Posts Tagged ‘Explicit memory’

An Inspirational and Informative Case of Memory Loss

October 9, 2011

A recent article1 reported a case of memory loss that was both inspirational and informative. This was the story of Lonni Sue Johnston who was an accomplished illustrator, musician, pilot, and farmer. She had done half a dozen covers for the New Yorker magazine. Then a virus invaded her brain causing encephalitis and severely injury her hippocampus. As readers of the Healthymemory Blog know, the hippocampus is a subcortical structure that plays a key role in the formation of new memories. Initially she had trouble walking, talking, and eating. Her cognitive functioning was severely affected. She recognized only a few people, her mother, her sister, and a few faces from her childhood. She could no longer draw.

Her mother had her daughter try to copy simple shapes. Although progress was slow, she eventually was able to draw again. A friend, who was a puzzle-maker, dropped off word search books. These exercises enabled her to rebuild her vocabulary. She started making grids with words hidden in them and created her own puzzles. She created elaborate word lists, then puzzles from the lists, and them images from the puzzles. A grid of words for things that hang in the closet formed the shape of a coat hanger. Words related to trousers formed a pair of pants.

She still can’t recognize art that she adored before her illness, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” for instance, but she can recognize her own past work. Although she has not reached the degree of proficiency that she once had, she has improved enough to have her own exhibition at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

It is instructive to consider what she can and cannot do. She remembers how to fly an airplane, but doesn’t remember the death of her father. She doesn’t remember that she was married for ten years, but she can play Bach suites on her viola. When her mother thanks her for playing, she does not remember that she has played.

She continues to rise at 5:30 in the morning and spends most of her working hours drawing and creating puzzles. Her family is keeping everything she has produced, hoping that it will offer insight into the relationship between neural science and creativity.

It is interesting that most of what has recovered has been what is termed implicit memory (see the immediately preceding blog post, “Explicit and Implicit” memory). Motor skills are primarily in the domain of implicit memory, which appears to be more robust than explicit memory. She had developed an interesting technique for rebuilding her vocabulary, which seems to capitalize on using implicit to make memories explicit.

For another inspirational story of recovery from memory loss, see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “An Amazing Example of the Neuroplasticity of Memory.”

1Pancake, J. (2011). A “self” portrait of an artist with memory loss. Washington Post Style Section, September 19.

© 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.

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Explicit and Implicit Memory

October 5, 2011

When we normally think of memory, we are thinking of explicit memory. Memory techniques and most of the posts on memory in this blog are concerned with explicit memory. Implicit memory refers to memory that occurs without your consciousness awareness. Implicit memory covers a wide range of activities. Classical conditioning, habit learning, emotional memory, procedural and motor memory typically are implicit. So implicit memory involves both maladaptive behaviors, such as bad habits and addiction, but it is also involved in the development of optimal strategies in skill acquisition. Implicit learning could also be helpful for amnesiacs and Alzheimer’s patients.1

Theorists have wondered why we have two types of memory. Although theorists wonder about this, it is nice to have a type of memory that requires little or no consciousness. Although consciousness might not be required, trials or repetitions are required. For example, classical conditioning in which a conditioned stimulus, say a bell, is paired with an unconditioned stimulus, say food, before the sound of the bell alone will cause you, or a dog, to salivate. Similarly habits take repetitions to develop, and procedural and motor skills can take a great deal of practice to perfect. On the other hand, emotions, depending on the strength of the emotion, can be learned quite rapidly.

I think it is obvious why we have explicit memory. Explicit memory involves consciousness. Had we only implicit memory we would be acting like Zombies, behaving and learning with little or no understanding as to why. So it is understandable that most educational practices and most of the Healthymemory Blog posts involve explicit memory. But we should be thankful for these implicit memory processes. Consider how burdensome it would be if all memories were explicit.

We do need to learn more about implicit memory. Much athletic and artistic performance is a matter of practicing to the point where skills become automatic. Usually performance falters when the performer or athlete starts to think about what they are doing. Implicit memory also offers a path into the memories of those for whom explicit memory has been lost such as Alzheimer’s patients and other suffering from traumas to the medial temporal lobes.

1Much of this blog post is taken from an article by David W.L. Wu. Implicit Memory: How It Works and Why We Need It. The Joournal of Young Investigators, Vol. 22, Issue, 1, July 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.