Posts Tagged ‘Mnemonic’

Happy New Year 2014: Now What About Those Resolutions?

December 29, 2013

Let me begin by making a strong recommendation. If you text while driving, or even if you just use the cell phone while driving, please make it your most important resolution to stop. These activities can lead not only to your own death or disability, but also to the death of others. Although texting is by far the worse of the two, just using your cell phone increases the chance of an accident by a factor of four. Moreover, whether your hands are free or not is irrelevant. Hands are not the problem. These activities produce attentional blindness that can result in accidents. Many of you should have seen the video clip where you are asked to count the number of times a ball is passed among a group of men. During the clip a man in a gorilla suit works across the floor. Many do not even notice his presence. This is a good example of what is meant by attentional blindness.

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.”1

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 likely have one in the win column. Should you also keep the second more difficult resolution, then you are entitled to a YA HAH moment. This strategy should produce at least a .500 win percentage.

As for what other resolutions one might make, the Healthymemory Blog has some additional 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.)

Begin meditating and start practicing mindfulness. You can find many healthymemory blog posts on meditation and mindfulness, simply enter these terms in the blog’s search block.

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, 2013. 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.

14-Day Brain Workout?

December 7, 2013

“14-Day Brain Workout!” is the title of an insert by Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., to the National Geographic Complete Guide to Brain Fitness. I’ve replaced the “!” with a “?” because I am completely perplexed by the word “Day” in the title. Does she mean 14 days and your done? This insert is based on Green’s 30 Days toTotal Brain Health, which I find to be even more perplexing. Brain or memory health is a lifelong pursuit, not something that is accomplished in days. Had she substituted the “activities.” the title would be acceptable. An argument can be made that the failure to continue pursuing certain activities as we age can contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Nevertheless, the healthymemory blog shall review her activities in the context of developing and maintaining a healthy memory.

Get Physical. Yes. Aerobic exercise several days a week is definitely beneficial to brain health. Just walking 45 minutes three times a week is beneficial to memory and your hippocampus (see the healthymemory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

Tap a Tune. She write of the benefits of tapping a tune with your fingers for a few minutes a day. I really would like to see the research on which she bases this activity. I remain skeptical, particularly if it is done only a few minutes a day.

Color Your World. She encourages drawing or sketching using colored pencils. Now it is beneficial to engage in new activities, but I am skeptical if doing this only briefly will be beneficial.

Learn About Memory Loss. Here she recommends reading about Alzheimer’s. I strongly recommend reading generally about memory and how your memory works and how it fails to work. Many such posts on this topic can be found in the healthymemory blog.

Jump Some Jacks. The jacks here is in the context of jumping jacks. I would subsume this under the earlier activity of getting physical.

The Honorable Opposition. I strongly endorse this activity. This is a matter of familiarizing yourself with the opinions of others. This goes beyond brain and memory health, but also addresses the goal of being a good citizen (see the healthymemory blog post, “APS Address on The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to Do About It”).

Write a Haiku. Haiku is an ancient Japanese form of verse. Although it is reasonable to think that writing poetry contributes to memory health, there is little reason to think that there is anything special about Haiku.

Take a Yoga Break. Yes. Yoga is beneficial, but there are other forms of meditation that are also beneficial (enter “meditation” into the healthymemory search box) and , “are less demanding physically.

Reorganize Your Desk. Being an inveterate slob I should recuse myself from commenting on this activity. Nevertheless, although I will admit that there are benefits to being organized, I know of no research indicating that this is beneficial to a healthy memory.

Do Something Kind. Yes, not only doing something kind but simply thinking something kind can be beneficial to health (see the healthymemory blog post “The Importance of the Vagus Nerve in Relieving Stress.”).

Learn the Symptoms of a Stroke. Yes. This is quite important. Be sure to visit the National Stroke Association website, www.stroke.org

Doodle. Here Dr. Green does cite some research. According to a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology research participants assigned a doodling task not only did better when quizzed on what they were monitoring in a phone call, but also did 29% better than a control group on a surprise memory test.

Hug 5 People. Yes. Hugging is good. See “Do Something Good.” Just be sure that you know the 5 people that you hug.

List 10 Ways Your Brain is Great. Indeed, Your brain is great. But you not only need to appreciate it, but you also need to build and grow it continually.

All in all, the suggestions are good. I believe more emphasis should have been spent on the importance of social interactions. And I think the benefits of specific memory improving techniques should also have been included (See the “Mnemonic Techniques” category of the healthymemory blog.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

Memory in Old Age: Different from Memory in the Young?

November 18, 2012

This blog post was motivated by an article in Scientific American Mind, “Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause.”1 The article notes that older people retain their vocabulary, their knowledge about the world, how to perform routine tasks, but become worse at recalling recent events, short-term memory, and prospective memory (remembering to do things). While all this is correct, it is also the case that memory failures in older people are attributed to their age. They are referred to as senior moments and are sometime taken as warnings of incipient Alzheimer’s Disease. It should be remembered that memory failures are common at all ages and that while there is some decline in memory, not all memory failures in the elderly are attributable to aging.

The article provides techniques for remedying and mitigating these losses. They describe a variety of mnemonic techniques, which has its own category of posts in this blog, and external aids, which are referred to in this blog as transactive memory. These techniques are thoroughly covered in the Healthymemory Blog. You can also do a search on Prospective Memory. Of special relevance is the Healthymemory Blog post, “Prospective Memory and Technology.” The Scientific American Mind article also mentions the importance of physical and cognitive activity, recommendations you will also find in the Healthymemory Blog. The beneficial effects of nature, meditation, and social engagement were omitted from the Mind article, but are topics found in the Healthymemory Blog.

What strikes me is that these techniques benefit everyone, not just elderly. We should not wait until we reach old age, start becoming sensitized to our memory failures, fearful of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, before using these techniques and improving our memories and cognitive performance. These techniques should be introduced, as appropriate, beginning at home and in pre-school, throughout our formal education, and be part of a process of lifetime learning.

Most everyone has become knowledgeable and fearful of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s. A final diagnosis of Alzheimer’s awaits an autopsy confirming the presence of these plaques and tangles. What is not well known is that their have been autopsies of cadavers whose brains had these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, but who had not exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s while they were living. The explanation for this finding is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve that enabled them to overcome these physical manifestations of Alzheimer’s. So whatever your age, if you have not started yet, START BUILDING YOUR COGNITIVE RESERVE!

1Arkowitz, H. , & Lilienfeld, S.O., (2012). Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause, Scientific American Mind, November/December, 72-73.

© 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.

Six Tips for Improving Your Memory

November 4, 2012

These tips were taken from an article, “Master Your Memory,” in the New Scientist.1

      1. Hit the Sweet Spot. The sweet spot referred to here is the most effective means of remembering information that you want to remember. This topic is covered quite thoroughly in the Healthymemory Blog (see the category on mnemonic techniques). In addition to specific mnemonic techniques, it is good to space the study of material rather than cramming. Also important is testing yourself (see the Healthymemory Blog posts, “The Benefits of Testing,” “To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First!,” and “Trying to Recall Benefits a Healthy Memory.”). I’ve thought that the difference between students who get As and Bs, and students who get Cs, Ds, and Fs, is that the former recall the highlighted portions of their texts whereas the latter simply read them.
      2. Limber up. A bit of exercise can offer immediate benefits to anyone trying to learn new material. Exercise seems to increase mental alertness. One study found that students taking a 10-minute walk found it much easier to learn of list of 30 nouns when compared to a group who just sat around. Short, intense bursts of exercise appear to be more effective. In one experiment students learning a new vocabulary performed better if they studied after two 3-minute runs as compared to a 40-minute gentle jog. They believe that the exercise encouraged the release of neurotransmitters involved in forming new connections among brain cells.
      3. Make a gesture. It is easier to learn abstract concepts if they can be related to simple physical sensations. A variety of experiments have found that acting out an idea with relevant hand gestures can improve later recall, whether the subject is the new vocabulary of a foreign language or the rules of physics.
      4. Engage your nose. The French novelist Marcel Proust could write pages inspired by a remembered odor. Reminiscing about the good old days and recalling whole events from our past has been linked to a raft of benefits and can combat loneliness and feelings of angst. One way to assist in releasing these memories is by using odors. Andy Warhol used to keep an organized library of perfumes, each associated with a specific period of his life. Sniffing particular bottle would bring back a flood of memories associated with that odor. Research has supported the validity of Warhol’s approach for others. Odors do tend to trigger particular emotional memories such as the excitement of a birthday. They are also good at retrieving childhood memories.
      5. Oil the cogs. Diet can be helpful, and I think you can anticipate what is going to follow. Avoid high-sugar fast foods that seem to encourage the build-up of protein plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Now diets full of flavonoids (see the Healthymemory Blog posts, “Flavonoids for a Healthy Memory,” and “31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012”) are good for us. Flavonoids are found in blueberries, strawberries, and omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in oily fish and olive oil. They seem to stave off cognitive decline by a few years as a result of the antioxidants protecting the brain cells from an early death perhaps.
      6. Learn to forget (or rather how not to remember). There might be ways of stopping fresh memories of painful events from being consolidated into long term storage. One study asked participants to watch a disturbing video before asking them to engage in various activities. Participants who played the video game Tetris experienced fewer flash backs to the disturbing as compared to the participants who took the general knowledge quiz. It is thought that the game made greater demands on attentional resources that reduced the processing of the disturbing film. Playing relaxing music after an event that you would rather forget also seems to help. Perhaps it takes the sting out of the negative feelings that cause these events to stick in our minds.

1Jarret, C. (2012). Master Your Memory. New Scientist, 6 October, p. 42-43.

© 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.

Transactive Memory for Cognitive and Artistic Growth

February 22, 2012

Transactive memory includes memories/information that are stored in technology. The technology can range from paper to Cyberspace. So this blob post provides some examples. Consider the following link

http://cliptank.com/PeopleofInfluencePainting.htm

You do not need to “Click to Start” to use the web page. Scroll up and down and left to right to see the picture. When you mouse over an individual picture, the name of the individual pictured should be displayed. (Sometimes it is not displayed, you can see it in the lower left updating of the URL.) Clicking on the picture will take you to a reference, usually in the Wikipedia, telling you about the individual. So this is a good test of how much you know. It is also a good vehicle for increasing your knowledge.

The social aspect of transactive memory, that is memories of your fellow humans, can be explored by using this website to play a game. You could draw cards or straws to determine the order of play. The first person would move the cursor just below an individual. The other players would try to name the person. Naming the person would win one point. Naming the person and saying something indicating that you know something about the individual would earn a second point. Turns would rotate, with each player trying to pick relatively obscure characters that the other(s) did not know. However, in all cases, missing the name, not knowing anything about the individual, or a correct answer, the name and the reference would be checked. So if no one recognized the individual, both would learn something. The game could go on until a certain number of points were reached, or a time limit was reached. This game could be extended to multiple players. Of course, the first to respond correctly would be the only one rewarded points.

For artistic growth, go to http://www.artcyclopedia.com/museums.html

There you can explore museums and masterpieces throughout the world.

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. In addition to increasing your ability to remember, these mnemonic techniques also provide cognitive exercise (See the healthymemory blog post, “How Using Mnemonic Techniques Exercise the Brain.”

© 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

My Mom’s Gone

February 8, 2012

My Mom has just passed away. Although she made it into her 100th year, she did not make it to her 100th birthday. I was blessed with two fine parents. Our home had lots of love and lots of laughs. My Dad passed when he was 62. He was riding his bicycle when his heart went into fibrillation. He died all too young, and his passing was especially painful for me and my Mom. A number of years ago we moved my Mom to be close by us in an assisted living facility. Although I was not aware of it then, I believe that the onset of dementia had already occurred. Over the years she lost more and more of her memory and more and more of her cognitive functioning. This was very sad. We are largely what we are able to remember. I would search for family memories that she could recall and try to relive them, but over time fewer and fewer were accessible from her memory. Her physical health also declined and there were periodic stays in the hospital. At her last visit to the hospital, it was recommended that she be transitioned to hospice care, as there was no hope of recovery and the only prospect was prolonging her misery. I visited her daily knowing that I was watching her die. The hospice did what they legally could to reduce her discomfort, but it was clear that her existence was not a happy one. So although I am sad to lose my Mom, I am glad that her suffering is over.

I have thought and continue to think about how my Mom’s mental decline could have been prevented or at least mitigated. Professor Stine-Morrow has an interesting theory of cognitive aging1 (also see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Memory and Aging”). She thinks that as we age, we deploy our attentional resources less since we have compiled so much information that we can cruise along and think less. Her theory fits nicely in to Nobel Lauerate Danile Kahneman’s Two System View of human cognition (see the reason Healthymemory Blog Post, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” and search on “Two System View” for more posts on the topic). System 1 is fast and requires little mental effort. System 2 is slow and requires mental effort, which can be significant depending on the nature of the thinking.

So the view is that as we age we can become mental couch potatoes. There is a hardening of the categories regarding what we know and what we are willing to consider. To continue the analogy with physical exercise, engaging in System 2 processing , while effortful, provides mental exercise. In turn, this mental exercise might ward off or mitigate cognitive decline. The goal of the Healthymemory Blog is not just to ward off or slow cognitive decline, but to foster cognitive growth throughout our lives.

One way of looking at the Healthymemory Blog is as a tool for fostering System 2 processing. It is hoped that the blog posts themselves foster System 2 processing. The Mnemonic Techniques category includes posts that are specific to improving memory performance. In addition to improving memory performance, these techniques can also provide cognitive exercise. The Transactive Memory category provides posts describing how technology and our fellow human beings can foster System 2 processing.

The Healthymemory Blog is dedicated to my Mom. I am sorry that I did not do more for her. I hope to atone by providing information that will assist myself and others not only in avoiding or mitigating cognitive decline, but also to foster cognitive growth throughout our lifespans.

There will be a brief hiatus in Healthymemory Blog posts. But I trust there is plenty here to foster your System 2 processing.

1Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

© 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 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.

Mnemonic Techniques for Cognitive Exercise

September 18, 2011

The Healthy Memory Blog is concerned with developing and maintaining a healthy memory throughout one’s lifespan. Mnemonic techniques are techniques that have been developed specifically for enhancing memory. So it should not be surprising that one of the blog categories is titled mnemonic techniques. It might be surprising that the category is relatively small and that postings to the mnemonic techniques are not that frequent. Mnemonic techniques are very old; they go back to the ancient Greeks at least, and probably further. At one time they played a key part of education, rhetoric and elocution. With the development of external storage media, what the Healthymemory Blog calls transactive memory, less and less reliance was placed on mnemonic techniques. So when paper became generally available, they became less commonly used. Now that we have electronic storage, some might argue that they have become irrelevant.

I would argue that they are not irrelevant and that it was a mistake to drop them from formal education. Although I could make that argument, I shall not make it in this blog post. Instead, I am going to argue that they provide a good form of cognitive exercise, one that promotes memory health. First of all, they obviously involve the memory circuits in the brain. They also require recoding and creativity. Imagery is typically involved, so both hemispheres of the brain are exercised.

Most of these mnemonic techniques are found in older posts. The reason that postings in this category are infrequent, is that practically all of these techniques have already been presented. That does not mean that simply reading these old posts will be sufficient. You need to do them conscientiously and then continue practicing on your own.

I would recommend by beginning with the Healthymemory Blog Post “The Method of Loci.” This is a classic mnemonic technique used by the ancients and also used in contemporary memory contests. Then I would do “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic” post. The next post would be “Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Concrete Pairs” The I would recommend “How to Memorize Abstract Information,” followed by “Paired Associates Learning: Concrete Abstract Pairs,” “Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Concrete Pairs,” and “Paired Associates Learning: Abstract Abstract Pairs.” Then I would recommend “Remembering the Names of People.” Then I would recommend “More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words.”

Numbers are abstract and one of the most difficult types of information to remember. Here I recommend “Remembering Numbers,” “More on Remembering Numbers,” “Three Digit Numbers,” and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.”

If you want to learn about memory competitions and how memory champs become memory champs I would recommend “Moonwalking with Einstein,” and “How the Memory Champs Do It.” Given the importance of preserving memory as we age, I think it would be a good idea to start memory competitions for Baby Boomers and Senior Citizens. I think this is an activity the AARP should seriously consider.

© 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.

Taking Advantage of Nature to Build a Healthy Memory

June 1, 2011

This post is intended to encourage readers to take advantage of pleasant warm weather to build a healthy memory. Research indicates that nature offers benefits in restoring those attentional resources that are essential to effective cognitive functioning (See the Blog Post, “Restoring Attentional Resources”). Research has also indicated that walking enhances brain health and memory performance (See the Blog Post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

So be sure to take advantage of the good weather and take some nature walks. I walk with my wife and she is frequently asks me questions about birds, insects, various animals and plants. My typical response is “I don’t know, you should have married an ornithologist, entomologist, zoologist, or botanist. Such an answer is not beneficial either to her or me. Better I should try to find the answers using transactive memory and look them up on the internet or in a more conventional reference. That enables me to grow my own memory and to satisfy my wife’s curiosity (of course, she would benefit by undertaking the same activity). I could benefit further by studying up prior to these walks and perhaps using mnemonic techniques to memorize content and to amaze my wife with my mastery of these esoteric topics.

There is also a potential social benefit here. My wife and I comprise a very small, but compatible social group. By joining larger groups, more people are engaged which is beneficial to both physical and cognitive health.

So we should be sure to take advantage of the opportunities that nature affords us.

© 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.

The Talented Tenth

April 6, 2011

The Talented Tenth is the title of a chapter in Joshua Foer‘s Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 . The Talented Tenth refers to a class in Raemon Matthews’ class in the Samuel Gompers Vocational High School. This school in located in the South Bronx in New York City. In this neighborhood nine out of ten students are below average in reading and math. Four out of five are living in poverty, and almost half don’t graduate from high school. Matthews named his class the Talented Tenth after W.E.B. DuBois‘ notion that an elite corps of African Americans would lift the race out of poverty. He teaches his students mnemonic techniques and how they can be used to learn the names, dates, and places in the content he presents. He does not only use mnemonic techniques. He does not even use the word “memory” in his class. Matthews says that education is the ability to retrieve information at will and analyze it. But you can’t have higher-level learning, you cannot analyze, without retrieving information. Mnemonic techniques are useful in enabling the students to quickly assimilate names, dates, and places so they can more readily think about the historical events, their context, how these events developed, and why they developed as they did. He also places demands on his students in his tests. Every in-class essay his students write must contain at least two memorized quotations.

He also uses mind maps. Mind maps are drawings where information written in boxes is linked to other information. Each of his students creates an intricately detailed Mind Map of the entire history book.

His methods are successful. Every single member of the talented tenth has passed the New York State Regents exam in the last four years, and 85% of his students have scored ninety or better. It is not surprising that his students do well on advanced placement tests. And they come across as quite impressive individuals. Matthews has a little over forty students in his class. He brings the best twelve students along with him when he attends the U.S. Memory Championships where they compete.

At this point a reasonable question is why are mnemonic techniques not commonly employed in classrooms. One reason might be that teachers don’t know them (and if they had known them, they probably would have done better in college). You might want to read, or reread the Healthymemory Blog Post “Pseudo-Limitations of Mnemonics.” There are pronounced biases against using mnemonics in instruction that are ill-founded. Mnemonics are not to be used for all materials, but rather to provide a means of making initially meaningless material meaningful. It expedites the efficient coding of material so that it can be used for more meaningful higher level cognitive processing.

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.

How the Memory Champs Do It

March 30, 2011

In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 Joshua Foer describes the memory techniques that memory champions use and that he emulated in his preparation for participation in the U.S. Memory Championships. A familiarity with mnemonic techniques or with the postings under the Healthymemory Blog category “Mnemonic Techniques” would be helpful in understanding these techniques.

To become a Grand Master of Memory, the following requirements must be met:

Memorize a list of 1,000 random digits in one hour.

Memorize the precise order of ten shuffled decks of cards in one hour.

Memorize the order of one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.

Memory competitions involve additional tasks such as remembering lists of words, the names of pictures of individuals, and poems.

I was surprised by the prominent role that the Method of Loci (see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Memory of Loci”, it was the first posting in this category so consequently it is at the bottom of the “Mnemonic Techniques” posts) played. They use the strategy of creating what they term “memory palaces.” A memory palace could be your home. You would place items you wanted to be remembered in different locations in your house and form a mental image of the object in specific locations. When it came time to recall, you would simply take a mental walk through your home and see the images of the different items as you examined the part of the house in which you had placed them. Obviously a memory palace need not be a palace or even indoors. You could take a mental walk in a familiar park forming mental images of the items you wanted to remember in different locations throughout the park. These memory experts use an extraordinary number of these memory palaces. I found it interesting that about a week before an important competition, they would mentally clean out these memory palaces from the items they had placed there so they would not be unwanted intrusions in the memory competitions. I did find this reliance on the method of loci surprising. I usually present this method as a matter of historical interest. For myself, I’ve found numeric pegwords more useful for remembering lists of items. This requires having a system for recoding numbers (see the blog posts “Remembering Numbers,” “More On Remembering Numbers,” “Three Digit Numbers,” and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.” I’ve used numeric pegwords developed using these techniques in lieu of the loci provided by memory palaces. I’ve found this more convenient, and you can recall the precise numerical order of any item without having to take a mental walk through some memory palace. Regarding remembering numbers, Foer credits Johann Winkelmann for developing this technique known as the “Major System” around 1648. My references (see Blog Post “Remembering Numbers” credits Pierre Hergione (1540-1643) a French mathematician and astronomer with eventing the technique. It is possible that they developed their systems independently, but the systems appear to be identical, Perhaps Winkelmann plagiarized the system or was improperly credited with its development.

The Person Action Object (PAO), Einstein Walking on the Moon for example, is another technique, although the fundamental forming of mental images is central to all mnemonic techniques. These images need to be vivid. Bizarre and/or obscene images can be quite effective. I found it curious that the PAO system was used to remember numbers. For example, Frank Sinatra might be used for 34. The number 13 could be David Beckham kicking a soccer ball. And 79 could be Superman. So 791334 could become an image of Superman kicking a soccer ball into Frank Sinatra. So unique arbitrary images are used for these number. A unique PAO image is developed for each number from 0 t0 99 is created. Advanced mnemonists might generate unique PAO images from 0 to 999. Why they do this rather than relying on the Perionne or “Major System” is beyond me. Perhaps they want an independent system to avoid confusion. I don’t know. But compared to these guys, I’m a village idiot.

What is interesting is the time needed to become proficient enough in these techniques to compete in a world championship and have any chance of winning. Foer practiced about four hours a day. He also used earplugs and goggles that restricted his field of view to focus his attention. He employed what is termed deliberate practice where the focus was on remediating errors and increasing speed and proficiency. So when a performance plateau is hit one needs to challenge oneself by practicing failing and putting onesself in the mind of someone more accomplished with the task. One needs to maintain some conscious control to improve and not remain on autopilot. Actually four hours a day is a reasonable amount of time to spend in an activity at which you hope to be expert. It is remarkable that Foer was able to achieve the proficiency that he did in what was a little less than a year.

Although it takes an extraordinary amount of commitment to be able to compete on a national or world level, it does not take that much time to benefit from mnemonic techniques. Usually in a simple experiment where one group of people is given a memory technique and another group is not, the benefit of the memory technique is quite apparent. To achieve some immediate benefit should not take much effort. The greater the proficiency desired, the greater the effort that needs to be extended. The techniques presented in this Healthymemory Blog should be quite helpful. And since they require creativity, imagination, and recoding, and that they force you to attend and to used both hemispheres of your brain, they should provide helpful mental workouts.

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.

Moonwalking with Einstein

March 27, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 is one gem of a book. Its author, Joshua Foer, is one remarkable individual. This book was an exercise in participatory journalism. The memory of participatory journalism I have is George Plimpton‘s Paper Tiger. Back in the sixties George Plimpton convinced the Detroit Lions that they allow him to participate during the preseason. So he worked out as a quarterback and, if memory serves me correctly, took a couple of snaps during an exhibition game. He wrote a book about this time from which a motion picture was made. Although this was entertaining, it was a lark as Plimpton clearly participated in an activity to which he didn’t properly belong. Joshua Foer became intrigued about the competitive memory circuit after attending the World Memory Championships. After consulting with a variety of experts he decided to take it upon himself to train his memorization skills so that he would be able to participate in the U.S Memory Championship. This was a daunting undertaking. For example, the world memory champion, Ben Pridmore, is able to memorize the precise order of 1528 random digits in one hour. To become a Grand Master of Memory, of which there were 36 at the time the book was written, the following requirements must be met:

Memorize a list of 1,000 random digits in one hour.

Memorize the precise order of ten shuffled decks of cards in one hour.

Memorize the order of one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.

The memory championships involved a variety of tasks that are described in the book and each of them requires their own preparation. Joshua had what we would regard as a normal memory. He was willing to learn the mnemonic techniques that the experts employ and to bring them to the proficiency so that he would be a credible competitor at the U.S. Memory Championships.

Moonwalking with Einstein chronicles his journey from novice to participating in the championship in a most entertaining fashion. Along the way he addresses many interesting issues, issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts to the Healthymemory Blog. However, I would advise you against relying on this blog for learning the content of Moonwalking. I cannot do justice to the book. You would be missing a great read.

For the ancient Greeks mnemonic skills were an essential component of rhetorical skills. In pre-literate societies stories were memorized and historical records committed to memory by skilled memorizers. A skilled memory was essential to scholarship until the printed word became commonplace. Ever since then reliance has been increasingly placed on transactive memory, a term Foer does not use. Transactive memory refers to external storage media like paper, books, journals, storage media, the internet, and even fellow humans. Our brains remain biologically capable of doing what the ancient Greeks did. I should take pains to point out that although the title is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, the book argues that remembering everything would be a mistake and might be a personal handicap. But it is also most likely a mistake to rely almost exclusively on transactive memory. The book states that on average, people squander forty days annually compensating for things that they have forgotten. Although the book is fairly well documented, I do have to regard this particular claim with skepticism. I would be willing to accept “ a lot” rather than the precise estimate. But there might be even more compelling reasons for making greater use of biological memory. The Healthymemory Blog argues that mnemonic techniques provide a good means of exercising our cognitive skills to include focusing attention, creativity, imagination, and recoding. They activate memory circuits and exercise both hemispheres of the brain.

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.

Will Baby Boomers Be More Vulnerable to Scams?

March 20, 2011

I recently read an article1 stating that the elderly are more prone to scams. Three reasons were given: More Trusting, Loneliness, and Memory Loss.

This made me wonder whether baby boomers will be more trusting. We were supposed to be more skeptical to begin with. My personal experience has increased this skepticism several orders of magnitude. For years I had been promising myself that I would read the annual reports that were sent to me as a stockholder. I was just starting to do this when the Enron scandal broke. That taught me that reading these reports was futile.

We have bought several homes in our lifetime. Each experience was traumatic to me. I worried about the debt I was assuming. However, I reasoned to myself that these mortgage companies would not make foolish loans or they would lose money. But one of the primary reasons for our recent financial crisis was that the mortgage companies did not care because they sold the mortgages to conglomerates that either did not know or not care what risk they were assuming. During our most recent home purchase I was amazed at the amount of debt that they would let us assume. Now I understand. They did not care if we defaulted because by that time the default would be someone else’s problem.

Then there is the financial crisis itself. It appears that deregulation and the scant enforcement of the regulations that existed were primary factors underlying the crisis. But the reforms that were passed were weak and in the view of most knowledgeable individuals, inadequate. Moreover, the recent elections indicate that it is even less likely that adequate protections will be provided.

Then there are the defaulted pensions. First were the companies that went into bankruptcy and defaulted on their pension obligations. I had thought that there were government agencies to assure that pension funds were adequately funded. Either there were not such agencies or these agencies were remiss in fulfilling their objectives. Now we have state and local governments revoking or modifying commitments that had been made to their employees.

So current events should have disabused baby boomers, at least, of being more trusting.

Peter A. Lichtenberg of Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology has said that his research indicated that loneliness or feeling undervalued that increases a senior’s risk. of falling for scams by 30 percent. Now Healthmemory Blog readers should realize that transactive memory involves the interaction with other humans. There are benefits here not only in the knowledge gained, but perhaps more importantly, in the interaction and building of relationships with fellow humans. The knowledge and confidence gained through interactions with both the technological and human aspects of transactive memory should also boost self esteem.

As for memory loss, the objective of the Healthymemory Blog is not only to forestall memory loss, but to promote cognitive growth. By continuing to learning about new topics and learning new skills memory health is promoted. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be aware of the benefits of nonconscious processing. Sleep on a decision before making it. Transactive memory involves interactions with both technology and fellow humans to build social relationships and to continue to grow cognitively. Mnemonic techniques are presented that not only provide a direct means of improving memory, but also provide a good means for cognitive exercise. Even if disease should strike, having a cognitive reserve should forestall the rate of progress of the pathology.

1Kirchheimer, S. (2011). Brain Games. Aarp.org/bulletin March, 26. 

© 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.

Pseudo-Limitations of Mnemonics

March 6, 2011

I’ve recently reread an article by Higbee, “Some Pseudo-limitations of Mnemonics.1” This article reminded me of the resistance that has, and presumably continues, regarding the use of mnemonic techniques. So I am using Higbee’s article to refute this limitations.

One pseudo-limitations is that mnemonics are not practical. There is much information to the contrary. Mnemonic techniques provide a good means of dealing with absent-mindedness, remembering people’s names, remembering numbers and dates, in learning foreign vocabulary, as well as in other educational applications.

Another criticism is that mnemonics do not aid understanding. Although it could be argued that mnemonics can aid understanding, it should be conceded that in learning a new subject there often is a problem of learning new vocabulary and terms that appear to be meaningless. Mnemonics provide a means of rendering the meaningless meaningful. So mnemonics can be quite helpful in the early stages of learning. As the student progress and as what was once meaningless becomes meaningful, the need for using mnemonics diminishes. No one advocates using mnemonics all the time. But for certain tasks and for certain stages of learning they can be quite helpful.

A third criticism is that mnemonics are a crutch. But so is writing something down, what the Healthymemory Blog terms using transactive memory. Yes, they are a crutch, but technology is also a crutch. There is a very interesting educational problem here. One might argue that with the proliferation of handheld computers, one need never remember anything provided they new how to look it up. That is a rather extreme position. There is likely an epistemological need to maintain some information and knowledge, other than knowing how to look things up, in one’s personal memory.

A fourth criticism is that mnemonics are a trick similar to the tricks done by magicians. Although both mnemonics and magic are a part of show business, that provides no reason for discounting either of them. Cognitive psychologists have started studying magic tricks to learn about human information processing. Mnemonics are used in show business, but they were essential to knowledge and oratory in the time of the ancient Greeks. They remained a central part of education until the ramifications of the development of the printing press and the availability manifested themselves. What happened was that technological “crutches” replace mnemonic “crutches.” There remains the question of how extensively these technological “crutches” should be used.

The Healthymemory Blog, being about healthy memory advocates the use of mnemonic techniqus as a mental exercise. Mnemonics involve creativity, recoding, visualization, and employ both hemispheres of the brain.

Please peruse the offerings under the “Mnemonic Techniques” Category. The blog post, “A Memory Course” provides a suggested order in which to read the Mnemonic Techniques postings.

1Higbee, K. L. (1978). Some Pseudo-limitations of Mnemonics. In Gruneberg, M.M., Morris, P.E., & Sykes, R.N. (Eds.) Practical Aspects of Memory. New York: Academic 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.

Jeopardy, Watson, and Transactive Memory

February 17, 2011

The recent competition between expert human contestants and the IBM computer, Watson, raises some interesting questions. These questions relate to transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to information that is not stored in one’s personal memory, but resides in another human’s memory or in some technological artifact, such as the internet or a library. So consider the answers presented on Jeopardy to which the contestant, human or Watson, needs to find the appropriate question to ask. In the case of the Jeopardy competition, either the individual memories of the participating humans had to find the correct question, or a technological artifact, Watson, had to find the correct question.

Normally, when someone needs to find a piece of information, they can either ask someone, or look it up in a reference, or search for it with a computer. In either case they are relying on transactive memory. If they know that the information exists someplace, that is termed available transactive memory. If they know where to find or whom to ask, then that is termed accessible transactive memory.

Given the ready availability of technology, one question is whether humans need to commit any information to personal biological memory if they can simply look it up or search for it. Of course, if no human commits any information to personal biological memory, asking other humans will not be an option. I would argue that the answer to this question is “no” for a couple of reasons.

Given the philosophy of the Healthymemory Blog, a healthy memory requires mental exercise, and committing information to memory is a good means of providing this exercise. This is true if mnemonic techniques are employed. Mnemonic techniques employ both hemispheres of the brain, and require imagination, creativity, and recoding. Now some Jeopardy contestants might employ mnemonic techniques some of the time, but I doubt that they are a major activity. Jeopardy contestants read widely. For material to be remembered, it needs to be meaningful. So much knowledge on a wide variety of topics has been linked together in their brains’ memory circuits. This activity also makes for a healthy memory. Moreover, most of the topics employed on Jeopardy are not trivia. Most represent substantive learning. However, even the learning of trivia can be healthy to the brain, as it does exercise the brain and build memory circuits. Although one might argue that the time could be better spent, if the activity is enjoyable that should be justification enough.

Nevertheless, given the wide availability of technology, there is a serious educational question here. Historically, most learning has been assessed by determining how much material has been memorized via true false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, or essay questions. Is this still the best way to assess learning? Rather than assessing what knowledge has been memorized, might it be better to assess how well a student can use this knowledge. In this case, there might be no need for closed book tests, and students might be given access not only to their own notes, but also to the internet. Exam questions would require them to solve problems given access to all these resources. Of course, giving citations for the sources of material should be a requirement.

I don’t know the answer to this question. The stage of education and the type of material are relevant considerations. But testing does need to be reconsidered given the new technology.

When we encounter new information we are confronted with several questions. One is whether the information has any interest or relevance. If the answer is yes, then the question is how much attention needs to be paid to it. Does it need to be committed to personal biological memory? Or do I simply need to know how to access or whom to ask, when this information is needed? 

© 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.

A Day in the Life of Mr. and Mrs. Healthymemory

February 6, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Healthymemory are a retired couple who are interested in memory health and stay mentally active. The following is a summary of a typical day in their lives.

They sleep in as they are careful to be sure that they get enough sleep. During breakfast the share the morning paper and discuss topics of mutual interest. They include flavonoids in their breakfast as they do with all their meals (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Flavonoids for a Healthy Memory”). They discuss their plans for the day both to assure that they are efficient (they are not making unnecessary trips or taking routes that are time consuming) and mutually supportive (their plans fit well together). They commit both their plans to prospective memory so that each know where the other will be at what times. They use mnemonic techniques to commit their plans for the day to memory. They don’t feel a need to use technical transactive memory (to write the plans down or enter them into a Personal Digital Assistant) because they are confident that they will remember and that nothing catastrophic will result in the event that either forgets something.

Mrs. Healthymemory prepares to leave to go to the supermarket. Again she chooses not to write down a shopping list, but rather uses a mnemonic technique to commit the list to memory. Mr. Healthymemory goes to the computer to work on a history of their families. Currently, he is using geneological websites to see how far back he can trace their family histories.

Later in the morning, they take a walk before lunch, recognizing that physical health is important to a healthy memory. During lunch they converse about topics of mutual interest.

In the afternoon they meet with their separate friends. Mrs. Healthymemory meets with her book discussion group. Her group not only discusses the book, but also does research online regarding the author, critiques of the book, and about the context in which the book takes place. So in addition to reading the book, each member spends time doing research online and preparing presentations to the group.

Mr. Healthymemory is in a sports trivia group. Currently they are researching the history of baseball. Most of this research is done online. This research involves numbers in addition to names. They are especially interested in how such statistics as batting averages, home runs, complete games pitched and earned run average have changed over time and have animated discussions regarding possible reasons for these changes.

During dinner they discuss their respective days. Each makes an effort to understand some of the interests of the other in the interests of fostering mutual transactive memories. This is beneficial both to their respective memories and their relationship. They also discuss strategy for the bridge games they have planned with another couple for the evening. They have developed a fairly sophisticated bidding strategy using mnemonic techniques. Later that evening, they find that they are tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. 

© 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.

Walking and a Healthy Memory

February 2, 2011

The Health Day Newsletter contained an article1 summarizing a news release from the November 29, 2010 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The research suggests that walking about five miles a week may help slow the progression of cognitive illness among seniors already suffering from mild forms of cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. The research also indicated that walking just six miles a week can help prevent the onset of disease.

Two appealing features leap out at me from this news. First is the cost. Walking costs nothing (unless you choose walking shoes or consider the minimal wear placed on shoes). Secondly, this is a reasonable regimen. Six miles is not excessively demanding, particularly when you consider that it can be spread out over an entire week.

3-D MRI scans were done to measure brain volume. After accounting for age, gender, body-fat composition, head size, and education, it was found that the more the individual engaged in physical activity, the larger the brain volume. Greater brain volume is a sign of a lower degree of brain cell death as well as general brain health. Cognitive tests were also administered and these also indicated improved cognitive performance in healthy individuals and lower losses in cognitive performance for those who already had begun to decline cognitively.

Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, changes neurotransmitters, and improves cardiac function. It also lessens the risk of obesity, improves insulin resistance and lowers the risk of diabetes, and lowers blood pressure, All of these things are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Clearly the Healthymemory Blog endorses physical activity in addition to the mental activities advocated in this blog. These include mnemonic techniques and transactive memory. Transactive memory entails cognitive growth via technology and our fellow human beings.

1Regular Walking May Slow Decline of Alzheimer;s, http://consumer;healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=646656

© 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.

Neurobics

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.

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.

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.