Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Psychology

April 30, 2017

Of all the skills needed for success, I believe that psychology is the most important.  Of course, being that HM is a psychologist, a degree of bias must be admitted.  Nevertheless HM shall make this argument.

Psychology is frequently confused with psychiatry.  Psychiatry is a medical specialty dealing with mental problems.  Clinical and some counseling psychologists also deal with mental problems, but they represent about half of all psychologists.  Other types of psychology are social psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, engineering psychology, educational psychology, psychologists who work primarily with nonhuman organisms, and psychologists who work with humans.  HM is a cognitive psychologist meaning that he is interested in how we perceive, remember, learn, make decisions, form concepts, solve problems;  that is basically everything we do that involves our brains.

In “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big” Adams devotes several pages to biases, heuristics, different types of effects, fallacies, illusory correlation and so forth.  Our cognitive processes are very complex, and they need to be understood as well as they can be understood.  We are constrained by a limited attentional capacity that must be understood.  Memory failures can usually be attributed to failures to pay attention, but we are bombarded by much more information than can be processed.  Memories change over time, and every time we recall a memory it changes.  Memories are highly fallible, yet we have a high degree of confidence in them. In short, we need to understand our minds as best we we can so that we are aware of the mistakes we are likely to make, and so that we can use our minds to best advantage.

Adams is writing about success and his examples are how a knowledge of psychology is key to success.  But given that education involves learning, should not students be provided an understanding of how we learn?  And given that education involves memory, should not an understanding of our memory systems be taught?  And should not learning and mnemonic techniques be taught to facilitate learning and memorization?  Should not students be taught problem solving techniques and the traps that can preclude solving problems?

Meditation is beneficial to both learning and emotional health, so should not meditation be taught and regularly practiced in schools?  Mindfulness training provides a basis for understanding why we differ and how best to interact with others who think or behave differently.  Disciplinary problems would largely disappear if both meditation and mindfulness were standard practices in schools.

Many businesses are providing for meditation and mindfulness to be incorporated into their business practices and many more businesses will be adding these practices in the future.  They might also want to add courses on human cognition that are relevant to their respective workplaces.

© 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.

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

November 23, 2016

HM would argue that what we have most to be thankful for is our marvelous memory.  Without our memory, we would not even know who we are.  Our memory is a devices for time travel.  They use data from our senses to develop models of the external world, and we use these models to interact with the external world.  Memory is the mechanism for personal growth.

Thanksgiving is the day to be dedicated to giving thanks.  The best way we can show thanks for our memory is to develop it by employing growth mindsets.  The activity generated by growth mindsets promotes memory health and builds cognitive reserves to ward of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  They also provide for an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

Mindfulness is also essential to healthy memories.  Meditation not only relaxes, but also gives us greater control over attention, which has a tendency to wander.  Mindfulness also increases our empathy with others.

Wistful Thinking: Why We Are Wired to Dwell on the Past

October 2, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Teal Burrell in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”  The article is about nostalgia.  Most of us experience it at least once a week according to research by Tim Wildschut and his colleagues at the University of Southhampton, UK.  Nostalgia is not the cause of loneliness.  Rather it is the antidote to loneliness.  It springs up when we are feeling low and, in general, boosts well-being.  Reflecting on nostalgic events we have experienced forges bonds with other people, and enhances positive feelings and self-esteem according to Wildschut and his colleagues.

Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University  evoked “personal nostalgia” in volunteers by having them listen to songs that had particular meaning to them, the emotion increased perceptions of purpose in life.  When volunteers were asked questions about the point of it all, nostalgia ramped up.  Rutledge says “When people feel uncertain or uncomfortable or unsure, they might use their memories as a stabilizing force.

One notion is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life.  Although many things in our lives can change—jobs, where we live, relationships—nostalgia reminds us that we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.  Kristine Batch of Le Moyne College says, “It is the glue that keeps us together, gives us continuity, and we need that, ever more so, in times of change.”

Sociologist Fred Davis compared being nostalgic to applying for a bank loan.  Looking back at out past is like checking our credit history.  Other researchers have found the reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and makes people more inspired to pursue their goals.

Julia Shaw who studies the fallibility of memory at London South Bank University says that nostalgia is a by-product of how we remember.  Memories are inaccurate:  we filter them to focus on the positive.  Each time we reactivate the memory, we make it susceptible to alteration.  Whenever we summon a memory, we might lose some nuances and add misinformation.

Nostalgic memory is about the emotion, not what really happened.  Specific details are either not accurate at all or we confabulate them.  We might not remember  the precise details, but we remember the emotions surrounding the event.

Shaw says that this bias towards positive emotion is at the heart of theories about why we feel nostalgia.  Nostalgic memories tend to be of the best days.  If we fixate on the negative instead, as depressed people are prone to do, it would leave us from an evolutionary perspective in a worse state in terms of adapting and surviving.

When a group shares a vision of the past, collective nostalgia, it promotes a sense of belonging and strengthens group bonds, which may ave had survival benefits in early triple societies.  But that cohesion comes at the cost of driving discrimination towards outsiders.

Nostalgia can lead to a belief in the carefree past that “never really existed.”  Nativist political campaigns in the UK, France, and the US have all hearkened back to a a fabled golden time—as epitomized by Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again” slogan—but those “good all days” had worse standards of living, higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancies and plenty of other troubles.  Holding up the ideal of a more homogeneous past also made it easy to scapegoat those who weren’t part of it.  So nostalgia can be used to promote disinformation.

There Will Be a Hiatus in Healthymemory Blog Posts

September 18, 2016

There Will Be a Hiatus in Healthymemory Blog Posts

HM will be attending the International  Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.  HM will also need some time to assimilate and recover.  He should not be missed.  There are 820 posts on this blog.  Use the search box of the blog to find posts of interests.  Here are some suggestions for searches:

myth
cognitive reserve
Herbert Benson
Kahneman
Davidson
Siegel
Mindfulness
Growth Mindsets

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

November 25, 2015

If you have read the preceding four healthy memory blog posts, you should be well aware of how wondrous the brain is and how even more wonderful are the memories we have due to our access to this wondrous organ.  Thanksgiving is an ideal time to express thankfulness for our memories.

The best way of expressing this thankfulness is by adopting a growth mindset and to maintain this mindset throughout our lives.  To maintain a healthy memory it is important  not only to use our memories, but also to grow our memories.  Remember those individuals who despite having brains wracked with the defining neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Presumably these individuals have built a cognitive reserve as a result of growing their memories.

Mindfulness and meditation also are important for a healthy memory.  They reduce stress and increase our control of our attentional resources.  They also provide the basis for more effective interpersonal relations, which are also important for memory health.

© 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.

Brain, Mind, Memory

November 22, 2015

These are three terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but each has distinctive meanings.  The term brain certainly has the most prestige,  Someone who is known as a researcher of the brain has more prestige that someone who is known for studying the mind or memory.  The study of the brain, neuroscience, is regarded as hard science, whereas the study of either the mind or memory is regarded as soft science.

The adult brain weighs about three pounds, has the consistency of firm jelly, and has a wrinkled performance (deep valleys carving a puffy landscape).  There are an average of 86 billion neurons in the adult male brain.  These neurons are connected by about fifty trillion synapses.  Research is underway to map the brain.  The complete mapping of the brain would be an enormous achievement for anatomy.  But apart from anatomy, what would it tell us?  If we had a detailed understanding of how the brain worked, we would have important information, but we would not understand what the brain does.

The primary accomplishment of the brain is that it provides the physiological substrate of the mind.  We are aware of the conscious component of the mind, consciousness.  But most of the mind lies below the level of consciousness.   It is constantly working, even when we are asleep, although we remain unaware of what it is doing.  It is the mind that is of primary interest.  David Eagleman titled his book, “The Brain:  The Story of You.”  Eagleman is an neuroscientist and can title the book how he likes.  I am a psychologist and I would prefer “The Mind:  The Story of You.”  Of course, the brain is important as it constitutes the physiological substrate for the mind.

I believe that memory is thought of by most people as a place where information is stored.  Usually the complaint is that their memory is poor because they forget things.  Memory is central to the mind and to cognitive processing.  Remember that in the visual system there are ten times as many neural pathways going down from the brain as their are pathways proceeding up from the eyes.  Memory is involved in the processing of all incoming information.  This provides for the rapid processing of information, but it also leaves us vulnerable to our many biases and preconceptions.

Memory is involved in more than retrieval of information from the past.  It is a device for time travel where possible futures, dangers, and opportunities can be imagined.  Perception is never immediate.  Incoming data is first stored in a very short term store (hundreds of milliseconds in the iconic storage of visual memory), then a selective portion of this information is processed into working memory where it becomes consciousness.  Whether the information is stored so that it can be remembered is largely a function of how much and how effectively attention has been applied to the information.  Once stored, there is a distinction between memory that is available in memory, and information that is accessible in memory.  Information that is accessible is readily recalled.  Information that cannot be recalled is likely available in memory but cannot be accessed at a particular time.  The healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”  explains that the slowness of recall and the apparent loss of memory is primarily due to the enormous amount of information stored in the elderly brain.  There is much more to search through than in younger brains, so it is often slower and can appear to be faulty.  However, often when you fail to recall an item, your non-conscious memory continues to search for it, and it might pop into your consciousness a day later or even more.

It is more accurate to say that the mind recreates rather than recall memories.  Memories are not exact copies of prior experiences.  Moreover the act of recall improves the likelihood that the memory will be accessible in the future.  This is why when studying it is important to try to recall information rather than simply reviewing.  Testing provides the basis for improving memory.

So we cannot underestimate the importance of memory, and the healthy memory blog is devoted to keeping memories healthy.

© 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.

A Review of The Brain

November 12, 2015

The Brain is a book by David Eagleman.  The subtitle is “The Story of You.”  I gave the book 5 stars in my review on Amazon.  I wrote, “Anyone with a brain should read this book.  (Knowing) how the brain works is essential for the individual.  It also provides the basis for more effective government.”

The brain is the most important organ of the body (even though Woody Allen said it was his second favorite organ).  It informs us who we are.  Growing the brain provides us with additional knowledge and know how.  This much should be obvious.  However, when I see the problems we have, many of them are due to a lack of knowledge as to how our brain works.  That is what I meant by writing, “provides the basis for more effective government.

Eagleman writes, “Your brain is a relentless shapeshifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry—and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast detailed patterns in your neural networks.  Because they continue to change your whole life, your identity is a moving target;  it never reaches an endpoint.  Eagleman explains how the brain develops and why the teen brain is set up to take risks.  Moving from childhood into adolescence, the brain shows an increasing response to rewards in areas related to pleasure seeking such as the nucleus accumbens.  In deems this activity is as high as in adults but activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is important  for executive decision making, attention, and simulating future experiences, is still about the same in teens as it is in children.  In fact, the prefrontal cortex, which is important for executive decisions, dos not mature until the mide-twenties, which provides adequate time for ruining our lives.  The brain continues to change physically as we learn new skills and information and memories themselves change each time they are summoned.  Memories are highly fallible and can be easily changed, which are facts not generally recognized by courts of law.

Eagleman includes a study of nuns who are willing to provide their brains for study after they die.  The nuns are tested while they are living and then autopsies are provided after they die.  They have found brains that are wracked by the defining neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s, but these  nuns never exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and remained mentally sharp until they died.  The nuns are not unique, other autopsies on other populations have resulted in similar findings.  The nuns interacted with each other, they had growth mindsets, and the meditated with prayer, presumably continuing to develop a cognitive reserve.  Yet Alzheimer’s research is focused on finding drugs to destroy or inhibit the growth of these physical symptoms as well as tests to detect the early development of these symptoms.  There are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer’s, and there are knowledgeable scientists who believe that there never will be such drugs (See the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s).  All that drugs can do is to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.  In my view all this does is to prolong the suffering.

People need to understand that reality is an illusion.  True there is a real physical world, but we learn of this world via our senses, which are used to build up mental models.  Moreover, each of us has different views of this world, one that changes, or should change with experience and learning.  People who fail to understand this are naive realists, and one of the reasons for the problems of the world is the existence of these naive realists.  Eagleman explains how this learning takes place.   He notes that the brain is like a city.  When one looks at a city one sees buildings, roads, structures and so forth, but to find out where businesses are and how the city actually functions, it is due to interactions of different parts of the city.  The same is true of the brain.  It is a complicated structure that operates by intercommunicates among the different elements.  Most of these intercommunicates are unconscious, but some raise to he level of consciousness.

It is interesting to note that the visual system has some connections that feed forward and others that feed backwards.  What makes this interesting is that the ratio of connections feeding backward are ten times those of feeding forward.  This provides a strong indication how much we know bears on what we actually see.  Expectations weigh heavily on what we see.

Our brain is a storyteller.  It serves us narratives that bear on what we believe.  Ascertaining truth usually entails the critical thinking about different narratives.

We are unaware of the vast majority of the activity in our brains.  It remains below our level of consciousness, so one may well ask, who is in control.  A good way of thinking about this is to regard our consciousness as an executive office that makes important decisions.  There are some who believe that our conscious minds are only along for the ride, but I am not one of them (see the healthy memory blog post, “Free Will”).

The healthy memory blog argues that the memory is a device for time travel and Eagleman agrees.  It is a device that travels back to the past to plan for the future.  This involves generating scenarios for what might happen in the future.  The same parts of the brain that are involved in remembering are used in imaging alternative  futures.

Eagleman writes,”Although we typically feel independent, each of our brains operates in a rich web of interactions with one another—so much that we can plausibly look at the accomplishments of our species as the deeds of a single, shifting mega-organism.”  A subsequent healthy memory blog post will expound more on this topic.

The final chapter is titled “Who Will We Be?” and addresses the possibility of our transcending our biological selves.  This is an interesting chapter, but we might be constrained by our limited levels of attention.  We can only consciously attend to several items at once.  We become skilled or fluent via many hours of practice.  Can this bottleneck be transcended?  This question is key to the answer to the question of whether we can transcend our biological selves.

There is a PBS series based on this book, that I strongly recommend.  I recommend both reading the book at watching the series multiple times.  Understanding our brains is of paramount importance.

Today I Enter the 70th Year of My Life

May 6, 2015

Meaning that today is my 69th birthday.  My first thought is, where has all the time gone?  Time not just flies, it flies supersonically.   I can use the marvelous time travel machine in my brain, my memory, and almost instantaneously travel back to when I was four years old or to any other specific time in my life.  The purpose of memory as a time travel machine is for us to use what we have experienced and learned in our pasts and project it into our future plans and actions.  It is here that memories can disappoint.  Too often I have failed to use information from my past in the future.  That is, I have failed to use lessons learned.  I have no idea how much longer I shall live.  It is highly doubtful that it will be for another 69 years.  I have already outlived my father and my brother.  My mother made it into here 100th year.  Unfortunately, she was plagued with dementia for the last several years of her life.

It is my goal to avoid dementia and to continue to grow cognitively the remaining years of my life.  Recent research, which will be posted in the next healthymemory blog post, found that “Crystalized Intelligence,” a measure of accumulated knowledge, doesn’t peak until people are in their late 60’s or 70’s.  Now these are average data.  There are individuals whose crystalized intelligence either peaks later or when they die.

So how can this potential be enhanced?  That is the question to which the healthymemory blog is devoted, and the first answer is not to wait.  Regardless of age, engage in the practices and advice of the healthymemory blog.  There is an overwhelming amount of advice and number of practices, so choose those with which you are compatible and continue to read this blog.

Perhaps first and foremost is the importance of ikigai.  Ikigai is a Japanese word, which roughly translated means “the reason to get up in the morning.”  In other words, have reasons for living.  Knowing your purpose(s) in life is important to your well being.  Research has indicated that having a regular job  decreases the probability of suffering from dementia.  Consequently, I continue working at my regular job.  Still I need to consider whether I am better off continuing at this job, and getting up extremely early in the morning, or pursuing other activities that might be more beneficial cognitively.  In doing so, I need to draw upon my time travel machine, my memory, to be sure that I am not ignoring any lessons learned when making my decision.

© 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.

Memory, Attention, Consciousness

November 30, 2014

I’ve just begun reading The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin. I’ve already realized that I should have read this book some time ago, and it is already clear that I am going to recommend it. Usually I do not recommend books until I’ve completed reading them, but I am making an exception in this case. It is already clear that much of the advice will involve transactive memory. Before proceeding with advice providing posts, I feel compelled to write a post on memory, attention, and consciousness. These three topics are central to the healthymemory blog, and although Levitin does not necessarily provide new information, I think that his treatment of these topics deserve special consideration.

Here is how Levitin begins Chapter 2 on How Memory and Attention work, “We live in a world of illusions. We think we are aware of everything going around us. We look out and see an uninterrupted picture of the visual world, composed of thousands of little detailed images. We may know that each of us has a blind spot, but we go on blissfully unaware of where it actually is because our occipital cortex does such a good job of filling in the missing information and hence hiding it from us.

“We attend to objects in the environment partly based on our will (we choose to pay attention to some things), partly based on an alert system that monitors our world for danger, and partly based on our brain’s own vagaries. Our brains come preconfigured to create categories and classifications of things automatically and without our conscious intervention. When the systems we’re trying to set up are in collision with the way our brain automatically categorizes things, we end up losing things, missing appointments, or forgetting to do things we needed to do.”

Regular readers of the healthymemory blog should know that memory is not a passive storage system for data. Rather it is dynamic, guiding our perception, helping us to deal with the present and project into the future. Fundamentally it is a machine for time travel. It is not static, but constantly changing, with the sometimes unfortunate consequent in our being highly confident of faulty recollections. Memories are the product of assemblies of neurons firing. New information, learning, is the result of new cell assemblies being formed. Neurons are living cells that can connect to each other, and they can connect to each other in trillions of different ways. The number of possible brain states that each of us can have is so large that it exceeds the number of known particles in the universe. (I once asked a physicist how they computed this number of known particles and he told me. I would pass this on to you had I not forgotten his answer.)

Attention is critical as there is way too much information to process. So we need to select the information to which we want to attend. Sometimes this selection process itself demands.substantial attention. Moreover, switching attention requires attention, which only exacerbates attentional limitations when multitasking.

Consciousness has been explained as the conversation among these neurons. Levitin has offered the explanation that there are multiple different cell assemblies active at one time. Consciousness is the result of the selection of one of these cell assemblies. In other words, there are multiple trains of thought, and we must choose one of them to ride.

A critical question is how to employ our limited consciousness effectively. One way is the practice of mindfulness meditation to try to achieve a Zen-like focus of living in the moment. This can be accomplished through a regular meditation regimen. However, we should not neglect the short time application of this mindfulness. We need to apply this Zen-like focus when putting things down (your keys, important items), so you’ll remember where you put them. Also do not neglect uses of transactive memory and put notes in planners, on calendars, or in your electronic device so you’re sure you’ll be able to access them.

Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

November 25, 2014

We, homo sapiens,have much for which to be thankful. I often question whether we are worthy of our name. Nevertheless, we have much cognitive potential for which to be thankful. I believe that the best way of giving thanks is to foster and grow this potential throughout our lifetimes.

Consider our memories, which are de facto time travel machines. We travel into the past and into the future. Actually we travel into the past, to retrieve what we have learned, to cope with the future. We have both experienced and remembered pasts (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Photos, Experiencing Selves and Remembering Selves”). We can go back in time before we were born via our imaginations and transactive memory. Similarly we can go forward into time via both our imaginations and transactive memory (transactive memory are those held by fellow humans and by technological artifacts such as books and computers).

When human minds are put to best use via creativity and critical thinking, tremendous artistic, scientific, engineering, and cultural feats are achieved. And we each have individual potential that we should do our best to foster and grow throughout our lifetimes by continuing to take on cognitive challenges and to interact with transactive memory (our fellow humans and technology). We should not retire from or give up on cognitive growth. And we should assist our fellow humans who are in need to grow their individual potential. This is the best means of giving thanks!

© 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.

Did Our Capacity for Imaginative Thought Give Rise to Civilization?

November 19, 2014

 

An article in the New Scientist (20 September 2014), Daydream believers by Catherine Brahic motivated this blog post. This is not to say that I thought it is a good article as I strongly disagree with many of the arguments in the article. Nevertheless, it launched some thoughts that I feel compelled to express in this blog post.’

My first disagreement regards the concept of memory advanced by philosopher./psychologist Alison Gopnik. Certain researchers have a problem with the following, “If imagination is the ability to transcend our current circumstances and use our minds to travel through and space and beyond, then that includes everything from daydreaming of unicorns to visualizing an even last weekend and figuring out at two in the afternoon, how best to get to a social occasion across town that evening. The objection to this definition is that we are constantly using our imagination. Ms. Gopnik prefers to carve out a special niche for imagination and to regard memory as a storage space for data. Research has clearly indicated that memory is not a static storage space but is instead dynamic, constantly being recreated whenever we act upon it. The role of memory is to serve as a mechanism for time travel, to draw upon past experience and learning and to use that information to imagine different possibilities and the means of achieving those possibilities. Although we might typically think of imagination as allowing us to escape reality and to live in a fantasy world, it is basically the same mechanism that we use to plan for the future and to cope with reality. And, yes of course, this capacity provided the ability to build civilizations.

The article also hit on another one of my pet peeves. It contained arguments that imagination is a uniquely human capacity. I’ve come to believe that homo sapiens has an inferiority complex expressed in a need to distinguish itself from other animal species. Well we do know that all primate species dream. I might make the argument that imaginative thought involves similar processes to dreaming except it occurs when we are awake. Moreover, prominent neuroscientists have argued for consciousness in a wide range of species (see the healthymemory blog post, “Consciousness in Both Human and Non-human Animals.”) The following is from the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observation can be stated unequivocally:”

The declaration concludes:

The absence of neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

To reiterate the answer to the question in the title of this post, “Yes.”

© 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.

A Brief Summary of Sessions Attended at the 2014 APA Convention

August 17, 2014

The first session I attended was on training older adults to enhance their memories. Important here are the roles of self-efficacy and self-regulation. Metamemory refers to the knowledge we have and use regarding our own memories. Important here is one’s subjective age. That is, the age one feels. Feelings of being old can led one to self-defeating prophecies that one is old and therefore cannot do things or be successful. Consequently, one one is trying to perform a task, positive feedback is important. In studies where positive feedback, negative feedback, and no feedback was provided, it is not surprising that positive feedback yields positive results. What is interesting is that there was no difference between the no feedback and negative feedback conditions. This result suggest that people provide their own negative feedback when no feedback is given. So it is important when training memory strategies, it is also important to impart positive beliefs.

Previously difficulties have been encountered in demonstrating transfer from the trained memory tasks to other tasks. These researchers reported wide spread transfer effects Although these effects were wide spread, they were not universal. Depending upon the severity of the memory problem and the difficulty of the transfer tasks, sometimes the effects were diminished. But it seemed at most all levels of dementia, some type of transfer was exhibited.

Dunlosky of Kent State presented research on Strategy Adapted Training and a Learner-oriented approach. The notion here is to capitalize on the strengths of the elderly and to develop good metacognition. An important part of this training was self testing. This self-testing not only required information retrieval, which is evaluable itself in strengthening neural connections, but the outcome of these tests provides information for regulating future study.

I also attended the Psy Chi sponsored lecture by Daniel Schacter, one of the most renowned memory researchers (see the healthymemory blog post, “The Seven Sins of Memory”). The benefits of actually ry testing oneself and retrieving information from memory were mentioned. More shall be written about Schachter’s research in future posts.

There was an interesting session on creativity and intelligence using both psychometric and neuroscience approaches. There are standard tests for different types of intelligence and for the types of thinking that lead to creativity. Brain imaging is used to find what parts of the brain are involved in certain tasks as well as what areas of the brain are more highly activated in highly intelligent and creative people. Moreover, there are different types of creativity that foster different types of activity in the brain. For example, there was a presentation on the neural correlates of metaphorical expression. Another question is whether creative people better able to control their imaginations. The current answer is a tentative “Yes.”

Research was presented on the training of working memory. As the name implies, working memory is memory that works. For example, it is the memory used when there is a distance between the phone and the directory and you need to rehearse the number until you can dial it or you will likely forget it. Research suggest that a stronger working memory allows for more persistence trying a task, which will more likely lead to success.

There was a session on Mind Body, Creative, and Cross Cultural Extension. One presenter made the argument that mindfulness is a construct whereas meditation is a technique. I have no argument with this in a theoretical sense, but in a practical sense I would argue that mindfulness is a way of thinking and living. Meditation is used to build and support mindfulness. There are many types of meditation. This point was illustrated in a cross-cultural comparison. Unfortunately, results were presented indicating that one type of meditation was superior to another type of meditation. Let us hope that this competition will not continue. It is better to think that different types of meditation are appropriate for achieving different ends, that different approaches are appropriate for different people, and that they can all be used to increase mindfulness.

There a scale that measures mindfulness, the Langer Mindfulness Scale. It was used in a study of patients suffering from ALS, which is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This scale predicted physical and psychological changes independently.

I attended an invited address by Bryan Stevenson, JD, from the Equal Justice Initiative on the Psycho-Social Dynamics of Achieving Justice. This man is remarkable. He is one of the best, perhaps the best, speakers I have every heard, and his message is an important one. I would advise everyone never to pass up an opportunity to hear this man speak. His website is www.eji.org.

The Neal Miller lecture was presented by Dr. Stuart M. Zola. In addition to being a psychologist, he is also a magician, so it was not surprising that his talk was titled “Memory, Magic, and the Brain.”He made interesting points and illustrated them with magic. I am unable to show his magic tricks, and as he made several points, I’ll just present one. This has to do with how our memories can fool us. The day after the shuttle disaster a psychologist, Ulric Neisser, had the prescience to have his students write down what they remembered regarding the tragedy. He had the further wisdom to have these same students write down their recollections again. The students also rated the confidence they had in their recollections. Neisser compared the two written accounts. There were some that were consistent. However, there were many more, some of which were wildly discrepant. When shown their original accounts, some swore that they were not theirs, that they had been switched. Most importantly is that the correlations between the confidence they expressed and the accuracy of their recollections were low. The lesson here is to be wary not only in the accuracy of our own memories, but certainly to be wary of the accuracy of others. Moreover, the confidence people express in their recollections should be ignored. What is disturbing is that research has found that in courts of law, jurors are much more prone to believe the confident witness, when in reality the memories of the cautious witness are much more likely to be accurate. It is likely that this tendency to believe confident witnesses has led to the execution of innocent individuals.

On the final day I attended sessions on impact validation, that is on validations of programs and interventions, and on consciousness. The papers on consciousness were interesting, but nothing was resolved, of course.

There will be subsequent posts on a former colleague who received a prestigious and deserved award, and on the work of Philip Zimbardo.

© 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.

4 Ways to Fight Alzheimer’s

June 1, 2013

This post is largely based on the article by Dr. Gary Small, “Four Ways to Save Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease1. There is also a book by Dr. Small, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. The prospects for either a cure or a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s are becoming increasingly dim (see the healthymemory blog post, “An Update on the Prospect of a Cure for Alzheimer’s). However, there is much we can do to decrease significantly, if not avoid completely, the ravages of Alzheimer’s. This post outlines 4 ways to fight Alzheimer’s.

One way is to engage in physical exercise. The Mind Health Report notes that strength training can improve cognitive function and brain health. It also cites a study that found that walking briskly for just 20 minutes a day can lower the risk for Alzheimer’s. Walking 40 minutes a day, three times a week has also been shown to be beneficial (see the healthymemory blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”). Walking is not the only beneficial activity. Jogging, swimming, and other activities pump oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. Try working these activities into daily routines.

Another way is to manage stress. Stress cannot be eliminated, nor should it be. But too much stress is harmful and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Cortisol-induced stress has produced temporary impairment in memory and recall abilities. Fortunately, stress can be managed. According to the Mind Health Report article, “…Dr. Helen Lavretsky at UCLA showed that tai chi can improve markers of inflammation in the blood. She also reported that functional MRI scans showed that meditation actually strengthens neural networks in important brain areas controlling cognition.” There are many healthymemory blog posts on meditation. Actually, meditation is a subtopic of the more encompassing concept of mindfulness. (enter “meditation” or “mindfulness” into the search block of this blog).

` A third way is to eat appropriately. From the article in The Mind Health Report: “For optimal brain performance, combine antioxidant fruits and vegetables with healthy proteins. Researchers at Columbia University have shown that when our diets emphasize proteins from fish and nuts along with fruits and vegetables, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease decreases compared with the risk from diets emphasizing read meat and butter and fewer fruits and vegetables.” For healthymemory blog posts on the benefits of diet enter “diet” into the search block.

The fourth way, and the way emphasized in the healthy memory blog,is through cognitive exercise. Mnemonic techniques are techniques that not only improve memory performance, but also provide beneficial cognitive exercise (See the healthymemory category “mnemonic techniques”). The healthymemory blog category, “Transactive Memory” has posts on how to employ technology and our fellow human beings in building and exercises our memories. Social relationships and interactions are important to a healthy memory. The “Human Memory: Theory and Data” healthymemory blog category provides posts on human memory and behavior., and neuroscience. You will note that the category is widely construed as human memory is at the bottom of all issues involving humans. All posts go to the goal of building a “cognitive reserve” to fight Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is never too early, or too late, to build this cognitive reserve.

1Small, G.D. (2013). Four Ways to Save Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease. The Mind Health Report, May.

Healthy Memory’s 400th Post

May 21, 2013

It is difficult to believe that this is the 400th post on the healthymemory blog. These posts have covered a lot of territory. The primary focus of the healthymemory blog is memory. Memory is central to all human processes, both personal and collective. Consequently, an understanding of memory is useful, if not essential, to us as human beings. The healthymemory blog is devoted to cognitive growth. This is important both as a means to human fulfillment and for the building of a cognitive reserve. A cognitive reserve provides the best means of warding off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Consequently, the healthymemory blog should be of primary interest to Baby Boomers, but, in fact, it should be of interest to everyone. The study of human memory is fascinating and cognitive growth should be a goal of everyone, regardless of age.

Blog posts are divided into three categories. The largest is Human Memory Theory and Data. This category includes posts on human memory and everything that human memory touches. The category mnemonic techniques includes specific techniques for improving memory. These techniques can also provide cognitive exercise to foster memory health. The topics of meditation and mindfulness are also included as both meditation and mindfulness foster healthy memories. The subtitle for the healthymemory blog is Memory Health and Technology. This includes transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to extensions of one’s own memory in technology and fellow human beings. It includes posts on how technology can be used to foster cognitive growth and how interactions with our fellow human beings are essential to memory health.

In short, there is much to read here. Older posts are not out of date. Just enter topics of interest to you in the healthymemory blog search block to find posts of interest to you. You just might be surprised.

Aging and Decline: A Self-fulfilling Prophecy?

March 24, 2013

An article in the Alexandria/Arlington Local Living insert of the March 14 Washington Post titled “Getting Stronger After a Century” inspired this healthymemory blog post. This article is about a man who did not start working out until he was 98. He is now 102 and is “able to curl 40 pounds, work out vigorously on a rowing machine and deftly pluck bouncing eight-pound kettle balls from the air with the hand-eye coordination of a much younger man.” The article later states that experts say that many people don’t realize that problems they associate with old age actually are caused by poor fitness. In other words, the experts are saying that the poor fitness aging individuals experience is, in large part, a self-fulfilling prophecy. People believe that this physical decline is a natural part of aging and start declining. If people would just start exercising, they could preclude or remediate many of these problems.

I believe that the same problem occurs with respect to mental fitness. People believe that mental decline is a natural part of aging. There are data showing that the average retirement ages of countries and the age of the onset of dementia for these same countries are correlated. That is, the earlier the retirement age, the earlier the onset of dementia. It isn’t retirement per se that is responsible, but rather the decline in social interactions, cognitive activities, and challenges (problems) that result in dementia.

So if you are retired you need to keep up social interactions and cognitive activity. Use your computer and keep learning new things. Read and take classes. And you don’t want to wait until you retire to start these activities. They should be lifelong activities. Nevertheless, it is never to late to start. Consider the gentleman in the article who did not start exercising until he was 98.

As the title of this blog implies, the healthymemory blog is devoted to healthy memories. It is constantly providing new, worthwhile information for your consideration. The category of transactive memory considers how you can employ others and technology for cognitive growth and health. The mnemonic techniques category includes articles on techniques that not only improve your memory, but also provide valuable cognitive exercise. Articles on mindfulness and meditation can also be found under this category. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on this very interesting and important topic. This is a good area in which to grow cognitively.

© 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.

Using Our Minds to Control Our Eating

March 9, 2013

Obesity is a worldwide problem now, and dieting is a personal problem for many of us. It appears that both evolution and the food industry has conspired to make us desire fattening foods. Consequently, dieting is difficult. Are there any good techniques for controlling our eating? The answer is, yes. One of these techniques is our mind. Mindfulness can help us control our eating.

An experiment1 investigated whether eating lunch mindfully, in contrast to eating with distractions or no particular focus, reduced later snack intake. Twenty-nine female undergraduates either ate a fixed lunch while (1) focusing on the sensory characteristics of the food as they ate (food focus group), (2) reading a newspaper article about food (food thoughts control group), or (3) in the absence of any secondary task (neutral control group). Later in the afternoon cookie intake was measured as well as rated vividness of memory for lunch. Participants in the food focus group ate significantly fewer cookies that participants in both the food thoughts control group or the neutral control group. Rated appetite before the snack session was lower in the food focus group than in the other two groups. Their rated vividness of their memory of lunch was higher in the food focus group. The rated vividness of lunch memory was negatively correlated with snack intake.

This study strongly suggests that memory plays an important role in appetite control. Paying attention to food while eating enhances this meal memory.

So to control our appetites we should not eat while we are either watching television or reading. Moreover, if we concentrate on the meal and the enjoyment of the meal, our subsequent hunger and desire for snacks will lessen. Conversation remains an open issue. Conversation typically slows down our consumption of food, but if it takes our minds off what we are eating, it might be problematic. Perhaps its best to work comments about the meal into our conversations.

1Higgs, S., & Donohoe, J.E. (2011). Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake. Appetite, Aug57(1):202-6. Doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.016. Epib2011 May4.

© 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.

Quiz

January 23, 2013

The healthymemory blog will be going on a brief hiatus. There are over 350 blog posts to peruse, so there is plenty of material to consider in the absence of new posts. You can test your knowledge of just a small percentage of the material covered by taking the test below. If you want to check your answers or to look up the answers, use the search block for the healthymemory blog.

What are the seven sins of memory?

Agnogenesis

Dumbledore Hypothesis

cognitive reserve

Flynn Effect

fluid intelligence

How to remember numbers

What tragedies have resulted from failures in prospective memory?

How can you improve your prospective memory?

How can you remember names?

What are the five dimensions of personality?

What is meant by emotional style?

What types of meditation are there?

What does psychological science have to offer law and the justice system?

What are some effective study techniques?

What makes a nation intelligent?

What are some solutions to the excessive costs of a college education?

What is Gross National Happiness (GNH)?

What are the two basic types of transactive memory?

What are the distinctions among accessible, available, and potential transactive memory?

How many friends are too many?

Are we incurable Infovores?

How can we cope with complexity?

What are folksonomies?

What are some common sense techniques for improving memory?

Memory and Endurance

January 14, 2013

Diane Van Deren is one of the world’s elite ultra runners. She has run more than 1500 kilometers over 22 days. Note that that is kilometers, not meters. She has run for as long as 20 hours in a single day. When she is asked to estimate the amount of time she has been running she has underestimated her time by as much as 8 hours.

Her incredible endurance needs to be understood in the context of her memory. She, like the individuals in the immediately preceding post on Memory and Obesity, has had brain surgery to treat epilepsy.1 This surgery undoubtedly involved areas of the brain affecting the transfer of information into long term memory, such as the hippocampus.

It is hoped that this surgery effectively dealt with her epilepsy. It did have the benefit of letting her get into a more zen-like state that lets her run for longer without feeling so much strain, but the loss of the ability to retain new information is an unfortunate trade.

1De Lante, C. (2012). Stuck in the Present. New Scientist, 6 October, p.41.

Can Memory Affect Obesity?

January 12, 2013

M is an individual who has had part of his memory removed, that part likely including the hippocampus, in an attempt to cure epilepsy. Sixty seconds after polishing off a three course meal, he started on a second three course meal having forgotten the three course meal he had already eaten. This finding was replicated with two other individuals who had undergone the same surgery. Not only did these two people eat a second meal fifteen minutes after eating the first, but sometimes went on to eat a third meal.

It appears that their amnesia has caused these individuals to forget they that have eaten, but not entirely as recent research has identified sensory specific satiety. We are familiar that our liking for a specific food decreases the more we eat of it, whereas a different dish can be more appetizing. People with the described amnesia will prefer crisps or cookies rather than more sandwiches after eating a hearty lunch of sandwiches even though they cannot remember what they have just eaten.

Research has also shown that imagining the process of eating something can lead us to feel more satiated such that we eat less. So memory does affect our appetites and our appetites affect obesity. Moreover, we can call upon our memories to help us imagine something tasty that we have eaten. For this to be effective, it is important that it be done slowly and with sufficient imagination to closely recreate the sensation of eating. Imagine whatever you like as calories do not count in a bad way when your eating is imaginary. It is even possible that the more calories you are imagining the more effective this memory ruse might be.

De Lante, C. (2012). Stuck in the Present. New Scientist, 6 October, p.41.

© 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.

Happy New Year: What About Your Resolutions?

December 30, 2012

It’s time to choose and make our resolutions for the new year. Although making New Year’s Resolutions is a splendid idea, the problem is that we fail to keep most of these resolutions. One way of improving your success is to cast willpower as a choice. This can be done by carefully choosing the words you use to talk to yourself. Research1 has shown that when participants framed a refusal as “I don’t” instead of “I can’t connotes deprivation, while saying ). So, for example, one could say “I don’t eat fatty foods,” rather than “I can’t eat fatty foods.” Vanessa Patrick, the author of the study said, “I believe that an effective route to self regulation is by managing one’s desire for temptation, instead of relying solely on willpower… Saying,“I can’t” denotes deprivation while saying “I don’t” makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.”

So it is a good idea to rely on willpower as little as possible. A book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney, explains why. Keeping New Year’s Resolutions results in ego depletion. You can think of ego depletion as being a loss in will or mental energy and it can be measured by glucose metabolism. Whenever you are trying to resist temptation, make a decision, or need to concentrate on certain tasks, there is this loss in willpower or mental energy, such that it is difficult to resist additional temptations, to make more decisions, or to concentrate on additional tasks. So it is unwise to try to give up two vices at the same time. The probability of success if much greater if you address one vice and then later address the other vice.

So the more resolutions you make, the less likely you are to keep them. And the more difficult a given resolution is, the more difficult it will be to keep it. So here is a strategy for you consideration. Decide upon only two resolutions. One should be fairly easy, and the other more difficult. You are more likely to keep the easy resolution, so you will have one in the win column. Should you also keep the second resolution, then you are entitled to a YA HAH moment. This strategy should produce at least a .500 win percentage.

As for what resolutions to make, the Healthymemory Blog has some suggestions.

Taking at least a forty minute walk at least three times a week.

Learn at least three new words a day (or 21 words a week) in the language of your choice.

Contribute to a Wikipedia page on a topic of interest and continue to build you knowledge in that topic or a new topic.

Find several new friends with a similar interest and pursue that interest with a passion.

Engage in deliberate practice in a skill of interest (See the Healthymemory Blog Post Deliberate Practice”)

Develop and practice mnemonic techniques on a regular basis (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.)

Good luck.

1Rodriguez, T. (2013). :I Don’t” Beats “I Can’t” for Self Control. Scientific American Mind, January/February p.14.

© 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.

Happy Holidays 2012!

December 22, 2012

Besides the wish expressed in the title, all I have to offer you is this healthymemory blog. It consists of more than 350 posts devoted to the topic of growing and maintaining a healthy memory. It has blog posts on memory, how it works, and how it malfunctions. Posts explain how to improve memory performance with mnemonic techniques, and through both human and technological transactive memory. These posts are divided into three categories:

Human Memory: Theory and Data

Mnemonic Techniques

Transactive Memory

Clicking on those categories listed on the sideboard yields the pertinent posts.

Are there specific topics of interest to you? Just enter them into the search box and see what the healthymemory blog has to offer. You might be surprised on the wide range of topics covered. Try entering “emotions,” or “intelligence,” for example.

Human Transactive Memory

December 5, 2012

Transactive memory refers to memories that are available to you but are not present in your own biological memory. Transactive memory is one of this blog’s categories. However, most the posts in this category are about technical transactive memory. Memories that you can retrieve via the internet, the computer, books, and paper are termed technical transactive memory. Actually most of the research into transactive memory has been in the area of human transactive memory. Many of the results from this research have not been particularly surprising. For example, couples who remembered together rather than independently were able to recall significantly more than those who remembered individually. There are also frequent reports of someone losing their long-term partner all of a sudden experiencing a rapid memory decline, as if they’ve lost part of their mind.1

Shared memories provide the foundation for long term relationships and are a source of enjoyment and comfort throughout our lifetimes. I have so many precious memories of my family and friends that I can recall and enjoy. For the goal of keeping our memories healthy and continuing to grow them, fostering human transactive memory is especially important. There are two reasons for doing so. First of all you are expanding and enhancing your own memory. And you are also fostering social relationships, which are also important for a healthy brain and memory.

Marilu Henner of Taxi fame, and is one of the few elite individuals with a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, and the author of Total Memory Makeover (see the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Importance of Memory,” and “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us?”). Her family planned and attended events that they continued to remember and share after they occurred. She also discusses memory games that are fun for families.

So grow your social relationships and your transactive memory. Reminiscence and share fond memories with others, challenge each others’ memories, and play memory games.

1Weir, K. (2012). Shared Recall. New Scientist, 6 October, p.37.

© 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.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012!

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the Healthymemory Blog! The purpose of this holiday is to remind us to be thankful. Each of us has something to be thankful for. Many of us are fortunate enough to have much to be thankful for. We should not forget to be thankful for our memories. They provide our identity and a machine for time travel. We can travel to times before we were born using our memories and our imagination. And we can travel into the future. Our memories enable us to use what we have experienced and learned in the past to plan for and deal with the future. They provide the basis for imagination and creativity.

So we need to do everything we can to foster and develop our memories. They will provide the basis for a more successful, fulfilling, and enjoyable life. The goal of the Healthymemory Blog is to help us foster and develop our memories. See the immediately preceding post, “Memory in Old Age: Different from Memory in the Young?” Regardless of our ages, we can build cognitive reserves that can diminish or ward off the prospects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

As internet users there is something for which we can all be thankful, and that is a new search engine, duckduckgo.com. DuckDuckGo does not track users, so no record is kept of your searches or the links you click. Consequently, the search results are cleaner and absent the large amount of sales and promotional results. I, for one, am truly thankful. Please provide your personal comments.

© 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

 

Time Travel: The Ultimate Purpose of Memory?

October 28, 2012

Most of the time we think of memory as being a place of historical storage where old information and experiences are kept. But another way of thinking about it is as a vehicle for time travel (see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Human Memory: A Machine for Time Travel”). You are able to travel to times long before you were born using what you have learned and your imagination. You can also project yourself into the future with science fiction or your own imagination. Actually we do quite a bit of projection in our daily lives, imagining what it will be like and making appropriate plans. Brain images of people when they are remembering the past and imagining the future show a great degree of overlap in the areas of the brain that are responding.

The distinguished memory researcher Endel Tulving found an unfortunate individual with amnesia who could remember facts but not episodic memories relating to past events in his life. When this person was asked about plans, be it for later in the day, the next day, or in summer, his mind went blank. Brain scans support this idea. When we think of a possible future, we tear through our memories in autobiographical memory and stitch together fragments into a montage that represents a new scenario. Our memories become frayed and reorganized in the process.1

So it appears that the ability to project ourselves forward in time, using what we have learned and experienced to guide the projection, might be the ultimate purpose of memory. Gestalt psychologists believe that in both the processing of information and its memory that laws were operating to create order and make information more meaningful. Emergence was an important concept in which new ideas emerged from the information at hand. These processes help us deal with the future.

Although our brains are working from the time we are born (and there is data indicating that they are working before we are born) to understand and make sense of the world in order to cope with it. In the early stages of life we are preoccupied with mastering language and moving about our environments. Consequently we rarely remember specific events before the ages of 2 or 3, when our autobiographical memories begin to develop And they develop slowly as it is difficult to remember much before our sixth birthday. We are also developing a sense of identity. When we are able to recognize ourselves in a mirror, we have achieved a critical stage of development. A child’s ability to imagine the future seems to develop in tandem with autobiographical memory. Obviously our culture and our families have a profound influence on these memories and our preparation for coping with the world. Our autobiographical memories continue to mature when we leave our parents. A ten year old can rarely relay a coherent life story, but a twenty year old can ramble on for hours. There is a “reminiscence bump,” where we are able to recall much more information that occurs in late adolescence.2 Consequently we are prepared or semi-prepared to assume responsibilities just in the nick of time.

1Robson, D. (2012). Memory: The Ultimate Guide. New Scientist, 6 October, p.33.

2Weir, K. (2012). A Likely Story. New Scientist, 6 October, 36-37.

© 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.

Electrical Activity, Chemical Activity, Connectivity, and Epigenetic Activity

October 24, 2012

All of these are involved in making our memories. Our short term or working memories are held in fleeting changes in the brain‘s electrical and chemical activity. They quickly fade as our attention wanders, but they provide the basis of our conscious awareness.

Our long term memories are woven into webs of connections among the brain cells. The brain alters the communication between networks of cells by the creation of new receptors at the end of a neuron, by a surge in the production of a neurotransmitter, or by the forging of new ion channels that allows a brain cell to boost the voltage of its signals. The same pattern of neurons will fire when we recall the memory bringing the thought back into our consciousness. Long term memories include our autobiographical memories, our episodic memories of specific events in our lives, our sensory memories, as well as our semantic memories that comprise our knowledge of the world. One of the most important brain regions involved in this process are the hippocampi. The are located near the base of the brain and are especially important in the consolidation of new memories. When they are surgically removed or damaged, no new memories can be stored. Thus, no new learning can take place.

The preceding has been known for some time, what is new is an understanding of the epigenetic changes that are involved in memory. These involve small alterations in the structure of a gene and determine its activity within the cell. For instance, certain genes linked to the formation of memories have been shown to have fewer methyl groups attached to their DNA after learning. This is a clear example of an epigenetic change.1 Every time we recall a memory, new proteins are made. The epigenetic markers are altered changing the memory in subtle ways. So the brain is not like a video camera. It is dynamic and changes itself.

1Young, E. (2012). The Making of a Memory, New Scientist, 6 October, p.34.

© 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.

Healthymemory’s 300th Post

May 30, 2012

There will be a very short hiatus until post 301. Still, there should be plenty of interest here. The Healthymemory Blog is for anyone interested in the processes of human memory and in maintaining and growing a healthy memory. As someone on the leading edge of the baby boomers, I think that this is one demographic group that should be especially interested. The three main categories are Human Memory: Theory and Data, Mnemonic Techniques, and Transactive Memory. Human Memory: Theory and data includes posts about memory experiments and theories about memory and related cognitive processes. Mnemonic Techniques includes posts about classic memory techniques, as well retrieval strategies and study techniques. Different meditation practices are also included here as they have beneficial effects on memory. Transactive Memory includes posts about how technology and interactions with your fellow humans can not only help in maintaining a healthy memory, but also how to grow your memory and enhance your life.

Interested in a specific topic. Try using the search box. Enter “retrieval” and see what you get.

Enter “dreaming” and see what you get. Enter “cognitive exercise.” Baby Boomers, try entering “retirement.”

Enjoy, and maintain and grow your memories.

The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style

April 4, 2012

These six dimensions are taken from The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley.

Resilience style. When you’re knocked down, do you bounce back quickly and get back into the ring of life, or do you fall into a puddle of depression and resignation? Do you respond to setbacks with determination and energy, or do you give up? If you have an argument with your significant other, is the remainder of your day ruined, or do you recover quickly and put it behind you? These are examples of the two poles of the resilience dimension A person can be at either pole of the dimension or somewhere in between.

Outlook style. Do you tend towards optimism or pessimism? Even when things don’t go your way, do you maintain a high level of energy and engagement? Or are you cynical and pessimistic struggling to see anything positive? Again, these statements are intended to represent to poles of the Outlook dimension. You can fall at either extreme or anywhere in between.

Self Awareness style. Are you aware of the messages your body sends you? Are you aware of your own thoughts and feelings? Is your inner self opaque to your conscious mind such that you act or react without knowing why you do what you do? Do people who know you ask you why you never engage in introspection and wonder why you seem oblivious to your being anxious, jealous, impatient or threatened? Again, these statements are meant to represent the poles of the Self Awareness dimension. You can be at either extreme or fall anywhere in between.

Social Intuition style. Can you determine whether people want to talk or be alone, or whether they are extremely stressed or feeling mellow? Or are you puzzled by or blind to the outward indications of people’s physical or emotional states? So at one end of the dimension are the socially intuitive types and at the other end are those who are puzzled. Again, you can fall at either end or anywhere in between.

Sensitivity to Context style. Are you able to pick up the roles of social interaction so that you do not embarrass yourself, or are you baffled when people tell you that your behavior is inappropriate? If you are at one end of the Sensitivity to Context dimension you are tuned in. If you are at the other end you are tuned out. Of course, you can fall anywhere between these two poles, The Sensitivity to Context dimension might seem to be be very similar to the Social Intuition dimension, but there are reasons for distinguishing between them. Different brain structures are involved, and there are other reasons for this distinction that will become apparent in subsequent posts.

Attention style. Are you able to tune our distracting information and focus on the important information to which you are trying to attend? It is this dimension that is most relevant to a healthy memory. If you have read the Healthymemory Blog extensively, you should be well aware of the importance of attention to memory. Most memory failures are a failure to attend. So difficulties in your attention style will affect the importance of your memory.

Subsequent posts will relate these dimensions to personality theory and to pathological conditions. Each dimension will be considered in more detail and discuss the underlying brain structures that are involved. And methods for altering you emotional style will be discussed. However, at this point you should realize that there is not one ideal emotional style. Emotional styles can and should vary among individuals. It is when your emotional style is hindering your happiness and the health of your memory that they need to be addressed.

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.

Age-Proof Your Brain

February 15, 2012

Age-Proof Your Brain: 10 Easy Ways to Keep Your Mind Fit Forever is a recent article in AARP The Magazine.1 Articles like this are summarized periodically in the healthymemory blog. There are many, many things you can do to age proof your brain, but articles like these are helpful in suggesting a manageable handful from which to choose (“31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012” was a similar posting earlier this year). Some of the ways presented in the AARP article do not readily fall into specific healthymemory blog categories, although most have been mentioned in passing in healthymemory blog posts.

Finding your purpose is a general recommendation strongly endorsed by the healthymemory blog. The AARP article cites a study done at the Rush University Medical Center of more than 950 older adults. The study ran for seven years and it was found that participants who approached life with clear intentions and goals at the start of the study were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the following seven years.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is implicit, but not usually specifically mentioned in healthymemory blog posts. It is important to Reduce your risks. Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are associated with dementia. Diabetes approximately doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. So it is important to follow doctor’s orders regarding diet, exercise and taking prescribed medications on schedule.

It is important to Check for vitamin deficiences. Vitamin deficiences, especially vitamin B12 can also affect brain vitality. Research from Rush University Medical Center found that older adults at risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies, had smaller brains and scored lowest on tests measuring thinking, reasoning and memory.

Diet is another topic discussed infrequently in the healthymemory blog, but as the AARP article notes “Your brain enjoys spices as much as your taste buds do. Herbs and spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger and vanilla are high in antioxidants.” Antioxidants are important to brain health. Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric is common in Indian curries. Indians have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. One theory is that curcumin bonds to amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have shown that curcumin reduces amyloid plaques and lowers inflammation levels. A study with humans found that people who ate curried foods often had higher scores on standard cognitive tests.

Another diet recommendation is to Eat like a Greek. The Mediterranean Diet rich in fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans reduced Alzheimer’s risk by 34 to 48 percent in a study done by Columbia University. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are important in heart health and are suspected of also being important for brain health. Generally speaking, what is healthy for the heart is healthy for the brain.

Exercise is another activity that is good for both heart and brain. According to the AARP article, higher exercise levels can reduce dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent compared to low activity levels. People who exercise regularly also tend to have better cognition and memory than inactive people. Exercise helps your hippocampi, subdcortical memory structures well known to readers of the healthymemory blog (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus, and do a search using the term “Hippocampus”.) Experts recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, although as little as 15 minutes of exercise three times a week can be helpful. So Get moving.

And Pump some iron. Older women participating in a yearlong weight-training program did 13 percent better on tests of cognitive function that did a group of women who did balance and toning exercises. According to Tereas Liu-Ambrose, “Resistance training may increase the levels of growth factors in the brain such as IGFI, which nourish and protect nerve cells.”

Say “Omm” refers to meditation. Meditation techniques can usually be found under the healthymemory blog post category “Mnemonic Techniques.” The AARP article discusses a study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR involves focusing one’s attention on sensations, feelings, and states of mindfulness. This has been shown to reduce harmful stress hormones. At the end of an eight week study MRI scans of participants’ brains showed that the density of gray matter in the hippocampus increased significantly in the MBSR group, compared to a control group. Studies have found that other types of meditation have also been beneficial. Search the healthymemory blog on “meditation” to find related healthymemory blog posts.

The remaining two recommendations fall under the healthymemory blog category “Ttansactive Memory.” Get a (social) life means interact with your fellow human beings for a healthy memory. The AARP articles mentions a University of Michigan Study in which research participants did better on tests of short-term memory after just 10 minutes of conversation with another person. There are two types of transactive memory. One type refers to the memories of our fellow humans, and the practice of seeking them out and swapping information between our swapping memories is beneficial.

Seek out new skills can involve both types of transactive memory: human and technological. So learning new things from our fellow humans, as well as from periodicals, books, and the internet is beneficial to our brains and our memories. The important point is to continue to grow cognitively and to not just do things that you routinely do.

1http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-01-2012/boost-brain-health.html

Paraprosdokians and a Healthy Memory

January 25, 2012

Probably the first question is, “what is a paraprosdokian?” A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that caused the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part. Here are some examples1:

I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

I didn’t say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

So what do paraprosdokians have to do with a healthy memory? First of all, the show how your memory processes sentences. It is doing it bit by bit constructing a meaning which leads you to expect a certain kind of ending. A paraprosdokian leads you to a different meaning, hopefully humorous, than you expected. So picture what is happening to your brain, certain circuits are being activated, but new circuits must be found to interpret the meaning correctly, and, we hope, appreciate a joke. So it is this activation of memory circuits that can foster memory health.

Now we can think of two ways of processing paraprosdokians. We’ll call one passive because it simply involves reading or hearing a paraprosdokian. Of course, active processing by your brain is required to interpret the paraprosdokian correctly, and, we hope, get the joke.

A second way of processing paraprosdokians we shall call active. This is when you create a new paraproprosdokian. Now this places special demands on your brain circuits and creativity, but it can lead to your perception as a humorous individual who can make friends and influence people.

This activity is similar to punning, but it is less demanding and much less likely to elicit groans than puns do.

Feel free to enter any new paraprosdokians as comments.

1http://www.economicnoise.com/2011/09/05/182-paraprosdokians/

31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012

January 8, 2012

“31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012” was an article in Newsweek, (2012) Jan 9 & 16, pp. 31-34.  This Healthymemory Blog Post summarizes and categorizes them into the Healthymemory categories:

Human Memory: Theory and Data

Mnemonic Techniques

Transactive Memory

Human Memory: Theory and Data

Eat Tumeric. Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, which may reduce dementia’

Tak Tae Kwon Do. or any physical activity that raises your heart rate and requires a lot of coordination.

Eat Dark Chocolate. Chocolate is supposed to have memory improving flavonoids as does red wine.

Join a Knitting Circle. Refining motor ability can benefit cognitive skills.

Wipe the Smile Off Your Face. The act of frowning can make you more skeptical and analytic.

Eat Yogurt. Probiotics may benefit your brain as they have in studies on mice.

Refine Your Thinking Understand how your systems of memory work (System 1 fast; System 2 slow), and learn how to use them for maximum benefit. (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Two System View of Cognition,” “Review of the Washington Post‘s “The Aging Brain,”, and “Disabusing the Myth that Older People Do No Have New Ideas”)

Hydrate. Dehydration forces the brain to work harder and can hinder its planning and decision making ability.

Play an Instrument. This can boost IQ by increasing activity in parts of the brain controlling memory and coordination.

Write By Hand. Brain imaging studies had shown how handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. It might also help you remember what you have written.

Drink Coffee. Studies have shown that coffee can bolster short-term memory and assist in warding off depression.

Delay Gratification. This can help you focus your attention and increase the probability of achieving your goalss

Mnemonic Techniques.

Build a Memory Palace. Mnemonic techniques can both boost memory and provide cognitive exercise. The Memory Palace is described in the Healthymemory Blog Post “How the Memory Champs Do It.”

Zone Out. Strictly speaking Zoning Out and Meditation are not mnemonic techniques.
They are include under mnemonic techniques as they are specific processes that can enhance memory.

Transactive Memory

Play Words with Friends. Transactive memory involves using both your fellow humans and technology to maintain and enhance a healthy memory.

Get News from Al Jazerra. Using unused sources of information broadens your view and enhances cognition.

Toss Your Smartphone. This involves getting rid of technology that can disrupt your focus and sap your productivity.

Download the TED APP. On the other hand there is information available in technology that fosters cognitive growth.

Go to a Literary Festival is an example of an transactive memory activity that involves your fellow human beings in your cognitive enhancement.

Learn a Language can involve both humans and technology and can genuinely enhance cognitive health.

Play Violent Videogames. Well, perhaps not violent videogames, but appropriately chosen viedogames can quicken reactions and improve multitasking.

Follow These People on Twitter. Although this is an example of transactive memory, the Healthymemory Blog respectfully disagrees and urges you to avoid Twitter (so never mind the “who” part).

Install Supermemo. This software can help you catalog new data and then remind you to remember it before it slips away.

See a Shakespeare Play. Viewing the work of the bard is an example of transactive memory involving interactions with your fellow humans.

Check Out ITUNES U. Top schools put their lectures online at iTunes U in subjects ranging from philosophy to astrophysics.

Visit MOMA. That is the Museum of Modern Art to enhance your cognitive experience.

Become an Expert. Becoming an expert in a subject involves interactions with both your fellow humans and technology.

Write Reviews Online. Be proactive in your use of technology.

Get Out of Town. This involves interacting with humans but remember to bring along your laptop.

In Summary

This should give you some ideas. Feel free to substitute relevant appropriate activities of your own choosing.

Happy Holidays from Healthymemory Blog!

December 24, 2011

The Healthymemory Blog will be taking a brief hiatus until 2012. Although there will be no new posts until 2012, there are 258 posts for your perusal. As its name implies, the Healthymemory Blog is devoted to the promotion of healthy memories. Posts are divided into three categories:

Human memory includes relevant posts regarding how memory works, its strengths and failures, as well as factors and practices that benefit memory.

Mnemonic techniques includes relevant posts on techniques that not only improve recall, but also provide beneficial brain and cognitive exercise.

Transactive memory includes posts on how to interact with fellow humans and to best use technology to promote cognitive growth.

The overall objective is to promote cognitive health throughout our lives, and not to just reduce or stop cognitive decline, but to continue to grow mentally as we age.

Why Are New Year’s Resolutions So Difficult to Keep?

December 21, 2011

It’s that time of year when we choose and make our resolutions for the new year. Although making New Year’s Resolutions is a splendid idea, the problem is that we fail to keep most of these resolutions. A recent book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney, explains why. Keeping New Year’s Resolutions results in ego depletion. You can think of ego depletion as being a loss in will or mental energy and it can be measured by glucose metabolism. Whenever you are trying to resist temptation, make a decision, or need to concentrate on certain tasks, there is this loss in willpower or mental energy, such that it is difficult to resist additional temptations, to make more decisions, or to concentrate on additional tasks. So it is unwise to try to give up two vices at the same time. The probability of success if much greater if you address one vice and then later address the other vice.

So the more resolutions you make, the less likely you are to keep them. And the more difficult a given resolution is, the more difficult it will be to keep it. So here is a strategy for your consideration. Decide upon only two resolutions. One should be fairly easy, and the other more difficult. You are more likely to keep the easy resolution, so you will have one in the win column. Should you also keep the second resolution, then you are entitled to a YAHAH moment. This strategy should produce at least a .500 win percentage.

As for what resolutions to make, the Healthymemory Blog has some suggestions.

Taking at least a forty minute walk at least three times a week.

Learn at least three new words a day (or 21 words a week) in the language of your choice.

Contribute to a Wikipedia page on a topic of interest and continue to build you knowledge in that topic or a new topic.

Find several new friends with a similar interest and pursue that interest with a passion.

Engage in deliberate practice in a skill of interest (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Deliberate Practice”)

Develop and practice mnemonic techniques on a regular basis (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.)

Good luck.

© 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.

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.

Memory and Its Underlying Brain Structures

December 4, 2011

A variety of Healthymemory Blog posts have discussed the various brain structures underlying memory. As a book1 I have been reading has provided a succinct overview describing the interacting structures and areas of the brain that are responsible for memory I have decided to write the following post.

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. This takes place in short term or working memory. Meaningless information is quickly lost without further processing. Even the current instance of meaningful information will be lost without further processing (for example I need to meet Fred for lunch or I need to remember this for the examination). This working memory is maintained in an active mental state within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes. Maintaining information here requires glucose metabolism.

This glucose metabolism is the physiological indication of paying attention. So when you are performing a task that requires you to pay attention, glucose metabolism is required. It is interesting to note that as you become more proficient in performing the task, the rate of glucose metabolism actually decreases. This indicates that you need to pay less attention due to your increase in proficiency.

The successful storing of information in long term memory via the hippocampi requires the establishing of links to other items in long term memory. Mnemonic techniques are developed to make what appears to be inherently meaningless into something meaningful so it can be linked to other items I long term memory for later retrieval. 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. Some memory theorists have likened human memory to a hologram. Holograms differ from photographs in that the entire image can be reconstructed from portions of the hologram. So if you break a hologram into two pieces, the entire hologram can be reconstructed from either piece, but the resulting image will be less distinct.

Memory theorists make a distinction between information being available in memory and information being accessible in memory. Information that can be readily retrieved is said to be accessible. However, if you cannot retrieve something at a given time, it is likely that that information is still not available in memory, but it is still accessible. Moreover, even after you have consciously given up trying to recall this information, it sometimes happens that at a later point in time when you are consciously thinking about something else, that this apparently lost memory pops into consciousness.

So how does this relate to maintaining and growing a healthy memory? Engaging in activities requiring significant amounts of attention increase the metabolic activity going to your working memory. This metabolic activity will decrease as you become more proficient in the activity. In many respects this is analogous to the effects of physical activity on cardiopulmonary activity. It should be noted that this practice effect is the result of transferring information to long term memory so less attention is required.

To maintain and grow long term memory developing new associative pathways throughout the brain is required. This will not be done by simply surfing the internet (which is primarily a working memory exercise). Long term memory growth is a matter of pursuing knowledge and skill in more depth to develop and strengthen associative pathways so that they are more resistant to forgetting. In other words, increasing the accessibility of the information. The very act of retrieving information is beneficial even if your initial retrieval attempts are unsuccessful. The searching for information activates memory pathways, some of which might have been long inactive. The memory search can reactivate them. Moreover, your memory will likely continuing working even after you have consciously given up the attempt.

1Restak, R., (2009). Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Brain Performance. New York: Riverhead Books.

© 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.

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.

Why Do We Dream?

October 2, 2011

Given that we are asleep about one-third of our lives, and given that dreaming is a predominant part of sleeping, dreaming must be important. Researchers have been working on this problem for many years and an article1 in the New Scientist summarizes some recent research. Changes in electrical activity in the brain and movements of the eyes allow us to identify five stages of sleep. Sleep begins with two stages of light sleep, followed by two stages of deep sleep, followed by a stage of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes and is repeated until we awaken.

One of the roles of dreaming is memory consolidation (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “To Remember It, Sleep on It). There are a substantial number of studies reporting that sleep facilitates memory. The New Scientist article reported a study in which non-REM dreams boost people’s performance on a problem. The research participants were given an hour of training on a complex maze. Some participants were allowed to take a ninety-minute nap, while other participants were kept awake. When tested again on the maze, people who dreamed showed bigger improvements than people who did not dream. The largest improvements were in people who dreamed about the maze. This dream content could be somewhat bizarre. One of the participants who showed the largest improvement reported the following dream: “there were people at checkpoints in the maze as well as bat caves that he had visited a few years earlier.”

REM dreams contain more emotion, more aggression, and more unknown characters than non-REM dreams, whereas non-REM dreams are more likely to involve friendly encounters. A conjecture is that non-REM dreams help us practice friendly encounters, whereas REM dreams help us to rehearse threats. REM sleep strengthens negative emotional memories2 . The notion here is that if we don’t remember bad experiences, we will not learn from them. It is also thought that reliving the upsetting experience in the absence of the hormonal rush that accompanied the actual event helps to strip away the raw emotion from the memory. This is somewhat analogous to desensitization techniques employed by therapists. Although these REM dreams can be helpful for many situations, they do not work for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. This is unfortunate.

So sleep and dreaming are activities that are important to both cognitive and emotional health. Shortchanging yourself of this needed activity has adverse effects on your memory health.

1Young, E. (2011). The I in Dreaming. New Scientist, 12 March, 36-39.

2Cerebral Cortex, vol 19, p.1158

Stress and Memory

September 25, 2011

The relationship between stress and memory is complex. A recent article1 provided a discussion of this relationship. It is believed that stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol can facilitate or impair memory. These hormones may affect memory by strengthening or weakening the connections between nerve cells. It is thought that specialized cell-adhesion molecules play a key role in the learning process at the cellular level. These proteins connect two nerve cells and stabilize the synapse between them enabling the transmission of signals from cell to cell. These cell-adhesion molecules play an important role in reestablishing contact between nerve cells. They also help enable the synapses to change strength in response to increased or decreased signal transmission.

Whether memory is facilitated or impaired depends on when the hormones were released. Marian Joels and her colleagues formulated the theory2 explaining this relationship. According to their theory stress facilitates memory only when it is experienced close in time as the event that needs to be remembered and when stress hormones activate the same systems as those activated by the event. So stress only aids memory “when convergence in time and space takes place.” The stress hormones need to be released during or immediately after the event to be remembered. If they are released too soon before the event or a considerable time after, they have the opposite effect.

So their explanation involves two phases. During the first phase, stress launches hormones and neurotransmitters that increase attention and strengthen connections between brain cells forming new memories. In the second phase the cortisol initiates a second process within an hour or so to the stressful event. This second process works to consolidate memories suppressing any information not associated with the stressful event.

Stress does not affect all types of memory. The effects described refer to episodic, or personal biographic memory. Memory of motor skills, such as riding a bicycle, typically do not suffer adverse effects from stress. Stress limits the focus of attention, often overlooking helpful or relevant options. It calls upon strong crystalized memory circuits, limiting access to new or creative options.

1Schmidt, M.V., & Schwabe, L. (2011). Splintered by Stress. Scientific American Mind, September/October, 22-29.

2Joels et al. (2006). Learning Under Stress: How Does It Work? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 152-158.

Could the AARP Be Telling Us Not to Retire?

July 3, 2011

One might think so from the title of an article in AARP The Magazine, Why Work is Good for Brain Health.1 The article reports the results of a study from the RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the University of Michigan. This study showed that cognitive performance levels drop earlier in countries that have younger retirement ages.

So what is going on here? Is the American Association for Retired People (AARP) discouraging people from retiring? First of all, it should be realized that not all of the members of the AARP are retired. Secondly, the article goes on to explain the reasons the cited research offered for the harmful effects of early retirement. One reason was that the social interactions that occur in most work places decline when someone retires. Social interaction is believed to be one of the activities that establish a “cognitive reserve.” This cognitive reserve provides a brain-backup system that allows you to function normally even when there is age-related brain damage. A decrease in mentally stimulating activities can also occur when someone retires, Mentally stimulating activities also play an important role in establishing a cognitive reserve.

So retirement should not be harmful if it is an active retirement with social engagements and mentally stimulating activities. The article cites a Japanese word, ikigai. It means “the reason for which we wake up in the morning.” In other words it is our reason for living. If our reason for living has been our career, then we need to establish a new reason for living when we retire, And this reason for living should include social engagements and mentally stimulating activities. Physical activity is also important.

With respect to mentally stimulating activities and social engagement, the Healthymemory Blog has something to offer. It is hoped that the posts themselves provide mental stimulation. Mnemonic techniques provide an activity that not only boosts memory performance, but also provide mental exercise. Transactive memory refers to memories held in the minds of our fellow humans and in technology. So social engagements that engage the memories of others is highly recommended. Technology ranges from the printed word in books or magazines to the enormous wealth of information in cyberspace. Potential transactive memory refers to all the information available in fellow humans and technology. It is overwhelming, but provides a source for cognitive growth. Available transactive memory refers to information that you know exists, but you don’t know who knows or where that information is. Accessible transactive memory refers to information that you know where to find or whom to ask. And the most important and personal information resides in your own biological memory.

1http://www.aarp.org/health/brain/info-03-2011/keeping-your-brain-plugged-in.print…. 6/19/2011.

© 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.

Search Tips from a Google Scientist

April 27, 2011

Transactive memory refers to information that is not resident in one’s own biological memory but resides externally. This external source could be human, a knowledgeable person whom you ask. Or the external source could be technological. Technology can range from a note on a postit pad, to someplace in cyberspace. Memory theorists make a distinction between information that is accessible and information that is available. Memories that are accessible are memories that can be recalled with little or no effort. Available memory is a superset of accessible memories (all accessible memories are available). Information can be available, but not accessible at the moment. Often we know that we know something, but just cannot recall it. Metamemory refers to our knowledge of our own memories. Sometimes long after we have expended great effort in trying to recall something, it will suddenly pop into our minds. Your brain can continue to search after you have abandoned your conscious attempts.

Similarly, transactive memory can be divided into three sets. The superset being potential transactive memory. Potential transactive memory includes all information stored in any form of technology and/or in any human being. Available transactive memory is information that you know exists and have probably accessed previously, but need to search for it know. Accessible transactive memory is information that you know how to access immediately without having to search for it.

So there are two circumstances when you have to resort to your search tool. One is the available case, in which the know the information exists, but have forgotten how to access it. And the other is the potential transactive memory case, in which you think the information might be available, but you are not sure. The APS Observer published a piece by a Google scientist offering search tips.1 The article pointed out that searching that there are similarities between searching on the internet and searching in your own mind. The author used the term “framing” the query. So a successful search involves finding the correct context and retrieval cue for the desired information.

Difficult search tasks are called “long tail” problems because they are tasks that require more than the usual number of searches to find. Most searches are accomplished quickly. But difficult searches can take a long, long time in to find the successful key term. These difficult search tasks are more commonly found in the technical literature. Popular searches tend to be easier. Once you have done a search on Google, you will receive a list of many potential responses. If you don’t find a good response on that first page of results, you can look at the left column for a variety of options. Clicking on “Search Tools” will provide a variety of options. Clicking on “related searches” will provide a list of searches made on this or similar topics. This can provide an aide for refining your search. It also might lead you to some serendipitous site with some interesting and useful information.

Google has an advanced search option that is quite easy to use. Many who have had bad experiences trying to search databases with arcane formulae might be scared off this option. It is quite easy to use. You can specify sites that contain all the words, you specify, some of the words you specify, and you can even include words that would exclude the site for consideration. There are also options on language, file type, and even reading level.

If you know the website where the information is located, you can put that in your search. For example if you were on google and looking for something on this blog you could simply enter

healthymemory.wordpress.com method of loci and you would be find a variety of listings specific to this topic and this blog.

1Russell, D.M. (2011). Making the Most of Online Searches. Observer, 24, April, 3-4.

© 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: the Bottom Line

April 13, 2011

The preceding five blog posts have been based on Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1. This book relates an extraordinary example of participatory journalism in which the author trained himself in mnemonic techniques to the point where he was able to compete at the World Championship level. Historically humans have developed extraordinary memorization skills. With advances in technology, these skills have diminished as increasingly reliance is placed on external memory storage (transactive memory). The question is whether this heavy reliance upon external sources of memory is mistaken.

Foer explores this question in the Epilogue. One of the first decisions that confronted Foer was whether he wanted to continue to compete in national and world memory competitions. Given the extraordinary speed of his memory accomplishments, he did have the prospect of becoming a world champion. He had the option of a career change and become a professional mnemonist who would not only compete, but give exhibitions, provide training, write books and develop courses for memory improvement. He admits that his competitive instincts had been whetted and that this option was quite tempting. However, he decided against this, because of the time commitment required, and his desire to work primarily as a journalist.

So, was it all worth it? He tells of an incident when he met his friends for dinner that occurred after he had become an accomplished mnemonist. He returned home via metro and only then realized that he had driven to the restaurant! But he does understand why this happened (he failed to attend) and how it could have been avoided (to have paid attention). Even though he knows how to commit phone numbers to memory, he still finds it easier just to punch them into his cell phone. The following is a direct quote from the Epilogue. “The most important lesson I took away from my year on the competitive memory circuit was not the secret to learning poetry by heart, but rather something far more global and, in a way, far more likely to be of service in my life. My experience had validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice. I’d learned firsthand that with focus, motivation, and, above all, time, the mind can be trained to do extraordinary things.”

So, what is the importance of our own internal memories? To quote from the Epilogue again. “How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory. No lasting joke, invention, insight, or work of art was ever produced by an external memory.” And later, “Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture. All these essential human acts depend on memory. Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are.”

Moonwalking with Einstein is an outstanding read. I have not done it justice. I highly recommend it.

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.

To Remember It, Sleep on It

March 2, 2011

A recent article1 reports an interesting experiment2 illustrating the role of sleep in memory. They had 191 adults perform different memory tasks, for example, learning word-pairs. Approximately half of the adults were told to expect a memory retest 9 hours later. The remainder were misled and told that they would be performing a different kind of task. Both groups were re-tested and those who expected the retest recalled 12 percent more word pairs than those who slept with no expectation of a test. Their brain waves were monitored during their sleep and those who were anticipating a test exhibited more slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is known to be linked to memory consolidation.

Sleep alone did not significantly improve memory. Those participants who were not expecting a retest performed just as badly regardless as to whether or not they had slept before the exam.

The principal author of the report, Jan Born of the University of Tubingen, noted that “There is an active memory process during sleep that selects certain memories and puts them in long-term storage.” Another memory researcher, Penny Lewis of the Univerity of Manchester who also studies sleep said that the study is “very convincing.” She also noted, “It looks like if you tell someone something is important, it gets enhanced more.”

Historically, sleep has presented a mystery. We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping and the question has been why. Sleep is both necessary and beneficial. It has been theorized that memory consolidation is one of the benefits of sleep. This study indicates that an intention to learn improves memory consolidation during sleep.

I have read that Leonardo da Vinci would go over his notes before going to sleep. Apparently, he had some insight that doing so would cause his mind to keep working on this information during sleep. This would appear to be a good general process.

Students should realize that one of the worst ways to prepare for a test is to pull an all-nighter. Sleep is critical to test performance. So get the studying out of the way before going to sleep and let the enhanced memory consolidation proceed.

1(2011). Sleep Sorts the Memory Wheat from the Chaff, New Scientist, 5 February, 8.

2Born, J. (2011). The Journal of Neuroscience, DOI:10.1523/jneurosci.3575-10.2011. 

© 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.

Can Early Retirement Lead to Memory Decline?

January 30, 2011

An article in the SharpBrains Blog1 noted that an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives titled “Mental Retirement” stated that data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggested that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.

Of course, the question to be asked here is “why?” A variety of possible causes come to mind. There is the social engagement and interaction that is found on most jobs. Or it could be the cognitive component of work. Or perhaps even the aerobic component of work. Or it could be the TV watching that increased subsequent to retirement.

None of these possibilities are mutually exclusive. They could all be working to different degrees depending on the job and the individual. The critical question is which of these activities have declined since retirement. So retirement per se is not the culprit, but certain changes that have resulted from the retirement.
Some people retire to second careers so that the nature and mix of the activities do not change significantly. Others become preoccupied with their hobbies and activities for which there was insufficient time to pursue when they were working. Unfortunately, others watch television and become couch potatoes and engage in minimal social activity.

The answer to the question posed in the title can be found in the title of the SharpBrains Blog Post “When Early Retirement Equals Mental Retirement and Memory Decline.” That is, if there is no mental retirement, then memory decline will be unlikely.

The Healthymemory Blog provides a means of preventing mental retirement through cognitive and social activity. Reading its blog postings provide information and data regarding human memory to include the effects of aging and the mitigation of these effects. It also provides information on mnemonic techniques, techniques specifically designed for improving memory. In addition to improving memory, these techniques provide mental exercise for both hemispheres of the brain. They also exercise creativity and recoding. Articles in the transactive memory category provide suggestions regarding how to use the internet not only to provide for mental activity, but also to achieve cognitive growth. An important component of transactive memory is social interaction. Although the Healthymemory Blog should be of special interest to baby boomers, it should have interest and value for all visitors.

1Http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2010/10/14/work-helps-maintain-the-brain/ When Early Retirement Equals Mental Retirement and Memory Decline by Dr. Pascale Michelon 

© 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.

Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year from the Healthymemory Blog

December 23, 2010

 

Enjoy the season, but consider making a New Year’s Resolution not to be a cognitive couch potato. Now “couch potato” has become a cliché for not going out and exercising. A cognitve couch potato is someone who does not exercise his cognitive abilities. Just as failures to exercise the body can lead to physical failures and premature and exacerbated effects of aging, the failure to exercise the mind can result in declines in cognitive performance and premature and exacerbated effects of aging. The Healthymemory Blog provides recent information on the brain and cognitive performance, and how to enhance cognitive performance and and avoid or reduce the effects of aging. Blog posts to this effect can be found under the category of “Human Memory: Theory and Data.” It also provides information of specific techniques used to improve memory performance, mnemonic techniques. Blog posts on the topic can be found under the category titled, appropriately enough, “Mnemonic Techniques.” The category “Transactive Memory” refers to the use of technology and your fellow human beings to grow cognitively. New technology, the internet for example and old technology, books and journals for example, provide the basis for cognitive growth. Moreover, interactions with your fellow human beings can aid not only cognitive growth, but also social growth. As you can see, there is a feast of offerings under each of these topics.

Sometimes I make the claim that you might be able to improve your memory over what it was when you where young. This is especially true it you have never used mnemonic techniques before. Mnemonic techniques might well improve your performance over when you where young. Similarly, you can learn new topics, perhaps even master another language and become someone who has managed to grown head and shoulders over what they once were. So do not become a cognitive couch potato. Either start or continue on the path of cognitive improvement over the coming year.

© 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.

Healthymemory Blog Wishes You a Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2010

And, of course, a healthy memory. The Healthymemory Blog pursues this objective via three themes. One is to provide theory and data about human memory and cognition. Another theme is to provide memory techniques and results bearing upon the effectiveness of these memory techniques and how they may facilitate a healthymemory. A third theme is called Transactive Memory. This theme explores how technology and our fellow human beings can enhance memory health.
     The author of this blog is at the leading edge of the Baby Boomers. Although this blog should be of special interest to Baby Boomers, it should be of interest to anyone interested in the workings of memory, in techniques for improving memory, and in how technology and fellow humans can enhance memory health.
     Look under “Categories” in the right hand border of this blog. One category, Overview, provides a general overview of the Healthymemory Blog that is quite similar to this current blog post. Human Memory: Theory and Data provides information about human memory and cognition. Mnemonic Techniques presents specific techniques for improving memory. It is also thought that employing these techniques, in addition to improving memory, provides exercise to the brain that promotes memory health. One can find an entire memory course under this category. The category, Transactive Memory, provides information on how our fellow humans and technology can promote brain health. You will also find here topics regarding how the internet works and problems and dangers regarding the internet.
     Just click on the category to get to your current topic of interest, Remember that blogs are presented in reverse order. So to get to the beginning of the category, you need to go the the bottom and start from there.
     You should be able to find something of interest. There are 151 postings for your perusal.

© 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.

Hypermnesia

October 27, 2010

If asked, most people would respond to the question, “What happens to memories over time?”, the answer would be that they are forgotten. Whereas practically everyone has heard of amnesia, few have heard of hypermnesia. This blog post was inspired by a recent article written by Matthew Hugh Erdelyi.1 He cited a monograph written by Ballard2 published almost a hundred years ago. He found that children who were reputed to have poor memory actually recalled a partially mastered poem better—sometimes perfectly—on a second test after a two day interval. In extensive research Ballard found that if the recall of a partially learned stimulus, like a poem, is tested twice with an interval between the two tests, say two or three days, it is found that the second test fails to include some of the items recalled in the initial test (Ballard termed this oblivescence). However, it is also found, perhaps surprisingly, that the second test includes some stimulus items that had not been recalled on the first test (Ballard termed this reminiscence). When reminiscence exceeds obliviscence, hypermnesia results. When obliviscence exceeds reminiscence, Ballard termed it amnesia (which should be distinguished from clinical amnesia, which is usually quite severe).

What determines whether hypermnesia or amnesia prevails is the nature of the stimulus. Pictures, or stimuli that elicit imagery, such as poems will result in hypermnesia. Nonsense syllables or other meaningless material will result in amnesia. Generally speaking, meaningfull material result in hypermnesia; meaningless material results in amnesia. Once material, which was initially low in meaning become meaningful, hypermnesia results.

Mnemonic techniques, which are designed to improve material, often involve imagery, and are strategies for transforming inherently meaningless material into on meaningful material. In other words, mnemonic techniques are designed to promote hypermnesia. You should note that one of the categories in the Healthymemory Blog is labeled mnemonic techniques. Blog posts on mnemonic techniques can be found by clicking the “Mnemonic Techniques” category.

Prior Healthymemory Blog posts have also recommended trying to recall information as a means not only of studying more efficiently, but also for improving brain health (To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First!, “The Benefits of Testing”, “SQ3R”, “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”, “Recalling Information That Is Difficult to Remember”, “More On Common Sense Approaches for Improving Memory”, “Common Sense Approaches for Improving Memory”).

1The Ups and Downs of Memory. (2010). American Psychologist, 65, 623-633.

2Ballard, P.B. (1913). Oblivescence and Reminiscence. British Journal of Psychology, 1(No. 2, Monograph Supplements). Preface-82.

© 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.

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July 15, 2010

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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 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.

 


 

Some Good News About Aging and Memory

November 13, 2009

There are changes in the way that the brain processes information that compensate for losses that occur. There are also differences between the young and the old in the processing strategies employed during reading. In one experiment[1] younger readers (average age = 20 years) were more likely to recall information from factoids. Older adults (average age = 66 years) were more likely to recall information from highly elaborated text. One way of interpreting these results is to think that older adults have more highly developed memory systems that benefit more from highly elaborated text. The younger adults are still building their memories with simple factoids.

Now for some good news about aging and memory. Skills we have learned and practiced might very well be at their finest. In any case, they are vastly superior to what we had when we were young. Our vocabularies should be greater and our word use and writing skills should be superior. Although processing might be slower, STM and LTM should function well into old age. Our ability to analyze situations and solve problems should remain strong. A study of Air Traffic Controllers attests to this fact.[2]  This study compared ATC performance of older (mean age =57) and younger (mean age = 34).  It demonstrated that the older controllers were quite capable of performing at high levels of proficiency even on fast-paced demanding real-world tasks.

We should gain wisdom as we age. We should grow wiser through our increasing years of experience. From childhood on, we have been learning. This gives us a vast resource to call upon and to apply. This provides an advantage in making judgments and decisions.

Perhaps the prominent memory researcher, James McGaugh, has expressed it best. “We can make the brain work better by simply accumulating more knowledge, which builds more networks of connections in the brain. The wisdom we acquire can compensate for the decline that may be gradually occurring.” So keep learning.           


[1] Shake, M.C., Noh, S.R., and Stine-Morrow,  E.A.L. (2009).  Age differences in learning from text: evidence for functionally distinct text processing systems.  Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 561-578.

[2] Nunes, A. & Kramer, A.F.  (2009).  Experience-Based Mitigation of Age-Related Performance Declines:  Evidence from Air Traffic Control.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied., 15, 12-24.

 

 

© 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.

Misconceptions About the Brain and Aging

November 10, 2009

  There are prominent misconceptions about the brain and aging. One is that you cannot change your brain, which is often caught in the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This expression is not a truism. It is, to coin a term, a falsism. Perhaps you cannot teach an unwilling dog new tricks, but if the dog is willing, the brain will support new learning. The brain retains its plasticity well into old age. Brain imaging studies have shown that when we change our thinking there are corresponding changes in the relevant brain systems.

It is true that we loose brain cells every day. But what most people do not realize is that when we are born is when the number of brain cells we have is the greatest. The paradox is that as we move from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the brains performance improves but does so with fewer neurons.[1] Although the number of neurons decreases, the number of connections between the neurons increases. And even though neurons do die, the brain continues to make new brain cells into the golden years of 70 and beyond. Although some nerve connections might be lost, the brain reallocates functions to compensate for these losses. It is also the case that it can be beneficial to lose nerve connections. This is called pruning. When we use our brains we can grow new brain cells, create new connections, and prevent useful connections from withering.

 Perhaps the worse myth is that memory decline is inevitable as we age. If we remain physically healthy, maintain social connections, manage stress, maintain or develop a positive attitude towards ourselves and our world, and engage in intellectually stimulating mental activity, we can maintain good brain and memory functioning throughout our lives. This blog provides techniques and ideas for stimulating mental activity.

Now it is true that things happen to the brain that at first sound bad. For example, the outer surface of the cortex thins. However, this process starts when we are about 20 years old. Studies have also linked aging with decreases in the brain’s white matter. This could affect the speed of our mental processes. As the brain ages, chemical messengers decrease, which can also affect processing. Here it is important to remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare. The greater storehouse of knowledge that has been built up due to the increased opportunity for learning that aging affords can more than compensate for losses in speed of processing.

 Some people, beginning in their 60’s or 70’s, experience a loss in overall brain mass. Important areas such as the frontal lobe and the hippocampus, which transfers information from Short Term Memory (STM) to Long Term Memory (LTM), can be affected. Again, there are compensatory mechanisms that can be found in the brain itself, in the storehouse of knowledge and, it is hoped, wisdom that has accumulated as a function of age, as well as some of the techniques and methods that are offered in past and future blogs.

Moreover, not all people experience in overall brain mass. Recent research2 concludes that healthy older brains are not significantly smaller than younger brains contrary to earlier findings. Researchers believe that brain volume loss observed in past studies is likely related to pathological changes in the brain that underlie significant cognitive decline instead of aging itself. As long as people keep healthy memories, the gray matter of areas supporting cognition might not shrink as much as the current opinion holds.

 


[1] Restak, R.  (2009).  Think Smart:  A neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance.  New York:  Riverside Books, p. 9.

2Burgmans, S., van Boxtel, M.P.J., Vuurman, E.F.P.M., Smeets, F., & Gronenschild, E.H.B.M. (2009). The Prevalence of Cortical Gray Matter Atrophy May Be Overestimated In the Healthy Aging Brain., Neuropsychology, 29, 541-550

 

 

© 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.

Memory and Aging

November 6, 2009

Cognitive aging can be thought of as a process in which two competing forces determine the course of our individual cognitive abilities as we age. One force is the decline of the effectiveness of our nervous systems as we age; the other force is the vast accumulation of knowledge that has been stored over our lifetimes. Younger cognitive processes might be faster, but the amount of knowledge should be much larger in older cognitive systems. The amount of knowledge does vary considerably among older individuals and those with larger amounts of knowledge can be thought to have an advantage in countering the effects of aging.

 It is also important to realize that it is not only biological changes that can affect memory as we age. Cultural stereotypes also play a role. Unfortunately there is a stereotype in the United States that memory declines with age. The Chinese revere the elderly for their knowledge and to not have this negative stereotype.It is also the case that the deaf in America do not believe that the memory of deaf people declines with age. There is an interesting study[1] that documented these phenomena. This study involved six groups. There were three young groups (15-30 years) of American Hearing, American Deaf, and Chinese, and three older groups (59-91 years) of American Hearing, American Deaf, and Chinese. Although the three young groups performed similarly on memory tasks, the older American Deaf and older Chinese outperformed the older Hearing Americans on the memory tasks. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between the view toward aging and the view towards memory performance among the older groups. That is, those who believed that they would do well, did well; those who believed that they would do poorly, did poorly. So it is quite possible that negative stereotypes and the expectancy of memory declines can work to magnify any losses due to neurological changes.

Research continues to mount that the cognitive capacity of older adults can be preserved and enhanced through relevant kinds of intellectual, social, and physical activities.[2] Cognitive training studies have demonstrated that when older adults are provided with intensive training strategies that promote thinking and remembering, cognitive functions can improve.

The psychologist Dr. Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging[3]. She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span. Subsequent discussions in this blog will further underscore the importance of attention in memory. Stine-Morrow argues that cognitive effort can directly impact cognitive change in the form of attentional engagement and indirectly as it alters neuronal changes that give rise to component capabilities.

Perhaps the most exciting finding to emerge from recent research is that the brain maintains its plasticity well into old age.[4] One needs to take advantage of this plasticity and to continue to invoke neuronal changes in ones’ brain. This book contains a large variety of memory techniques that result in the formation of new neuronal changes. These techniques require the focusing of attentional processes. They employ both hemispheres of the brain and require the recoding of information and the transfer of information between the two hemispheres. It is hoped that the practice of these techniques will have beneficial effects on brain health and reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s and Senile Dementia.

 


{[1]Levy, B. &Langer, E. (1994).  Aging Free from Negative Stereotypes:  Successful Memory in China and Among the American Deaf.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 989-997.

[2] Hertzog, D., Kramer, A. E., Wilson, R. S., &Lindengerger, U.  (2009).  Enrichment Effects on Adult Cognitive Development:  Can the Functional Capacity of Older Adults BE Preserved and Enhanced?  Psychogical Science in the Public Interest, 9, 1-65.

[3] Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

[4] Doidge, N. (2007).  The Brain That Changes Itself.  New York, New York.  Penguin Books.

 

 

© 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.