Posts Tagged ‘HSAM’

Memory

February 28, 2020

Memory is the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

This is one of the quotes at the beginning the chapter:
“I’m more than my brain but my memories are what makes me, so if I don’t remember then who am I?…I don’t know when to say goodbye
-Nicola Wilson, Plaques and Tangles (2015)

This poor man is suffering from Alzheimer’s. One can infer this from the title, Plaques and Tangles, as amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are the defining features of Alzheimer’s. Even though these are the defining features, many have died who have had autopsies showing this defining evidence of the disease, but who never experienced andy of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease. The explanation is that these individuals had developed a cognitive reserve to protect them. The Healthymemory blog is dedicated to providing advice and content to help people develop cognitive reserve. Staying cognitively active throughout one’s life is important. Engaging in Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as critical thinking is important. There are many posts on this topic including growth mindsets. This is a matter of growing your memory learning skills and topics throughout one’s lifetime. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. And using mnemonic techniques to be discussed next provide for healthy memories. There is an entire category of posts for mnemonic techniques.

Memory champions are able to accomplish astounding features. There are annual World Memory Championships. The 2016 world champion was the first person to memorize in under 20 seconds the order of a deck of shuffled playing cards, and the first to memorize more than 3,000 single-digit numbers in one hour.

Joshua Foer won the 2006 World Memory Championships. Enter “Moonwalking with Einstein: the Bottom Line” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com
to read about these memory contest and what true mnemonists are able to accomplish. There is also an entire category of posts on this topic under the category Mnemonic Techniques

Martin Dressler of the Donders Institute of Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands has shown that anyone can use the techniques of memory athletes through a function magnetic resonance image (fMRI) scanner.

When Dressler put volunteers who were new to memory training through six weeks of instruction on the memory palace technique he found that they typically doubled their ability to remember words from a random list. Plus the activity patterns of their brains had started to converge with that seen in the champion memorizers.

People with Highly Successful Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) are also discussed in the chapter. There have been many previous HM blog posts on this topic. These are people who seem to be able to recall what they did and what happened when given da date such as 14 July 1996. The actress Marilu Henner has this ability, and she has found this ability to be helpful in her acting career. She is the only example that HM knows of that has used this exceptional capability in their careers.

The chapter covers the important category of eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately, the courts have put a high level of credibility on eyewitness testimony, but eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable. Some have the misconception that this unreliability is restricted to people of different races. This is wrong. Eyewitness testimony is poor across the board.

HM is fascinated when watching crime shows and the police try to get information from witnesses. Even when these eyewitnesses are trying to help, their memories are more likely than not to be wrong. HM marvels that the police are able to solve crimes.

Felipe De Brigard says that memory isn’t just for remembering. He argues that misremembering is so common it shouldn’t be seen all the time as a malfunction. In his view, many cases can help us construct scenarios of past events that might have happened, so as to better simulate possible events in the future, An unreliable memory may also destabilize your personality. Although you may think that your personality is something unchangeably intrinsic to you, a study in 2016 that measure personality traits over a sixty-year period showed they can profoundly alter over a lifetime.

Felipe De Brigard’s view of memory is similar to that expressed in the healthy memory blog. Memory is for time travel so that we can travel back in time to what we’ve learned an experienced, to travel into the future to assess what types of action are required to deal with these new situations.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Superior Long Term Memory

September 14, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Perhaps the most famous research on superior memory, one that has been reported in previous healthy memory blog posts regards London taxi drivers. At one time they needed to memorize the layout of 25,000 city streets and the locations of thousands of city attractions. One study investigated whether there were differences in the size of brain regions between taxi drivers and control participants. They found that these taxi drivers had changes in the size of only their hippocampus, with a relative increase in the amount of gray matter within the posterior hippocampus and a relative decrease in the amount of gray matter within the anterior hippocampus. Moreover, the types changes in both types of hippocampal gray matter size correlated with the length of time they had been taxi drivers, which ranged from 1.5 to 52 years (with the largest changes for those who had been taxi drivers the longest).

A follow-up study compared the brain region sizes between London taxi drivers and London bus drivers, who were a better matched control in terms of driving experience, stress, and other factors. The same results were obtained, where the taxi drivers had a relatively larger posterior hippocampus and a relatively smaller anterior hippocampus than bus drivers, and this correlated with the length of time they had been driving a taxi.

Another group of people who have superior memory are those who participate in the World Memory Championships and those who are known for extraordinary memory abilities. A study compared such individuals with control participants to asses whether there were differences in cognitive abilities, differences in the size of brain regions, and differences in the magnitude of fMRI activation during memory tasks. People defined as having superior memory did not differ from control participants in the cognitive abilities tested (IQ ranges were 95 to 119 and 98 to 119, respectively) or in the size of an brain regions. The fMRI task required superior memory for a sequence of digits (a task where those whose superior memory excelled), memory for a sequence of faces, or memory for a sequence of snowflakes. Across tasks, those with superior memory had greater activation in the posterior hippocampus, the retrosplenial cortex, and the medial parietal cortex, which are regions that have been associated with long term memory. Almost all of the participants with superior memory reported using a memory strategy called the method of loci. (entering method of loci into the search block of the healthy memory blog yields 11 hits).

Another case study investigated another individual with a superior memory, who is known as PI, was able to recall the digits of pi to more than 65,000 decimal places. His performance was similar to control participants on the large majority of cognitive tasks. Not surprisingly his working memory was in the 99.9th percentile. But it is conceivable that that might be the result of the extraordinary amount of time he spent memorizing pi. His general memory was average. He was impaired on test of visual memory (3rd percentile or below).

He also reports on individuals who are considered as having highly superior autobiographical memory or HSAMers. There have been eight previous posts on HSAMers. These are people who have detailed episodic memory for every day of their later childhood and adult life. If they are given any date, they can recall the day of the week, and public events that occurred on that day of the week. In one study of HSAMers their performance was normal on most standard cognitive tasks. A comparison of different brain regions between HSAMers and control participants revealed a number of differences including greater white matter coherence in the parahippocampal gyrus, which could reflect greater contextual processing associated with episodic retrieval, and a relatively smaller anterior temporal cortex. The decrease in size of the anterior temporal cortex, which has been associated with semantic memory, may reflect the disuse of this region because those with HSAM rely more on episodic retrieval. Much more research needs to be done with this interesting group.

The Genius Within

December 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. There are two general categories of savants. You have born savants, like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man. Although these individuals have what appear to be superhuman abilities, they are severely deficient in other areas. Acquired savants are those who acquire impressive capabilities as the result of some accident. It appears that an accident released some extraordinary capability(ies) from within. Brain scans of acquired savants seem to confirm that no idle regions of their brain springs into life. No part of that apocryphal unused 90% of the brain holds their secret. We all have the same equipment; it’s just that some people use it differently. Many different savant skills have been released by a bang on the head.

Orlando Serrell was ten years old and playing baseball with friends when, racing towards first base, he felt a flash of pain and fell to the ground. Flung by a playmate, the solid ball had struck him high on the left side of his head. Life changed for Orlando that day. It became a lot more memorable. He developed a powerful memory and could recall with remarkable detail the events and weather of every single day since his accident. He found that he could identify the day of the week given any date (so if asked what day 12 September 2018 occurred he would respond Wednesday). He could also tell you what day 6 October 1492 fell on.

Louise, an American woman fell heavily while skiing on a slope and broke her collarbone and banged her head. Over the following weeks she found that she could remember too much. She could recall and recreate with extraordinary deal the floor-plan of every building she had ever been through.

These cases seem to suggest that this information was always resident in memory, and a severe blow somehow gave them access to this information. This is similar to John Elder Robison who was autistic and could not read or feel emotion. After being treated with a magnetic field this capacity seemed to be reawakened in him. It seemed like he might always have had this capability, but there seemed to be something keeping him from gaining access to this capability.

Fortunately, suffering a head injury is not necessary to having an extraordinary memory.
There are people with highly superior autobiographical memories (HSAM), who are able to recall what happened in extraordinary detail on any given day. HM was unaware of these people until he 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 HM’s knowledge only about 34 such individuals had been identified and studied at that time. 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 HM later learned that she had written a book, Total Memory Makeover, he was tempted to buy but was a little put off by the hype in the title. As HM looked further into it he learned that Marilu had a self-improvement business. So his initial decision was not to purchase the book. As time passed, he realized that he 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 been 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.

HM 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, 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. HM was gratified to learn this as HM suspected this is what these HSAMers had been doing. Most often, HM does not even know what day it is now and needs to consult a calendar. So HM pays little attention to when something is happening, and he does 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. HM thinks 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, HM 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.

To learn more about HSAM enter “HSAM” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. For the most part HSAMers appear to be fairly normal, and they did not need to suffer head trauma to develop their impressive abilities.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

MEMORY WIZARDS

January 28, 2017

“MEMORY WIZARDS”  is the title of a chapter in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION” by psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.  The subtitle is HSAMs, braincams, and islands of genius.  The teaching point of the chapter is “Why no one has infallible memory.”

The idea of a braincam was that memory was like a video recorder keeping track of everything we do.  This idea was promulgated by American neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield in his 1952 publication, “Memory Mechanisms.”  Penfield’s work as a neurosurgeon required him to probe different portions of the brain, so that he could identify the correct areas to perform surgery.  During this probing, his patients who were awake, the brain does not feel pain itself, patients would report vivid memories of particular instances in their lives.  Not surprisingly, this led to the notion of a braincam effectively recording each of our lives.  However, in spite of the vividness of the recall, there was no way to confirm the accuracy of these recalls and to distinguish them from visions generated from the stimulation.  After much additional work was done regarding memory, the notion of a braincam was discarded, and memory was found to be highly error prone.  Moreover, the confidence expressed in a memory did not correlate well with the accuracy of the memory.

HSAM stands for highly successful autobiographical memory.  There have been several prior HM posts on HSAM.  Perhaps one of the most interesting HM posts is titled “The Importance of Memory.”  The actress Marilu Henner, who was one of the stars on the TV Program “Taxi” is also a HSAMer.  She has written a book “Total Memory Makeover,” which has been summarized in the HM post “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us.”  HSAMers can provide detailed accounts of their lives by date.  That is, if you asked what happened to them on 29 August 1999, they could tell you in an amazing amount of detail.  Still, they cannot tell you everything, and what they do provide can sometimes, but not frequently, contain an error.  In other respects, their memories are similar to the rest of us.  If given a list of words to remember, their performance will correspond to the rest of us.   And they make similar errors as we do with respect to false memories.  Dr. Shaw says that she does not see any particular advantage that HSAMers have.  Apparently, she has not read Marilu Henner’s book, because Henner says that her ability has helped her as an actress.  She feels that her ability has provided insights into the why and wherefores of others.

Photographic memory is another topic on which most people have misconceptions.  The technical term for photographic memory is eidetic memory.  Here’s how it is tested.  An unfamiliar picture is shown to participants on an easel for 30 seconds.  This might not seem like much time, but researchers often this limited viewing time because most people neither continue encoding detail nor care to after 30 seconds  looking at the same picture.  After the image has been removed the person is instructed to describe everything they can about the picture.   People with eidetic  memory report that they can still see the picture, that they can scan and examine their personal memory of the image as if it were still in front of them.  Eidetic images differ from regular visual memories which can arguably last forever.  Eidetic images  can last only a couple of minutes.  The images usually fade away piece by piece  rather than as a whole, and the eidetiker  has no control over which components remain in memory.  However, even eidetikers  can misremember entire objects and forget pieces of scenes.  So their exceptional memories for a particular image can still have some flaws.

Moreover, it appears that this kind of memory only exists in children.  In one of the few reviews of the literature on this topic dated  back to 1975, researchers Cynthia Gray and Kent Gummeran estimated that 5% of children have eidetic  memory and 0% of adults do.

Then there are the idiot savants such as depicted in the Oscar winning movie Rain Man.  Here the exceptional memories are linked to some abnormality such as autism.  So these memories are purchased at an outrageous cost.  The simple point is that forgetting is needed.  It is obviously needed in cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where traumatic memories either need to be forgotten or accommodated.

The teaching point of the chapter is more than  “Why no one has infallible memory.”  It is “no one wants an infallible memory.”  Infallible memories lead to too many memories, memories that interfere with the important information that needs to be remembered.

The Healthymemory blog is a strong advocate of meditation and mindfulness.   Meditation helps us gain control of our valuable, but limited, resource of attention.  We need to be able to focus our attention to use it to best advantage.

© 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.

The Importance of Memory

September 19, 2012

If you have ever watched a loved one suffering from dementia lose their memory, you will appreciate the importance of memory. Memories of her past gradually slip away, and she can eventually forget who you are and who she herself is. It is like the Chesire Cat that disappears leaving its mischievous grin. Our memories define ourselves and when we lose them, we lose ourselves.

Another perspective on the importance of memory is provided by someone with a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) (see the healthymemory blog post, “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us”). One of the stars of the TV show Taxi, Marilu Henner informs us in her book, Total Memory Makeover. She describes how she uses her detailed memory of her past to prevent her from making mistakes and to make wise choices. She remembers what she has done well in the past to point the way to future success. She also uses memories of her past mistakes to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

People understand why she retains pleasant memories but are puzzled why she maintains and finds value in keeping the painful memories. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, she uses them to avoid making past mistakes. But there are other reasons. Psychotherapy often involves a process of dredging up forgotten memories that are the source of current psychological difficulties. I don’t know if Marilu would get a discount at a psychotherapist, but her memory has already taken her to an advanced stage of therapy. She writes that she maintains good relationships with her past two husbands and well as her current one.

One of the therapies for dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome is to relive the traumatic event and to eventually extinguish the traumatic responses to it. Elaborate virtual reality simulations have been developed for these treatments, but someone with a memory like Marilu’s can call up these memories at will and eventually extinguish the adverse emotional reactions to them.

The role of memory in interpersonal relationships is important. The ability to remember information about other people helps one to build relationships including good friendships, relationships with colleagues, and business relationships.

Marilu expounds on how her detailed memory helps her acting. Good actors effectively become the person in the role they are playing. Marilu calls upon her memory to recall emotional states and the way her character would relate to other characters in the performance.

Then, of course, is the matter of education, which is a matter of memory. Not only must information and procedures be learned, but memory plays a role in decision making, problem solving, and the creative process (try entering “decison making,” then “problem solving,” and then “creativity,” in the search box).

© 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.