Posts Tagged ‘Julia Shaw’

How to Become a Memory Grandmaster

February 5, 2017

The following is taken from THE MEMORY ILLUSION by Julia Shaw.  Although many posts have been based on her book, these posts covered only a sampling of interesting material.  Reading this source is highly recommended.

To become a Memory Grandmaster you need to demonstrate to the World Memory Sports Council that you are able to accomplish the following:

Memorize 1,000 random digits in an hour
Memorize the order of ten decks of cards in an hour
Memorize the order of a deck of cards in under two minutes.

Ed Cooke is a Memory Grandmaster who has said, “What you have to understand is that even average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly.”

To learn more about expert memory performance and memory competitions read
“Moonwalking with Einstein:  The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer.

To read more about this topic in this blog enter either “Foer” or “Moonwalking with Einstein” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Media Multi-tasking

February 4, 2017

Media multitasking is another important topic addressed by Julia Shaw in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION.”  She begins this section as follows:  “Let me tell you a secret.  You can’t multitask.”  This is the way neuroscientist Earl Miller from MIT puts it, “people can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves…The brain is very good at deluding itself.”  Miller continues, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.  And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”

A review done in 2014 by Derk Crews and Molly Russ on the impact of task-switching has on efficiency concluded that it is bad for our productivity, critical thinking and ability to concentrate, in addition to making us more error-prone.  Moreover, they concluded that these consequences are  not limited to diminishing our ability to do the task at hand.  They also have an impact on our ability to remember things later.  Task switching also increases stress, diminishing people’s ability to manage a work-life balance, and can have negative social consequences.

Reysol Junco and Shelia Cotton further examined the impact of task-switching on our ability to learn and remember things. Their research was reported in an article entitled ‘No A 4 U’.  They asked 1,834 students about their use of technology and found that most of them spent a significant amount of time using information and communication technologies on a daily basis.  They found that 51% of respondents reported texting, 33% reported using Facebook, and 21% reported emailing while doing schoolwork somewhat or very frequently.  The respondents reported that while studying outside of class, they spent an average 60 minutes per day on Facebook, 43 minutes per day browsing the internet, and 22 minutes per day on their email.  This is over two hours attempting to multitask while studying per day.  The study also found that such multitasking, particularly the use of Facebook and instant messaging, was significantly negatively correlated with academic performance; the more time students reported spending using these technologies while studying, the worse their grades were.

David Strayer and his research team at the University of Utah published a study comparing drunk drivers to drivers who were talking on their cell phones.  It is assumed here that most conscious attention is being directed at the conversation and the driving has been relegated to automatic monitoring.  The results were that “When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or a hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.’  HM believes that this research was conducted in driving simulators and did not engender any carnage on the road.  Strayer also concluded that driving while chatting on the phone can actually be as bad as drunk driving, with both noticeably increasing the risk for car accidents.

Unfortunately, legislators have not understood this research.  Laws allow hand-free use of cell phones, but it is not the hands that are at issue here.  It is the attention available for driving.  Cell phone use regardless of whether hands are involved detracts from the attention needed during driving when emergencies or unexpected happenings occur.

Communications researchers Aimee Miller-Ott and  Lynne Kelly studied how constant use of our phones while also engaged in other activities can impede our happiness.  Their position is that we have expectations of how certain social interactions are supposed to look, and if these expectation are violated we have a negative response.
They asked 51 respondents to explain what they expect when ‘hanging out’ with friends and loved ones, and when going on dates.  They found that just the mere presence of a visible cell phone decreased the satisfaction of time spent together, regardless of whether the person was constantly using it.  The reasons offered by the respondents for disliking the other person being on their cell phone included the involution of the expectation of undivided attention during dates and other intimated moments.  When hanging out, this expectation was lessened, so the presence of a cell phone was not perceived to be as negative, but was still often considered to diminish the in-person interaction.  Their research corresponded to their review of the academic literature, where there is strong evidence showing that romantic partners are often annoyed  and upset when their partner uses a cell phone during the time spent together

Marketing professor James Roberts has coined the term ‘phub’— an elision of ‘phone’ and ‘snub’ to describe the action of a person choosing to engage with their  phone instead of engaging with another person.  For example, you might angrily say, “Stop phubbing me!”  Roberts says that phone attachment  leading to this kin of use behavior has ben lined with higher stress, anxiety, and depression.

Memory Hacking

February 2, 2017

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on the topic of false memories,  To find these posts enter “Loftus” or “false memory” in the healthy memory blog search block.  Psychologist Julia Shaw she says that she is a memory hacker in her book, “THE MEMORY ILLUSION.”  By that she means that she knows how to induce false memories.  In addition to discussing how she does this in the laboratory she also discusses how this is done in the wild.  She also notes that not only outside sources can dramatically alter our recollections of emotional events; we are also prone to distortion from internal influences.

Research by Alan Brown and Elizabeth March has demonstrated that simply showing people photos of particular locations makes them more likely to erroneously report having visited those places when asked a week or two later.  Participants were more likely  to misremember visiting places that were mundane than unique places.  This finding makes sense because they were investigating memory for visiting locations on a college  and mundane locations included things that exist on a college campus, such as classrooms, libraries and streets.  Unique locations included photos of statues, artwork and particularly ornamental buildings. 87% of the participants claimed to have visited at least one mundane location and 62% claimed to have visited one unique location.  None of the photos were from the campus the students actually visited.

The problem becomes even worse when researchers manipulated images or introduced misinformation to suggest that people did things that they never did.  Research done in 2002 by Wade, Garry, Read, and Lindsay showed that half of the participants in a study could come to recall details of a hot-air ballon ride that they have never taken simply through being asked to remember the supposed event while being shown a photoshopped image of themselves in the ballon basket.

Another study by Stephen Lindsay and his colleagues showed that the photos didn’t necessarily need to be altered.  They had half of their participants imagine experiencing three events from childhood, while the other  half were asked to do the same thing while looking at a real photos of their former school classmates.  Participants were then asked to recall their memories of the events in question.  Two of these events had actually happened (information about these true events had been provided ahead of time by the participants’ parents) but the third was a fictional event that had been invented by the team.  Of those who were asked to picture the event happening, 45% formed false memories of it, while 78% of those who pictured the event and were exposed to true pictures of old classmates formed false memories. So giving pictures to the participants who were trying to remember events made them more likely to create memories of things that never actually happened.  Dr. Shaw writes, “These real pictures served as a foundation that the participants could meld into their false accounts making them feel more real.”

Psychotherapists have inadvertently hacked memories..  These psychotherapists planted false memories of childhood sexual events into their patients’ memories.  These psychotherapists were falsely guided by the notion that repressed sexual memories were the source of their patients’ mental problems.  Can you imagine the nightmares of these parents when they were falsely accused by their children of sexual abuse?  It was not only parents but also teachers and staff at day care centers who were falsely accused of sexual abuse as the result of debriefings done by incompetent investigators.  They kept suggesting over and over to the children that they had been sexually abused.  The justification these investigators provided was that children needed to be coached to uncover the sexual abuse.  These investigators were wrong. Consequently, many were falsely imprisoned in a Kafkaefsque  nightmare.

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

Flashbulb Memories

February 1, 2017

Flashbulb memories is one of the many interesting topics discussed in discussed in the book, “THE MEMORY ILLUSION,” by psychologist Julia Shaw.  Flashbulb memories refer to memories regarding such events as where were you when 9/ll happened, when the Challenger Shuttle exploded, or when JFK was shot.  These types of question imply that we have the capacity for immediate powerful recollections of the circumstances we were in at particular significant moments.

Harvard University researchers Roger Brown and James Kufic have investigated these kinds of memories.  They sent out a questionnaire to 80 people to ask about what made them remember important historical events such as assassinations, highly newsworthy occurrences and personally important experiences.  They concluded from the questionnaire responses that many people have memories of considerably perceptual clarity for important historic events.  People would report more correct details with higher confidence for certain kinds of events, with these events having three main characteristics.

First , the event needed to generate a high level of surprise,  It could not be trivial or expected event.

Second, the event needed to carry important consequences for the person or for people in general—referred to as having a high level of consequentiality.

Finally, the event had to generate high levels of of emotional arousal—the individual needed to experience fear, sadness, anger or some other strong emotion.

These reports are of perceptually vivid events, and the respondents have high degrees of confidence in their reports.

Follow on research replicated these vivid memories reported with confidence.  However, when these memories were checked against known facts, discrepancies were found, and the accounts of these vivid memories varied when they were repeated at different times.

Some respondents became aware of the unreliability of these vivid memories when they remembered where they were at the time and found their recollections to be inconsistent with the true times and places they actually were at the time.  So although these memories were perceptually vivid, they were not accurate.

This is a serious problem regarding our memories.  We can be extremely confident in false or inaccurate memories.  We need to be aware of this overconfidence, and to be cautious in our reporting.

And we should regard highly confident reports of memory with caution.  Unfortunately, juries tend to place high credibility in memories reported with high confidence.  These reports are likely to be erroneous or even coached.  The reports of someone who is not quite sure of memories of what happened actually deserve a higher degree of credibility.  It is likely that many are serving prison sentences because they were unfairly convicted by juries who placed a high degree of credibility in testimony that was delivered with high confidence.

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

Overconfident Memories

January 30, 2017

This post is based on Julia Shaw’s book “The Memory Illusion.”   Julia Shaw is a criminal psychologist.   Consequently, she is concerned with the accuracy of witnesses and the confidence that witnesses have in their testimony.  As witnesses are human beings, like most, if not all, humans we are overconfident in our memories.  She conducted research regarding whether or not British police officers knew more about memory and other psychological processes than members of the general public.  She distributed a 50-item questionnaire and found that, overall, the police had as many misconceptions about issues in psychology and the law as the general public, but that they were more confident in their responses.  14% endorsed the myth that “Memory is like a video camera and 18% believed that “People cannot have memories of things that never actually happened.”

Dr Shaw then goes on to briefly summarize the outstanding work of “The Innocence Project, which is an organization dedicated to getting innocent people exonerated through DNA testing.  Its research has helped to release at least 337 people who were wrongfully convicted.  On the average these people served 14 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.  Faulty memory played a role in at least 75% of the cases.  These figures are just for the US, so worldwide the problem is much larger.

There are cases in which police need to close a case and are more concerned with getting a conviction than finding the guilty person (See the healthy memory blog , “Why False Confessions Trump Evidence”).   The natural biases of memory can cause police to develop “tunnel vision” and fail to consider relevant evidence.  As Dr. Shaw writes, “when we need to make sense of an event but do not have enough information to do so, we tend to import other plausible content to fill in the gaps.  Events in our minds need to have a linear progression, connections, reasons.  Once we have this kind of plausible narrative, we can become incredibly confident in its accuracy.  But what exactly is the relationship between confidence and accuracy, and how does it all tie in with memory.

Remember Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon, where all the children were above average?  This phenomenon is not unique to Lake Wobegon.  Most of us humans regard themselves as being above average.  Research has found this overconfidence effect in all kinds of areas.  Dr. Shaw writes, “Police are overconfident in their ability to detect liars. Students are overconfident about their course grades.  CEOs are overconfident in their business decisions.  Teachers are overconfident in their teaching ability.”  In a 2011 article published in “Nature,” social scientists Dominic Johnson and James Fowler argued that “Humans exhibit many psychological biases, but one of the most consistent, powerful and widespread is overconfidence.”

Dr Shaw suggests “that we have a tendency to overestimate our positive qualities and to underestimate our negative traits.  This is a characteristic that is inherently linked to memory, because in order to think about our positive traits we need to be able to remember the good things we have done in our lives that provide evidence of those traits.  For example, you may think about all the times you have done chores around the house, and think to yourself you are a really good spouse.  You took out the trash, bought groceries, cooked, and did the dishes.  However, you may be forgetting or diminishing the times when you did not do any of those things and actually made more work for your spouse, leaving her frustrated and with extra work to do.”

There is at least one more illusion that might play into our tendency to be overconfident.  This illusion is related to the greater strength and accessibility of our memories to our own actions and insights compared to those of others.  This is the illusion of asymmetric insight.  Emily Pronin and her colleagues at Stanford University published a paper on this bizarre bias titled, “you don’t know me, but I know you.”

The team found over six studies showing that we think we know close friends and roommates better than they know us.  Research participants were told that we are all like icebergs, with part of our true selves being observable by others and part hidden from view.  The participants were then asked to pick a picture of an iceberg that best represented their friend from a selection showing icebergs at various levels of subversion.  Then the participants did the reverse task, thinking about how their friend would answer these same questions about them.  The different studies used this same methodology but for different types of relationships.

“Pronin and her team found that participants  believed that their own quintessential qualities, including their intimate thoughts and feelings, were mostly kept internal but that those of others were more likely to be observable.  They were more submerged icebergs, while other people were more visible icebergs.  This make sense from a memory perspective because we have direct access to our own thoughts and feeling and so appreciate that they can be complicated and nuanced—which makes them difficult for other people to understand.  On the other hand, it can be difficult or even impossible to appreciate the complexity of the thoughts and feelings of others in other than a basic ‘surface’ way—we tend towards assuming that is all that there is to understand.  Our general outlook is “I’m a riddle, but my friend is an open book.”

This phenomenon of asymmetric insight is ubiquitous.  Liberals and conservatives each thinks they understand the other part better than the other party understands them.

We all need to be aware of the fallibility of our memories and our overconfidence in our fallible memories.

Attention and Memory

January 29, 2017

Dr. Shaw, in her book ‘THE MEMORY ILLUSION,” tells the story of her first day in the first memory class she ever took at a university.  The professor picked up a piece of paper and waited  for the class to settle down.  He held up the sheet of paper and proclaimed, “This is what happens  in the world around us.”  Then he folded the paper in half.  “This is what you perceive,”  He folded the paper in half again.  “This is what you pay attention to.”  He folded the paper in half again.  “This is what you  are interested in.”  Another fold.  “This is what the brain makes into engrams.” he folded the paper one final time; it was now a small fraction of its original size.  “And this is what you are able to access and recall later on.”

This is a splendid demonstration, and HM shall use it at his next opportunity.  Memory is critically dependent on attention.  HM knows the mnemonic technique for associating names with faces.  Unfortunately, he never uses them.  He is always distracted by something and spends the rest of the time trying to catch the individual’s name in the conversations.  This is especially embarrassing if you are regarded to be an expert in memory.

Any advertisements that advertise easy learning, that is learning that does not require attention are bogus.  This is especially true if babies are involved.  In the case of babies, it is not just that techniques will not work, but that they can also cause harm.  These dangers were previously discussed in the healthy memory blog post, “Cyber Babies.”

Other research conducted by Judy DeLoache and her team from the University of Virginia studied all 12- to 18-month  old children learned language from a popular brand of baby media.  They found that children who viewed the educational videos for four weeks did not learn any more or any fewer words than if parents were given no instructions to teach language at all.  But they did find that the tots learned significantly more words if they were not exposed to any video but instead were taught words during everyday activities.  It seems that babies  prefer the live show.  Other  studies have produced similar results.  Live presentation of language and tasks have been shown bo be far more effective for developing babies’ memories than any kind of media simulation.

What is more worrisome are the negative results that can occur.  Frederick Zimmerman and his team at the University of Washington found baby television exposure to have highly detrimental effects on language development.  They called 1,008 parents of young children and asked them about their children’s media viewing habits.   They also asked them to complete the short form of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory, which measures language development in children.  The survey found that for every hour of baby media watched per day by infants between 8 and 16 months, they were found to know six to eight fewer words.

In 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clearly said the children under two should have no screen time at all.  Instead, parents should use play and live interaction
if they want to give their babies the best possible developmental help.

It is likely you have seen videos of change blindness. Change blindness is the result of two bottlenecked processes that need to filter a great deal of information. The first bottleneck is our limited ability to perceive the world through our senses.  The second is our limited short-term memory capacity.  In one of the videos you are asked to watch a short video of a group of people passing a ball, and to count the number of times the ball was passed.  After the video ends, you are asked for your count.  Then you are asked did you see a gorilla cross the scene.  About 46% of the viewers failed to notice the gorilla in the video.  There are several similar demonstrations.

Daniel Levin and his team at Kent State University demonstrated change blindness blindness.  They asked participants how likely it was that they would notice change in four different situations.  Three of these situation had been previously tested and had produced change blindness rates in 100% of participants; the fourth was one where participants were approached by a lost pedestrian asking for directions and the person switched during the conversation after being briefly hidden from view.  But across the four conditions between 70% and 97.6% of participants thought they would detect the changes described and they did so with high confidence ratings.


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, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Memories from Infancy and Early Childhood

January 27, 2017

This post is based on Chapter 1, “I Remember Being Born” in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION” a book by the psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.  Many millions of people remember being a baby.  Fewer people, but still in the millions remember being born, and even fewer people, but still in the millions remember being in the womb.  These people are wrong as “research has long established that as adults we cannot accurately retrieve memories from our infancy and early childhood.  To put it simply, the brains of babies are not yet physiologically capable of forming and storing long-term memories.  People have these misconceptions about remembering due to the creative component of memory that strives to make meaning of the world.

The estimated average age at which we can begin to form memories that last into adulthood is 3.5 years of age, but according to some such as Qi Wang of Cornell University this figure is likely to depend on the individual and can be anywhere between 2 and 5 years of age.

The parts of the brain responsible for long-term memory, including part of the frontal lobe and the hippocampus, begin to grow at around eight or nine months.  According to Harvard professor Jerome Kagan, one clue that children start to develop memory at about nine months is that this is typically when they become less willing to leave their parents.  Being able to miss their mothers is taken as a sign that the infants have a memory of their mother having just been present, and notice when she leaves.  “If you’re five months old, it’s out of sight, out of mind.  You’re less likely to cry because you just forgot that you mother was ever there, so it’s not as frightening.”

Long-term memory capabilities develop quickly as we age, both in duration and complexity.  We increasingly understand how the world around us works and what we should consider important.  The basic functions of long-term autobiographical memory are established within the first fews years of life.  But the main structures involved in memory (the hippocampus and related cognitive structures) actually continue to mature well into early adulthood.  This finding has contributed to the notion of an ‘extended adolescence’ that lasts all the way to the age of 25, since the brain continues substantial maturation until at least this age.

The baby brain  at two to four weeks of age is about 36% of the final adult volume, 72% at one year of age, and 83% of the final adult volume by two years.  By the age of 9 the brain reaches about 95% of the adult volume, and it is not until about the age of 13 that our brains reach their full adult size.

While the baby brains undergo rapid growth they also undergo massive neuronal pruning.  That is. individual neurons disappear.  This process begins almost from birth, and finishes by the time we hit puberty.  According to Maja Abitz and her team, adults actually have a whopping 41% fewer neurons than newborn babies in important parts of the brain that play a role in memory and thinking, such as the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus.

There is also an overproduction of synaptic connections in infancy followed by persistence of high levels of synaptic density into late childhood or adolescence.  As we enter late childhood, our brains start to become better at knowing what connections we need to keep and which are superfluous.  From there on until mid-adolescence our brains undergo a short of spring-cleaning.  So perhaps “when you were five years old you could list all of the dinosaurs, but did you really need all that information?  Probably not, says your brain and erases the connections and neurons responsible for much of this knowledge.”  “So, due to structural insufficiencies, as well as organizational and linguistic deficits, memories of early childhood events cannot last into childhood.

This research does not suggest that just because we cannot remember them, that early childhood events are unimportant.  According to a 2012 review of the long-term repercussions of adversity experience in early life by medical doctor Jack Shonkoff and his colleagues experiencing adversity, even at an age before we can consciously remember it as adult, can have lasting effects.  “Early experiences and environmental influences can leave a lasting signature of the genetic predisposition that affect emerging brain architecture and long-term health.”

To read more about the negative effects in early childhood read the healthy memory blog post,”Turning on Genes in the Brain.”  The single best predictor of the healthy growth of a baby is to ask its mother, “Did you want this child?”  In 2005 scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison designed a study showing what can happen to children whose parents answer “no” to this question.  The researchers studied children who were “reared in extremely aberrant social environments where they were deprived of the kind of caregiving typical for our species.”  This meant that for seven to forty-two months after their birth, the twelve girls and six boys had lived in Russian or Romanian orphanages  that the World Health Organization described as poor to appalling.  These environments were generally void of stimulation and human interaction.  The children seldom experienced the love and caring of adults who recognized and responded to their needs.These children were adopted by American families.  Within a year, most of their medical problems—ear infections and stomach problems, malnutrition and delayed growth—vanished.  Nevertheless, due to their legacy of neglect many of the children were diagnosed with attachment disorders, an inability to form emotional bonds to those closest to them

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


January 26, 2017

“THE MEMORY ILLUSION” is the title of a book by psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.   The subtitle is “Remembering, Forgetting and the Science of False Memory.  This is an outstanding book on a very important topic that is well-written by an excellent author, one that is strongly recommend reading by HM.  Due to the importance of this topic, many posts  will be written based on the book.

There are many misconceptions regarding human memory.   This book is devoted to correcting the most egregious of these misconceptions.  People tend to think of memory in a very limited sense.  It’s thought of as something you need during tests, and as something that fails you when you can’t recall a name.  But readers of the healthy memory blog should know that memory is central to all cognition and to our very being.

Consider someone in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.  That person no longer remembers who he is, what he did during his life, his immediate  family and, of course, his friends.  Absent memory there is no you-ness.

There are different types of memory.  Semantic memories are our knowledge about the world.  Procedural memory is about how different procedures are performed such as riding a bike.  Autobiographical memory is about ourselves, and episodic memory is about the specific events or episodes that occurred during our lifetimes.

There is also something important regarding both how our memories work and how to make them work better.  This is called metamemory.   We need to be aware of how our memories fail, so we do not fall victim to them, and so that we can compensate for their failures and shortcomings.

As Dr. Shaw writes, “Any event, no matter how important, emotional or traumatic it may seem, can be forgotten, misremembered, or even entirely fictitious.”

As she also writes, “Due to our psychological and physiological configuration all of us can come to confidently and vividly remember entire events that never actually took place.”

And as she continues,  “The Memory Illusion” will explain the fundamental principles of our memories, diving into the biological reasons we forget and remember.  It will explain how our social environments play a pivotal role in the way we experience and remember the world.  It will explain how self-concept shapes, and is shaped by our memories.  It will explain the role of the media and education in our misunderstanding of the things we think memory is capable of.  And it will look in detail at some of the most fascinating, sometimes almost unbelievable, errors, alterations and misapprehensions our memories can be subject to.”

False Memories Leading to Confessions

March 8, 2015

In Dr. Kaku’s Future of the Mind he describes research in which false memories were implanted in animals.  As you will see in this post, there is no need to such physical implantations in humans.

According to the Innocence Project ( eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful conviction nationwide,playing a role in 72% of convictions overturned through DNA  testing.  Yet eyewitness  testimony is regarded as persuasive evidence by judges and juries.  In about 30% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions, or pled guilty.  One can make a compelling argument that our legal system falls short on delivering justice.

Also consider individuals who were wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing children, frequently their very own children.  These wrongful convictions were the result of false memories being implanted by psychotherapists of a particular theoretical persuasion.  Understand that these therapists were not intentionally implanting false memories in their patients, but their therapeutic approach caused them to ask questions and make suggestions that resulted in these false memories of childhood sexual abuse.  The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus along with others conducted detailed and extensive research showing how easily false memories could be implanted and believed.  Loftus and others needed to spend many years testifying in court to get these wrongful convictions overturned and to prevent the occurrence of additional wrongful convictions.

Research has revealed that our memories are highly malleable.  We are still learning how malleable they are.  Julia Shaw and Stephen Porter reported their research on this topic in an article titled, “Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime,” in Psychological Science (2015), 1-11.  First, they conducted a screening phase using one hundred twenty-six undergraduate students at a Canadian university.  In the screening phase, the undergraduates provided consent for researchers to send an extensive memory questionnaire to their primary caregivers.  Eligibility  was based on the caregiver reporting that the participant had experienced at least one highly emotional event in the specified time frame, had not experienced  any of the target criminal events (assault, assault with a weapon, and theft), and had never had police contact.  The caregivers had to report in some detail at least one emotional event.  Caregivers were also asked  whether their child had experienced any of six negative emotional events, three of which were criminal (assault, assault with a weapon, and theft) and three of which were noncriminal (an accident, an animal attack, and losing a large amount of money).  For each recalled event , caregivers were asked to write a description of what they could remember, including the location, people present, time of year, age of the participant, and how confident they were that the event had occurred.

Of this sample, 70 students met the participation criteria and the first 60 of these eligible  students participated in the interview stage, which consisted of three interviews  at approximately at one week intervals. The interviews were on average 40 minutes long.  The same researcher, who used a scripted interview for all sessions, conducted all interviews.  In the first interview two of the events from the questionnaire, one that the participant had experienced and one that the participant had not experienced were verbal presented to the participant.  The true event was always presented first to maximize the interviewer’s credibility.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two false-memory conditions.  Participants in the criminal condition were told that they had committed a crime resulting in police contact.  One third of them were told that they had committed assault, another third that they had committed assault with a weapon, and the remainder that they had committed theft.  Participants in the noncriminal  condition were told they they had experienced an emotional event:  one third were told that they had had a powerful emotional experience during which they injured themselves, another third that they had been attacked by a dog, and the remainder  that they had lost a large sum of money and gotten in trouble with their parents.  The events themselves were not of particular interest, and were used in the interest of increasing generalizability.

During the interviews, the interviewer provided details.  No participant immediately recalled  the false event.  When participants had difficulty recalling the false event, the interviewer encouraged them to try to remember it, and (falsely) told them that most people  can remember these kinds of memories if they try hard enough.  Participants were told that the study  was an examination of memory retrieval methods, and they were asked  to use context reinstatement and guided imagery to retrieve the memory.  They were also told to practice visualization of the false event each night at home.  The strategies that were employed throughout the interviews were based on literature regarding the factors that facilitate the generation of false confessions.  For example, incontrovertible false evidence (the questionnaire your parents/caregivers provided said…), social pressure  (“Most people are able to retrieve lost memories if they try hard enough), plus the suggested retrieval and imaging techniques).  The interview also worked at building good rapport with the interviewee.

These basic procedures were employed again in the second and third interviews held one week apart.  At the end of these interview the participants were asked some addition questions by the researchers, were informed about the  false memories and the purposes of the research.  One of the questions they were asked was whether they believed the false memory.  Their responses were further broken down by the number of details.  Of the 50 participants who reported 10 or more details, 44 believed that the false memory was true and 6 did not  believe that the false memory was true.  Of these the researchers concluded that there were 44 true false memories and that 6 of the respondents were what they termed “compliant.” That is they tried hard, but did not produce false memories.  Of the respondents who reported less than 10 details, 6 reported that they believed the event occurred but the researchers classified them as accepting, but not believing that a false memory had really been produced.

Of the participants assigned to the criminal condition 21 (70%) were classified as having false memories of being involved in the criminal event  resulting in police contact.  Of those 21, 8 provided an account involving the assaulting another person, 6 provided an account involving a theft, and 7 provided an account involve  assaulting another person with a weapon.  Although type of crime was not of interest, it did not appear to be a significant variable.

Of the participants given noncriminal false memories, 23 (76.67%) were classified as having false memories.  Of those 23, 8 provided an account involving an animal attack, 8 provided an account involving an accident resulting in injury, and 8 providing an account involving losing a large amount of money.  Again, these numbers did not differ significantly, nor did the differences between criminal and noncriminal false memories.

Clearly, interviews of suspects, and I would argue witnesses, needed to be conducted carefully or the justice system might again be led astray.  I would further argue that all pretrial testimony should be videotaped and available for review.