kNecK Shoe

281      No FooT

284      No FiRe

289      No ViBe

301      MouSe Tie

302      MoiSteN

303      MuSeuM

304      MiSeR

305      MuZZLe

306      MeSSaGe

307      MuSiC

308      MiSSiVe

309      MiShaP

310      MuTTS

312      MuTToN

313      MaDaM

314      MaTTeR

315      MeTaL

316      My DaSH

317      My TaCK

318      MoaT Fee

319      My TuB

320      MiNeS

321      MiNT

323      My eNeMy

325      My LooN

330      MuMS

331      MaiMeD

334      MuMMeR

336      My MuSH

337      My MuG

339      My MaP

340      My RoSe

345      MuRaL

347      My RuG

351      My Lot

352      My LoaN

360      My Show

361      My SHoT

386      hoMe VoyaGe

401      RoSe Tie

402      RaCe Now

403      heRoiSM

404      RaCeR

405      wReStLe

406      haiR SaSH

408      RuSh iVy

409      ReCiPe

410      RoaDS

412      RoTTeN

413      ReDeem

414      wRiTeR

415      RaTTLe

416      RaDiSH

417      ReTaKe

418      RoaD Fee

419      Rat Pie

423      ReNaMe

424      RaiN weaR

425      uNReaL

430      RaMS

432      RaMeN

434      aRMoR

435      aiR MaiL

438      ReMoVe

440      RoweRS

441      RoaReD

443      rewaRM

450      RaiLS

469      waRSHiP

470      RoCKS

473      wReCK haM

478      aRChiVe

479      RuGBy           

480      RaVeS

484      RiVeR

501      LiCe Tea

502      LeSSoN

503      LoSe Me

504      LoSeR

505      LaSaLLe

506      LoSe Show

507      LoSe Cow

508      LoSe Fee

509      LoSe Bow

510      LoTS

511      Low ToTe

512      All DiNe

513      LighT Ma

514      LeTTeR

515      LiTTLe

516      LaTCH

517      aLL DuCK

518      LaTe Fee

519      aLighT Bee

520      LighTS

530      LaMbS

540      LaiRS

541      aLRighT

542      aLL RaN

551      aLL LooT

559      aLL LaP

561      LaSHeD

562      LoTIoN

563      aLL CHiMe

567      aLL SHaKe

570      LaKeS

571      LiCKeD

573      LiKe Me

574      LiQuoR

575      aLCoHoL

580      LauGHS

585      LeaF Lay

586      LeaF Shoe

601      CHaSTe

602      CHoSeN

603      ChooSe Me

604      CHaSeR

605      CHiSeL

606      ChewS Shoe

607      CHeeSe Cow

608      CHaSe Cow

609      CHooSe Bow

610      SHoTS

612      SHooT Noah

613      SHooT Me

614      CHaTTeR

615      CHaTTLe

616      Shot Shoe

617      SHoot Cow

618      SHoW DiVe

619      SHoW ToP

620      CHaiNS

623      CHaiN  Me

626      CHaNGE

630      CHiMeS

631      SHaMeD

636      GyM Shoe

641      SHaReD

646      CHaiR Shoe

647      CHiRaC

649      CHeRuB

650      JaiLS

651      JaiLeD

660      ChooChooS

661      SaSHeD

662      SHoeSHiNe

664      CHeW CHaiR

670      SHaKeS

671      SHoCKeD

678      SHooK Foe

682      CHieF Noah

684      CHieF Row

701      CaST

702      CaSiNo

703      ChaSM

704      KaiSeR

705      CaSuaL

706      Cow SaSH

707      CaSSoCK

708      KiSS oFF

709      GoSSiP

712      CoTToN

713      KiD Me

714      CaTeR

715      CaTTLe

716      Got Cha

717      heCTiC

718      CuT oFF

719      CuT uP

720      CaNS

724      CaNNeR

727      eGGNoG

731      GaMeD

732      CoMMoN

734      GaMeR

740      CaRS

754      CoLLaR

757      CoLiC

758      CaLiPH

760      CaSHeS

762      CaJuN

763      hoKey CHuM

765      eGG Shell

767      CoSSaCK

769      CaSH Bee

770      CaKeS

772      CoCooN

773      hoCKey GaMe

774      CouGaR

775      CaCKLe

778      KiCK oFF

779      KiCK Bee

780      CaVeS

781      CaVeD

784      GiVeR

785      GaVeL

786      hoG FiSH

787      Key FaKe

800      PHaSeS

801      FuSSeD

802      FuSSiN

803      FuSSy Ma

804      PHaSeR

805      FoSSiL

806      ViCe Shoe

807      Fee SoCK

808      FoeS Fee

809      ViCE Bee

810      VaTS

812      FaTTeN

813      halF TiMe

814      FaTTeR

815      ViTaL

816      FeTCH

817      FighT Cow

818      VeT hiM

819      FeD uP

828      FINe Foe

829      FiNe Bee

830      FoaMS

831      VoMiT

832      FaMiNe

843      FaRM

845      FeRaL

847      FRoCK

848      FaR oFF

850      FiLeS

856      FLaSH

857      FLaCK

858      FLuFF

859      FLoP

860      VouCHeS

862      FaSHioN

863      halF GeM

864      FiSHeR

865      FaCiaL

866      halF JewiSH

867      FiSH hook

868      FiSH Fee

869      iVy SHoP

870      FaKeS

876      heaVe  CouCH

877      heaVe CooK

878      heaVy CouGH

888      hiVe JiVe

901      PaST

902      PoiSoN

903      PoSSom

904      PoSeR

905      PuZZLe

906      PaSSaGe

907      BaSiC

908      PaSSiVe

909      Pea SouP

910      PoTS

912      BuTToN

913      BoTToM

914      BuTTeR

915      BaTTLe

916      PoTaSH

917      PaDDoCK

918      PaiD oFF

919      PuT uP

920      PiNS

925      PaNeL

928      haPPy KNaVe

931      BuMMeD

936      Pea MaSH

937      Bow MuG

939      PuMP

940      PouRS

941      PaRRot

947      BaRRaCK

949      PRoP

951      PLoT

952      PLaN

954      PiLeR

956      PLuSH

970      PaCKS

971      BuCKeT

972      PeCaN

973      PoKe hiM

978      PaCK Fee

979      PiCK Pie

980      PuFFS

985      BaFFLe

989      BeeF Pie

            Some of these are a piece of cake, FarM, BaTTLe (or PuDDLe).  As are PoTS and PiNS.  Whenever a number ends in 0 you can usually make the item plural.  Others require a little imagination,  LiCe Tea might be very refreshing.  The consonant sound need not begin the word, halF GeM, haPPy KNaVe.  Then you need to use your imagination to generate an image to represent the word or words.  This will give you quite a mental work out.  You need to recode a number into a word using sounds and then generate an image.  This involves creativity, a variety of mental faculties and both sides of your brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on Remembering Numbers

November 27, 2009

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

1                    t or d sound

2                    n sound

3                    m sound

4                    r sound

5                    l sound

6                    sh or ch sound

7                    hard c, g, or k sound

8                    f or v sound

9                    p or b sound

0                    s sound      

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Remembering Numbers

November 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

1                    t or d sound

2                    n sound

3                    m sound

4                    r sound

5                    l sound

6                    sh or ch sound

7                    hard c, g, or k sound

8                    f or v sound

9                    p or b sound

0                    s sound     

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

1                    Tie

2                    Noah

3                    Ma

4                    Rye

5                    Law

6                    SHoe

7.                    Cow

8.                    iVy

9.                    Bee

10.                 ToeS


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

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Relaxation Response[1]

November 17, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

3. Close your eyes.

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

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

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

7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.

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

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

Other techniques for evoking the relaxation response are:

·         Imagery

·         Progressive muscle relaxation

·         Repetitive prayer

·         Mindfulness meditation

·         Repetitive physical exercises

·         Breath focus.

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

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


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

 


 

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

November 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Recalling Information that is Difficult to Remember

November 11, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Inherent and Ad Hoc Mnemonics

November 9, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

There are many more that can be viewed at

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

 

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

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on Common Sense Approaches to Improving Memory

November 4, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Common Sense Approaches for Improving Memory

October 30, 2009

To this point, previous blogs have discussed specific mnemonic techniques for improving memory. There are simple common sense approaches to improving memory that should be practiced and not overlooked. Most memory failures are due to the failure to pay adequate attention to the information you want to remember. Part of my doctoral dissertation studied the relationship between attention expended and memory performance. The relationship is simple, the more attention expended, the better the memory. Consider the problem of remembering the name of someone to whom you have just been introduced. Advanced techniques for remembering names will be discussed later, but the basic problem for most is that we do not pay attention to the name when the person is introduced. I know that this is my problem, and I know the advanced techniques! Usually, I am thinking of what I am going to say or some other aspect of the situation, and I miss the name. Then I spend the remainder of the night waiting for this person’s name to come up in a conversation so that I can have a second chance at it. This difficulty can be avoided by paying attention at the outset. 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 can ask a question about it, you will both flatter the person and strengthen your memory. If the name is a difficult one and paper and pencil are handy, you might even want to ask the person to spell the name. Try to strike up a conversation and learn some interesting facts about the person to associate those facts about the person with the name.

 The term absentmindedness implies a failure to pay attention. It literally means that the mind was absent at the time you needed to pay attention. So when you can’t remember where you put your car keys, the problem stems from not paying attention to where you placed the car keys. The simplest way to deal with these problems is to keep items in a common place. Remember the dictum, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” You should organize your environments to support your memory. For example, you could put a tray atop a table near the entry to your home where you place your keys and anything else you typically need when you leave the house. Use trays of files to organize your mail. Put things back where they belong. Minimize distractions when you are trying to learn something. A quiet room is best. If you cannot turn off the television or stereo, consider wearing earplugs or headphones.

 Of course, this is not always possible, and in this mobile society of ours we need to place things in different places. The key here is to make it a habit to pay attention to where you are putting things. You can stop for a moment a form a mental image of where you are putting something important down.  It is also a good idea to occasionally prompt yourself to remember where you have placed various items of importance.

Although paying attention is important to memory, attentional capacity is limited. Moreover, you would not want to remember everything. You would be so overloaded with information that it would be difficult to cope. Selective attention is key. When it is important to remember something, then sufficient attention needs to be expended.

 

 

© 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] and [healthymemory.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words

October 28, 2009

  As we learned in the blog “How to Memorize Abstract Information” the key is to recode abstract information into something concrete so that an image can be formed as your aid to memorization. Learning a foreign language can be quite useful. In any case, it is a great way to exercise the brain and memory. Learning a new language develops new neural pathways, makes new connections, and builds mental flexibility.

 Memory techniques make the nonsensical meaningful or imaginable. The keyword technique is used primarily for the learning of foreign vocabulary, but it can be used to learn the meaning of any difficult new or unfamiliar term. Basically, the technique involves the development of a keyword as bridge between the meaning and the new or foreign word.

Suppose you were learning German, and you wanted to learn the word for sick.  The word for sick is krank (kraank). A keyword is used a bridge between the sound of the foreign word and its English translation. A possible keyword here is cranky. You could form an image of a cranky sick person. That would serve as the bridge to the meaning “sick.” When you hear the word krank that would remind you of the image of the cranky sick person. Similarly, when you try to think of the German word for “sick” the image of the cranky sick person would remind you of the word krank. The term keyword might be somewhat misleading. Often more than a single word is involved, and it is quite common to generate images to capture the keyword(s) and their link to foreign vocabulary word.

Suppose you were learning German and had the following vocabulary words to learn:

kaufen  (cow’ fin)                                 buy

bitte     (bit’ah)                                    please

fahren  (fah’ren)                                  drive

gefallen (ge fal’len)                             to please

arm      (arm)                                       poor

regnen (reg’ nen)                                rain

traurig (trau’rig)                                 sad

zwishcen (zwi’ schen)                          between

vergessen (fer ges’sen)                        forget

weil (vile)                                             because

This is how you could apply the keyword technique

kaufen  (cow fin)          buy

Form an image of a cow with a fin buying something.

bitte     (bit’ah)                        please

Picture someone who has eaten something bitter and is asking, please, for something to wash away the taste.

fahren  (fah’ren)                      drive

Picture driving a car from far away using a reign to control the steering wheel

gefallen  (ge fal’len)                to please

Picture a clown dresses a a key falling to please the crowd.

arm      (arm)                           poor

Picture a poor beggar holding out his arm asking for alms for the poor.

regnen (reg’ nen)                    rain

Picture a nun raking in the rain.

traurig (trau’rig)                     sad

Picture an oil rig worker who has ripped his trousers on the oil rig and is very sad.

zwishcen (zwi’ schen)              between

Picture an electric current switching between two relays.

weil (veil)                     because

picture a bee wearing a veil causing mischief at a picnic

vergessen (fer ges’sen)            forget

Picture a lady in furs forgetting the answers on a quiz show.

Now try remembering the German for the English word.

poor

please

buy

sad

drive

to please

between

rain

because

forget

Now try the reverse

weil (veil)

kaufen (cow’ fin)

gefallen (ge fal’ len)

regnen (reg’ nen)

traurig (trau’ rig)

vergissen (fer ges’ sen)

bitte (bit’ ah)

fahren (fah’ ren)

arm (arm)

traurig (trau’ rig)

zwischen zwi’ schen)

An important point is that this keyword technique can be used to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words or terms in any language, including English. Consider the English word peduncle.  Unless you are into flowers and botany, it is unlikely that you would know the word. It means flower stalk. Keywords here might involve your paying an old debt to your uncle using flower stalks. Unless you are a student of anatomy you are unlikely to know what an omphalos is. It is the navel (belly button). An image here could be some fellow humming um into his belly button. What about the word factotum? Might that be somewhat who totes facts? Almost, but not quite. A factotum is a handyman. You could conjure up an image of a handyman toting packs from a truck to a garage. To be remembered, something needs to be meaningful. Keywords can provide this meaning when none is initially found. Thus, this technique should have practical value for you. Using this technique also exercises your imagination, creativity, recoding, decoding, and retrieval skills.

 

 

© 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] and [healthymemory.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Memorize Abstract Information

October 23, 2009

To this point the memory techniques that have been offered used concrete items. The techniques also involved generating mental images. It is easy to generate mental images to concrete items, but what about abstract items? What about the Bill of Rights? They’re abstract. How could one use the One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic (see earlier blog) to memorize each topic of first ten amendments of the Constitution? Here’s how.

First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            So this is the guarantee of free speech and religion. Try forming an image of a bun (One bun) jabbering away in a place of worship.

Second Amendment. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

            So here is the right to bear arms (for the purpose of maintaining a well regulated Militia).  Try forming an image of a shoe ( Two shoe) bearing arms.

Third Amendment.

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

            This prevents the quartering of soldiers in private homes: try forming an image of soldiers carrying Christmas trees (Three tree) in an attempt to be quartered in a home, perhaps with a large X through it.

Fourth Amendment. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

            This prevents unreasonable searches. Try forming an image of a strong door (Four Door) preventing someone from conducting an unlawful search.

Fifth Amendment. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property,without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

            This is the famous Fifth Amendment that you hear witnesses invoking to keep from incriminating themselves. Try forming an image of someone throwing a hive (Five hive) into a court to disrupt the proceedings.

Sixth Amendment. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

               Try forming an image of a judge using sticks (Six sticks) to expedite a trial.

Seventh Amendment. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no act tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

               This is the right to trial by jury. Think of a trial being conducted in heaven (Seven heaven) in front of a jury.

Eighth Amendment. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

               Try an image of someone being rescued from being tortured on a gate. (Eight gate).

Ninth Amendment. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

               Try an image of someone being arrested for using wine (Nine wine), getting drunk and trying to get people to stop smoking in a designated smoking area.

Tenth Amendment. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

               Try an image of a hen (Ten hen) flying to the states informing the states of their rights.

So the trick is recoding. Try to recode the abstract idea or information into something concrete. This recoding can exercise your creativity,

Now try recalling the ideas for each of the Ten Amendments. First Amendment, one is a…

 

 

© 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] and [healthymemory.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic

October 20, 2009

The One-Bun Rhyme Mnemonic is a simple technique for remembering up to ten items. The first step is to remember the following rhyme:

One is a Bun

Two is a Shoe

Three is a Tree

Four is a Door

Five is a Hive

Six is Sticks

Seven is Heaven

Eight is a Gate

Nine is Wine

Ten is a Hen

Now suppose you wanted to pick up the following ten items at the supermarket:

Eggs

Potato Chips

Tomatoes

Orange Juice

Milk

Bread

Bananas

Pies

Lettuce

Snickers Bar

 

You could form the following images:

Picture Eggs in a Bun (an egg sandwich, perhaps?)

A Shoe filled with Potato Chips

Tomatoes falling from a Tree

Orange Juice flowing over a Door

Milk being poured over a Hive

Loaves of Bread on several Sticks

Angels eating Bananas in Heaven

Pies hanging on a Gate

Wine being poured over a head of Lettuce

A Hen snacking on a Snickers Bar

When you arrive at the Supermarket you simply need to recite the rhyme and recall the image for each rhyme in the mnemonic.

This simple technique exhibits the following requirements for a good mnemonic technique.

A plan for both generating and retrieving the cue words. The recoding of the items into more readily recalled images. This technique uses both hemispheres of the brain.

 

 

© 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] and [healthymemory.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Method of Loci

October 17, 2009

Perhaps the oldest known memory technique is the method of loci (places). Its development is attributed to the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, who lived in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. After a banquet hall collapsed, Simonides was able to identify the bodies of the deceased by using the seating arrangements to call to mind the deceased guests.

In the method of loci the items to be remembered are placed in specific loci and an image is formed between the loci and the item to remember. Say you needed to pick up the following items at the supermarket:

bread

eggs

tomatoes

potatoes

asparagus

bananas

orange juice

milk

ice cream

apples

 

You could use the following locations in your home, place an item in each loci, and form a mental image of the item in that spot. For example, you could form the following mental pictures:

your bed                          bread

your desk                        eggs

your closet                     tomatoes

the hall                             potatoes

the shower                      asparagus

the bathroom sink       bananas

dining room table        orange juice

the coffee table              milk

the television                  ice cream

apples                                your exit door

When you are at the supermarket, you could take a mental walk through your house and remember the image you had formed at each location.

There are many more mnemonic techniques that will be discussed in this blog. Although some find this one useful, I believe that other techniques are more effective. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the oldest mnemonic technique, and it illustrates the general characteristics of all mnemonic techniques. It provides a plan or template for storing and retrieving the information you want to remember. It also involves elaboration in the formation of mental images. As will be discussed later, these activities also involve the prefontal areas of the brain and both hemispheres. So the technique not only aids you in membering, but it should also contribute to brain 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] and [healthymemory.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.