Posts Tagged ‘Mnemonic Techniques’


February 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Misconceptions About Memory

August 2, 2019

This is the third post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. One common misconception is that memory is a complete recording of our experience. Only certain information is stored. Mnemonic techniques (on which there is an entire category of posts) and effective study techniques are ways of increasing the likelihood of information being remembered. But other information remains, some of which one might like to forget.

Memories can change over time at the subconscious level. Remember the analogy of the corporate headquarters. This information is held on the lower floors and we are unlikely to be aware of these changes. Moreover, memories tend to be cleaned up over time in an effort to make them more coherent. HM frequently has the experience of encountering new information which reminds him of previous information or studies, some of which he might have personally conducted. His typical finding is that the conclusions of the study are remembered correctly, but the evidence, although supportive, is not as strong as he remembered.

It is also important to remember that most failures to recall are due to information being available in memory, but inaccessible at the time of recall. If you try hard to recall the information, but still fail, it is likely that at some time in the future, the next day for example, the information will suddenly pop into consciousness.

The corporate building metaphor for memory provides a helpful means of thinking about memory failures. The failure of your conscious efforts to recall this information indicates to the cognitive staff on the lower floors that this information is important to you and needs to be recalled. So at a subconscious level retrieval continues. It is likely that these subconscious efforts to recall are healthy because they strengthen previous memory connections that had been weakened through nonuse.

So, what should be done when a senior moment is experienced? Not only seniors experience senior moments. All humans have them. It’s just less likely to have them the younger we are. So when you cannot recall something you want to remember, persist in trying to recall. Try to retrieve for a reasonable amount of time. This signals from the executive suite (remember we are talking about the corporate metaphor for memory presented in the previous post of this series) for the cognitive staff on the lower floors to continue to look for this information. The search will continue at a subconscious level. At an unexpected time, the result is likely to pop into consciousness.

There are many stories about scientists and mathematicians who worked for long periods of time, sometimes many years, on a problem, but failed to solve it. Then, unexpectedly, the answer suddenly appears in their conscious mind. There is a name for this phenomenon and that name is incubation. It is the result of large amount of subconscious processing conducted after the conscious mind decided to rest from the problem.
© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Boosting Control

September 23, 2017

Boosting Control is the penultimate chapter in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. It begins with this quote from the father of American psychology, William James: “And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Gazzaley and Rosen begin by discussing traditional education. They note that the most widely implemented approach is the current system of didactic classroom instruction delivered by a teacher lecturing to a group of students. They write, “Although this long-established, globally adopted, traditional education system varies in its details by geography and historic time period, a common feature is the emphasis on rote memorization via formalized and structured lessons follow by assessments of attained knowledge using formalized testing.“ They note that there seems to be a tension between this traditional model that has largely focused on the delivery of information content and the goal of developing core information-processing abilities of the brain. They do not believe that the objectives of an education system should be directed solely at the transfer of content to young minds. They argue that it is also critical that developing minds build strong cognitive control abilities that allow them to engage flexibly in dynamic and challenging environments. They state that even alternative educational systems that aim to foster real world outcomes may not be developing cognitive control capabilities. There is convincing evidence that superior cognitive control is associated with successful academic performance, but that little is known about whether traditional education actually builds the fundamental information-processing abilities of our brains that underlie cognitive control. They raise the question of whether traditional education is truly an effective form of cognitive enhancement that has the power minimize our control limitations. Put simply, does the current education system help the young Distracted Mind?

The authors point to the Tools of the Mind program developed by psychologists Elana Bodrova and Deborah Leong. It is based on theories and insights into how a system of activities can be designed to boost cognitive control. More details can be found at
The authors also see the need to think increasingly about education as a lifelong process; we have the potential to enhance our cognitive control at any age. “Educational programs across the lifespan directed at boosting and maintaining cognitive control should be the rule, not the exception.” Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as being in step with the philosophy of the healthy memory blog.

In the section on meditation the authors write, “Accumulating evidence convinces us that there is a strong signal that meditation engineers improvements in cognitive control, and of course there are many reasons beyond improvements in cognitive control, and of course theater are many reasons beyond that encourage us to recommend engagement in mindfulness practices. They caveat this by stating that many studies have methodological limitations. These methodological limitations and the reasons for not being concerned about them were discussed in the immediately preceding post, “The Somewhat Tarnished Gold Standard.” HM believes that meditation is the best means of increasing attentional and cognitive control. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about meditation and the benefits of meditation.

There is a section on cognitive exercise (brain games). On the whole, this review is quite favorable. Different games are effective to differential degrees so it is helpful to do some research on specific games. However, HM warns against using these as a prevention to dementia. Although they might help, memory health is a matter of a commitment to cognitive growth, a healthy lifestyle, and meditation. The same point can be made with respect to video games. They can be helpful, but they do not provide a 100% solution.

There are obvious activities that should not be overlooked. There is a theory that contends that interactions with nature can be beneficial. This theory is called attention restoration theory (ART). In 2007, thirty-eight University of Michigan students, armed with a map and tracked by GPS, tool a one-hour walk through either a tree-lined arboretum or a traffic-heady urban center. Before and after these walks they performed a working memory test. A 2008 paper described a significant improvement in their working memory performance after the nature walk, but not after the urban walk. Similar beneficial effects of nature exposure have been shown to occur in children with ADHD and young adults with depression, and amazingly even in response to just viewing nature pictures. In this context, readers might want to review the healthy memory blog post “Awe.”

There is also much data documenting the benefits of physical exercise. This does increase oxygen to the brain, which is definitely beneficial. However, HM also recommends mental exercise that is accomplished by invoking System 2 processing through lifelong learning, meditation, and other activities that have been reviewed.

The authors also review neurofeedback. HM argues that these same benefits and more can be achieved through meditation absent the neurofeedback hookups.

There is a category of healthy memory posts titled Mnemonic Techniques. These are specific techniques for improving memory. Additionally they provide a means of cognitive exercise that enhances memory health. Try some of them. You also should read “Moonwalking with Einstein” to learn what can be accomplished using these techniques.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a cure or preventative vaccine for Alzheimer’s or dementia (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimers). However, following the activities in the healthy memory blog could well increase the likelihood that you will die without experiencing any of the physical or cognitive symptom’s even if you die with the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque that are the defining feature of the disease.

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




This is the 1,000th Healthymemory Post

June 3, 2017

As the title attests this blog is dedicated to healthy memories. The blog’s subtitle is Memory health and technology. Here technology refers to transactive memory, which is information that is stored outside our individual biological memories. So transactive memory refers to information stored in the memories of our fellow humans as well as in technology. Technology ranges from paper to computers to the world wide web. Transactive memory provides the means for memory growth which underlies memory health. This blog also addresses the negative aspects of transactive memory which range from erroneous information to outright lies. As several posts have indicated, lies on the internet have become a highly profitable business.

The early days of this blog featured many posts on memory techniques under the category mnemonic techniques. Memory techniques specifically improve memory performance while also affording healthy exercise for the brain. If you are unfamiliar with these techniques you might want to peruse and try out some techniques. Practically all known techniques have been posted, so that is why you need to view older posts. For a while meditation and mindfulness was discussed under the memory techniques category, but they have mostly been moved to Human Memory: Theory and Data. Although these techniques are important and beneficial to memory, they are not commonly regarded as mnemonic techniques.

One of the most important posts in this blog is “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. and Daniel George, M.Sc. is an important book. The myth is that Alzheimer’s is a single disease, and that a drug will be developed that serves as a silver bullet and eradicate Alzheimer’s. Whitehouse is no crackpot. He knows whereof he speaks. Note that he has a Ph.D and an M.D. Although he is now working as a clinician, he spent many years at the forefront of research on drugs to mitigate or eradicate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He was a prominent researcher who was well funded and promoted by drug companies. When he became convinced that a cure for Alzheimer’s was not forthcoming, he turned his efforts to treatment.

What constitutes a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. However, there are people who are living with these defining features, but who do not have the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. People have died with these Alzheimer features who never knew that they had the disease.

Research indicates that a healthy lifestyle, social activity, and cognitive activity greatly decrease the prospect of suffering any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The explanation offered for those with the physical characteristics but no cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s is that they have built up a cognitive reserve.
The healthy memory blog strongly recommends a growth mindset, meditation and mindfulness as being extremely important in thwarting dementia. Central to a growth mindset is to continue learning till the end of one’s life. Beyond thwarting dementia, these activities provide the basis for a fulfilling life.

The vast majority of posts do not deal directly with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is an exciting era for cognitive neuroscience and this blog endeavors to keep the reader up to date on much of this research. Of course, using technology to foster a growth mindset remains an important topic, and the problem of lies and misinformation being spread by technology is always a concern to the healthymemory blog.

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


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, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gone to the 2014 Meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA)

August 6, 2014

There will be a brief hiatus in new blog posts while I attend, assimilate, and perhaps write some new blog posts. However, with 500 plus posts already posted, I think there is plenty to read and consider in the meantime. The category mnemonic techniques contains not only techniques for directly improving memory, but also posts on mindfulness and meditation. The category transactive memory has posts on how to use technology and interact with our fellow humans to promote memory health and to grow cognitively The category Human Memory Theory and Data has posts on the fascinating and relevant topic of human cognition.

Please use the healthymemory blog’s search block. You might be surprised by the diversity of topics you will see covered.

There Will Be A Brief Hiatus in New Posts on the Healthymemory Blog

February 6, 2014

Not that you should notice. There are well over 450 posts here. That should be plenty to read, ponder, and practice. As its title, suggests this blog is devoted to the development and growth of healthy memories. You can find techniques for improving memory and controlling attention. In addition to specific memory techniques, there are posts on meditation and mindfulness. Posts in the category of transactive memory discuss how technology and interactions with our fellow humans contribute to memory health and help us grow our memories. There are also many posts on human memory and information processing. Mental growth and development should be a goal we work towards our entire lives. The earlier this is started, the better, but it is never too late. The development of a cognitive reserve is one of the best measures one can take to avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia. Use the blog’s search box to search for topics of personal interest. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by what you can find.

Another Quiz

July 3, 2013

There will be a brief hiatus in new postings to the healthymemory blog. I believe that there are already sufficient postings (more than 400) to interest readers in the interim. Here is a quiz, should you wish to challenge yourself. Remember the search block on this blog when you are looking for topics of interest or trying to finds answers to the quiz. There is also an earlier quiz, enter “quiz” into the search block, should you want to test yourself further.

  1. What are the five supermemes that threaten the collapse of civilization according to Costa





      1. What is the importance of ikiga?

      2. What is the best means of preventing or mitigating dementia?

      3. What is crystalized intelligence?

      4. What is the distinction between System 1 and System 2 processing?

      5. What is a paraprosdokian?

      6. What is meant by mindfulness?

      7. What is hyperpartisanship and how can it be reduced?

      8. How can transactive memory aid prospective memory?

      9. What is the relationship between meditation and attention?

      10. Why is attention important?

      11. What is the One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic?

      12. How can you remember historical dates and appointments?

      13. What are the differences between Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman Paul Ryan?

        1. Can false memories be implanted in memory?

        2. Why is speaking on a cell phone with your hands free still dangerous?

        3. What is the relationship between the average retirement age of a country and the onset of dementia?

        4. What tragedy has resulted from a failure in prospective memory?

        5. What is the Distinctiveness Heuristic?

        6. How does incubation relate to creativity?

        7. How can you boost your brain?

        8. What memory technique was developed by Pierre Herigone”

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.


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?


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?

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.

Gone to the Annual Meeting of the APA

August 3, 2011

APA stands for the American Psychological Association. I’ll be meeting friends and colleagues and attending presentations and symposia. I hope to bring back some interesting content for the Healthymemory Blog. There will be a brief hiatus in blog postings while I attend the meeting, assimilate the material, and decompress. Then, too, I need to produce the posts.

In my absence I would remind you that there is plenty of material already on the Healthymemory Blog for your perusal. There are more than 200 posts that provide information on human memory, mnemonic techniques, and transactive memory, which includes the memories of fellow humans and the wealth of information available via technology.

The objective of this blog is to promote brain and memory health, and to maintain and grow effective cognitive functioning. The primary audience for this blog are the baby boomers. I am at the leading edge of the baby boomers, so I have a great deal of personal interest in this topic. I hope, however, that the Healthymemory Blog has general interest. I find these topics fascinating and want to share them with others of all ages. Besides, we all need to be concerned about effective memories throughout our lives, not just when we are studying in school, or later in life when we are concerned about warding off dementia. Our memories define who we are, and they are key to both a successful and a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

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

Yet Another Justification for Writing This Blog

January 5, 2011

 Several blog posts back I wrote about an article in the Washington Post that contained errors and missed some important information (scroll down several posts and you’ll find it). I have found another example of misinformation contained in the popular press. This one is the cover article in Newsweek1. The article states “Blueberries and crossword puzzles aren’t going to do it. But as neuroscientists discover the mechanisms of intelligence, they are identifying what really works.” The author goes way beyond this and debunks other diets, drugs, and training regimens before getting to the big three that do work at the end of the article. The author uses an evaluation done by the National Institutes of Health. The citation for this study is not provided, however. The principal justification for this claim is that there are very few rigorous well-controlled studies. Now the gold standard for evaluations are randomized controlled trials. Unfortunately, randomized controlled trials frequently are neither feasible nor practical. For example, the studies documenting the health hazards of smoking are epidemiological. That is, they are correlational and subject to other interpretations. The famous statistician, Sir Ronald Fisher, who was also a heavy smoker, refused to accept the evidence against smoking because the data were correlational. So he refused to the accept the evidence. Now would not the health of our nation be in fine shape if data from randomized controlled trials had been required before taking actions to get people to stop smoking?

It is not generally understood that a failure to find that something does work is not proof that it does not work. This is a subtle, but important, distinction that is understood by people who know inferential statistics. There could be many reasons why an effect was not found to be statistically significant. It could be the result of insufficient statistical power, too small a sample, or a biased sample. It should also be realized that the conclusions apply to the group. It is quite possible that although the group as a whole did not benefit, that there were individuals in the group who did. This notion has increased acceptance due to the emergence of epigenetics. Moreover, the primary interest is in whether these benefits will extend well into old age. Conclusions here await longitudinal studies that have yet to be completed. And for we baby boomers, by the time these studies have been completed, it will be too late.

It is true that there is much hucksterism and that claims should be regarded skeptically. But there are also many legitimate researchers doing the best they can with the resources available. This Healthymemory Blog reviews such research. So if you are eating blueberries, doing puzzles, or doing something else you enjoy, keep doing it. If something is costing you money, you might want to be more cautious and perhaps switch to less costly activities.

Also, use your common sense in evaluating activities. The Healthymemory Blog recommends mnemonic techniques, and evidence is presented in this blog regarding the effectiveness of these techniques. But it is also known that mnemonic techniques require the learning of new information, creativity, and involve both hemispheres of the brain as well as information transfer across the corpus callosum. So there are good reasons to believe that they should foster a healthy memory.

The Newsweek article presents neuroscience as a new science that will tell us what really works. It appears that the NIH Study that the article was based on was written by neuroscientists with a pronounced disciplinary bias. Well neuroscience, like any vibrant science, is in a constant state of flux. When I was a graduate student, the notion of plasticity in the human nervous system was anathema. Had I been an advocate of plasticity in the human nervous system it is unlikely that would have been able to earn a Ph.D.

There are three items that do work according to the article. They are physical exercise, meditation, and some video games. This Healthymemory Blog has no argument with these conclusions. However, it is ironic that these conclusions are attributed to neuroscience. Now it is my turn to demonstrate my disciplinary bias. These conclusions could be based entirely on psychological research. Indeed, the data justifying these conclusions are necessarily performance data based on psychological studies. To be sure, neuroscience is helpful. It can provide theoretical ideas that are helpful. Imaging studies of the brain along with other physiological data can provide a warm fuzzy feeling to us psychologists. But the critical data are psychological and involve behavioral performance.

1Begley, S. (2011) Grow Your Mind: The Truth About How to Boost Your Brain’s Performance. Newsweek, January 10 & 17, 40-45. 

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


January 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Write This Blog

December 15, 2010

Sometimes I ask myself this question, “Why DO I write this blog, Healthymemory.” Surely there are better ways I could spend my time. However, on December14th I came across an article1 in the Washington Post that provided justification for spending the time. Now the Washington Post is a newspaper I respect. I have been a subscriber ever since I moved to the D.C. Area twenty years ago.

But this article contained misinformation and, more egregiously, missed important information.

For example, it presented a test, which it called a measure of short-term memory. It consisted of a shopping list of twenty items each with a specified amount to purchase. First of all, this was not a test of short-term memory. Although there are technical disputes among experts, the most common example given of short-term memory is looking up a phone number and then needing to keep rehearsing it until the number is dialed. There are two features of short-term memory: it has a small capacity, and it needs to be actively rehearsed or the information will be lost. A shopping list of twenty items exceeds the capacity of short-term memory. And unless the plan is to keep rehearsing the information until all the items are purchased, more than short-term memory needs to be involved. The shopping list needs to be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. The article notes that it is good to know that if people practiced, they could improve their memory. Although this is good to know, it is even better to know that there are memory techniques that can greatly facilitate the recall of lists like this one. These techniques can be found under the mnemonic techniques category on the healthymemory blog ( Some specific blog posts bearing on this task are “The Method of Loci,” “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic,” “Remembering Numbers,” and “More on Remembering Numbers.”

There is also a test on associating names with faces. Again, the article states that it is good to know that practice tends to improve performance. But it is even better to know that there are specific techniques to enhance performance on this task. A specific blog post bearing on this task is “Remembering Names.”

For each of these tests norms are presented for different age groups. The justification for this is that we live in a competitive culture, and that we like to keep score. But what if a person falls below what is expected for a given age group? Does that person start to worry that she is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia?

What is completely missing from this article is the new research that has documented the remarkable plasticity of the brain, and techniques that might not only forestall the effects of aging, but might also produce memory performance that exceeds that of her performance earlier in life. This is the news that should be reported.

1Are You Acting Your Age?, Washington Post, Health & Science Section, E1, 14 December 2010.

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

Healthy Memory Wishes You a Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

And, of course, a healthy memory. This blog is devoted to building healthy memories. It is based on three themes. The first theme is that it it important to understand what memory is and how it works.

The second theme is on specific mnemonic techniques for improving memory. These techniques serve two purposes. The first is obvious, they provide a means for improving memory. But they also require creativity, the formation of mental images, recoding, and the searching of brain structures that provide exercise for both hemispheres of the brain.

The third theme is on transactive memory, a concept that is not generally known or understood. Transactive memory refers to memories that are stored outside of one’s own personal brain. These are memories that can be found in technological artifacts, such as paper, books, computers, and the internet. It also refers to memories held by our fellow humans. Transactive memory provides a means for memory growth and enhancement. These sources are found not only in cyberspace and in technological artifacts, but also in our fellow humans. This latter source provides for social interactions and relationships, which are important for healthy brains and memories.

This blog also contains a holiday gift, a memory course. The syllabus for this course can be found in a post titled, oddly enough, “A Memory Course.”

Happy Holidays!

A Memory Course

December 23, 2009

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

Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs

Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Abstract Pairs

The Method of Loci

The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic

How to Memorize Abstract Information

More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words

Remembering Numbers

More on Remembering Numbers

Three Digit Numbers

Remembering Even Larger Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs

December 22, 2009

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

Consider the following word pairs:

PERJURY                  REVOLVER


FOIBLE                      AMBULANCE

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

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

Someone taking a room in ABASEMENT of an INN

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

Now try these ten word pairs:

ADVERSITY             FOAM

REMINDER               TROOPS

RATING                     PROFESSOR



SENTIMENT             BOOK

BANALITY               FLESH

FACILITY                 BAGPIPE


BELIEF                      BOSOM

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











Now let’s try another ten pairs

ANSWER                   PICTURE



IRONY                       YACHT


FALLACY                 ENGINE

EXCUSE                    GIANT

FACT                          RIVER

FATE                          ROCK


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











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

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

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

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

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