Posts Tagged ‘transactive_memory’

Healthy Memory: You Need Not Pay for It

April 26, 2010

“Brain-training software may be a waste of time. People who played “mind-boosting” games made the same modest cognitive gains as those who spent a similar amount of time surfing the web.”1 This conclusion comes from a study done by Adrian Owen of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, who tested brain-training software on volunteers recruited through a BBC television program.

There are many commercial programs that claim to contribute to healthy memories, but many are not based on scientific evidence and do not come with experimental evalutions of their effectiveness. When they do come with scientific evaluations of their effectiveness, it is important to note the nature of the control group that was used for comparison. Studies where the benefits of web-surfing were compared against a control group that did nothing special showed the benefits of web-surfing. In the English study where brain-training software was compared against a web-surfing control group, no benefits were found.

So before spending money out of pocket to build a healthy memory, consider what can be done for free. The Healthymemory Blog advocates using the internet as a means of maintaining and building brain health. We advocate going beyond simple web-surfing and building social relationships and learning substantive bodies of knowledge. This is called transactive memory and is one of the three themes of this blog.

We also believe that having a fundamental understanding of the way that memory and cognitive works is helpful in building a healthy memory. Here you build an understanding of memory performance and how it changes as we age. You will also become aware of fundamental shortcomings of memory, the consequences of these shortcomings, and how to avoid them. Accordingly, Human Memory is another one of the three theses of this blog.

A third theme involves mnemonic techniques themselves. These are techniques that have been around since the time of the ancient Greeks that can lead to phenomenal memory performance. Here memory techniques are addressed directly. Using them not only can improve memory, but the act of using them can also improve your ability to concentrate and provide exercise for a healthy memory.

1Callaway, E. (2010). Skills from the mind gym don’t transfer. New Scientist, 24 April, 10

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Cyberspace: How Much Data is Out There?

March 25, 2010

Let’s begin with the definition of a bit. Bit is short for binary digit which is the 1 or 0 used to store and process data.

A byte is 8 bits. The byte is the basic unit of computing and provided enough information to create an English letter or number in computer code.

A kilobyte (KB) is 1,000 (2 to the 10th power) bytes. One page of typed text is about 2KB.

A megabyte (MB) is 1,000 KB (2 to the 20th power bytes). A typical pop song is about 4 MB. The complete works of Shakespeare total about 5MB.

A gigabyte (GB) is 1,000 MB (2 to the 30th power bytes). A two-hour film can be compressed into 1-2 GB.

A terabyte (TB) is 1,000 GB (2 to the 40th power bytes). All the books in the Library of Congress total about 15 TB.

A petabyte (PB) is 1,000 TB (2 to the 50th power bytes). All the letters delivered by the US Postal Service amount to about 5 PB. Google processes about 1 PB of data every hour.

An exabyte (EB) is 1,000 PB (2 to the 60th power bytes). This is equivalent to about 10 billion copies of The Economist.

Zetabyte (ZB) is 1,000 EB (2 to the 70th power bytes). The total amount of data in existence this year is forecast to be around 1.2 ZB.

It would be a mistake to call all this data information. First of all, a non-negligible amount of this data is redundant. Worse yet, an undetermined amount of this data is wrong.

Nevertheless, the amount of good information is substantial, far more than any human can process.

But, nevertheless, the good information provides the basis for cognitive growth and a healthy memory. Remember the distinction between potential transactive memory, available transactive memory, and accessible transactive memory. The entire 1.2 ZBs can be regarded as potential transactive memory. This is data that can potentially become information and transferred to available transactive memory.

Available transactive memory is memory that you cannot remember and cannot find immediately. Nevertheless you know it exists and can search for it.

Accessible transactive memory is the information that not only do you know exists, but information that you can readily find or access. And some portion of the accessible transactive memory will be valuable enough to you for it to become part of your personal biological memory.

© 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

An Interesting Article on Boosting Brain Health

March 16, 2010

There is an interesting article in the March/April AARP magazine. It is written by a physician, P. Murali Doraiswamy, and is titled “Boost Your Brain Health.” This article has been cited in previous postings. It points out our memory strengths as we age. Our crystallized intelligence, our vocabulary and knowledge, can continue to grow and increase. Some impressive examples are cited of memory performance being maintained in spite of large losses in the physical brain. Losses in speed of processing do occur, but they can be mitigated through training and practice.

What I find most impressive about this article is that it does not propose one specific magic bullet for boosting brain health. We are constantly bombarded with adds regarding specific pills that will solve the problem. Or that there is a specific game you can play to maintain cognitive functioning. Avoid gimmicks. No product builds extra brainpower instantly or effortlessly. Both the brain and memory are way too complex to be amenable to a simple solution.

The article recommends the following ten helpful habits: 

  1. Walk and talk. Find a walking partner and a topic to discuss during your walks.
  2. Vary your routine. Try new things. Seek out novelty.
  3. Get smart. Be a lifelong learner and go beyond superficial learning.
  4. Play games. Pick games with several levels of difficulty. Look for timed games where you need to beat the clock.
  5. De-stress. Engage in activities that reduce stress. Meditate, walk, focus and relax.
  6. Sleep. Your brain remains active when you sleep continuing to process and relate the information of the day.
  7. Imagine. Be creative, paint, write (or employ mnemonic techniques). Visit new websites or build your own.
  8. Party. Meaning do not be a loner. Engage socially.
  9. Eat right. You have heard this before. To keep oxygen flowing to the brain consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish.
  10. Watch your numbers. Blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
  11. The Healthymemory blog strongly endorses these recommendations. It provides direct support to habits 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7.

Many scientists believe that the buildup of a “cognitive reserve” wards off mental decline. The Healthymemory Blog strongly subscribes to this view. It supports three themes to this end.

The first theme can be found under the category “Human Memory: Theory and Data.” You will find posts here that will build your understanding of how human memory works. You will also learn of fallacies, biases, and processing errors that are common to all of us. Learning about them will allow you to avoid them. So your performance will not only improve, but will also help you avoid decision making errors that can have adverse effects on your finances.

The second theme can be found under the category of “Mnemonic Techniques.” Here you will find specific techniques for improving your memory. These techniques have the potential not only of improving your memory performance, but of also providing exercises that improve brain health.

The third theme is transactive memory. This little known concept has two parts. One is the reliance upon your fellow humans for improving your memory and brain health. The other is the use of technology for improving your memory and brain health.

To access these themes, click on the appropriate links under Categories on the sideboard.  (If you don’t see the Categories link on the sideboard, then go to healthymemory.wordpress.com)

© 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.

Boost Your Cognitive Reserve

March 1, 2010

 There is an interesting article in the March/April AARP magazine. It is written by a physician, P. Murali Doraiswamy, and is titled “Boost Your Brain Health.” He relates the story of an accomplished mathematician in his early 70’s. His wife had referred him to Gary Small, M.D., who is the director of the UCLA Center on Aging. He had become cranky and was having some difficulties performing certain calculations. Dr. Small put him through a battery of tests and the man maxed all of them including a memory test and a score of 140 on his IQ test. But when he examined the patient’s brain scan it had all the markings of full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. This case, while unusual, was not unique. Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Columbia University School of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City noted that up to 20% of people autopsied who had no major memory problems are discovered to have had Alzheimer’s.

Of course, the question here is “How can this be?” Usually activities that are good for your brain are also good for your heart, your immune system, and the rest of your body. Doraiswamy report a recently published study of 2,500 people ages 70 to 79 found that 30% of the group saw no delcine in their mental performance or actually improved on cognitive tests over the course of eight years. People in this group were more likely to have some or all of the following healthy traits:

exercised at least once a week

had at least the equivalent of a high-school education

did not smoke

worked or volunteered

lived with at least one other person

Many scientists believe that the buildup of a “cognitive reserve” wards off mental decline. This Healthymemory blog strongly subscribes to this view. It supports three themes to this end. The first can be found under the category “Human Memory: Theory and Data.” You will find posts here that will build your understanding of how human memory works. You will also learn of fallacies, biases, and processing errors that are common to all of us. Learning about them will allow you to avoid them. So your performance will not only improve, but will also help you avoid decision making errors that can have adverse effects on your finances.

The second theme can be found under the category of “Mnemonic Techniques.” Here you will find specific techniques for improving your memory. These techniques have the potential not only of improving your memory performance, but of also providing exercises that improve brain health.

The third theme is transactive memory. This little known concept has two parts. One is the reliance upon your fellow humans for improving your memory and brain health. The other is the use of technology for improving your memory and brain health.

To access these themes, click on the appropriate links under Categories on the sideboard.

The next several posts will address improving attention and cognitive control. These are skills that tend to decline as we age and deserve special attention.

The Healthy Memory Blog

February 11, 2010

Welcome to the Healthymemory Blog. As the name implies, one objective of this blog is to provide information to aid in keeping memory healthy. But we aspire to go beyond keeping memory healthy and pursue means of enhancing and growing memory. To this end, this blog pursues three themes: Human Memory: Theory and Data, Mnemonic Techniques, and Transactive Memory. You can locate the blog posts under each theme by clicking on their titles under Categories on the sidebar.

Human Memory: Theory and Data provides information on how memory works. Having a basic understanding of how memory works is important to maintaining a healthy memory. You might discover that the memory difficulties you are having are normal. Aging Baby Boomers might discover that memory lapses they attribute to aging are not due to aging at all. Here you will also find information on logical errors and biases as well as on health statistics and how to interpret them. You will see that logical errors and biases are the result of a certain type of processing. There are also limits to short term memory that can contribute to erroneous and biased processing. Other errors are due simply to not having the appropriate information in memory or having erroneous information in memory.

Mnemonic techniques are techniques for improving memory. Obviously they address the problem of memory failures directly, but they also have a secondary benefit. The secondary benefit is that they provide good exercises for memory. The call upon using your imagination and recoding information into a more memorable form. You can find a memory course in this category.

Transactive memory is a little known topic. It refers to memories stored outside your individual biological memory. There are two types of transactive memory: human and technical. You do not need to hold all information in your head. You can also get by with a little help from your loved ones and friends. Technical transactive memory includes all the information stored in all types of technology from note pads to books, to the internet. Technical aids can benefit memory recall, but the vast resources on the internet provide a splendid opportunity to cognitive and personal growth.

There is much to read on the Healthymemory Blog. Read what you need and what interests you. Please feel free to ask questions and make comments by clicking “leave a comment.”

© 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.

When to Rely On Transactive Memory

February 8, 2010

Say you encounter a new piece of information. This piece of information could be as simple as a phone number or a major work that is central to your interests. Should you commit this information to your personal memory, or should rely upon external, transactive memory? This question has arisen in educational circles with respect to the multiplication tables. Now that calculators are ubiquitous, is there still a need to memorize the multiplication tables? The need for this can be argued from two points of view. One has to do with the standard for knowing. If something is important for understanding arithmetic and advanced mathematics, should not this information be resident in memory? If the answer is “yes”, then this needs to be committed to memory.

The second point of view is one of convenience. Will one always have a calculator available? Will it be worth the time and effort in finding a calculator to perform multiplication? What about potential emergencies when it might be a matter of life or death, but no calculator was available? If convenience is a factor, that alone might be justification for committing the multiplication tables to memory.

We are confronted with this problem everyday. Suppose you encounter a phone number. Do you need to commit this number to memory? There are mnemonic techniques that facilitate the memory for these numbers (see the blog posts “Remembering Numbers,” “More on Remembering Numbers,”, “Three Digit Numbers,” and “Remembering Even Larger Numbers.”). But these techniques require mental effort. Should you extend this mental effort? Not surprisingly the answer is, “It depends.”

Wayne Gray and his colleagues have developed a hypothesis, the soft constraints hypothesis, to address this question.1 This hypothesis says that your choice will be based upon a rational cost benefit analysis. In other words, if this phone number is to be used only once, you will most likely not commit it to personal memory, but will rely upon transactive memory, a piece of paper for example. However, if you are going to use this number frequently and cannot rely upon speed dial (a type of transactive memory), you will commit it to memory. They present extensive and thorough evidence supporting the notion that this is, in general, how people behave. However, people do not always behave in this rational manner. In my personal experience there are times when I have relied way too much on external supports when it would have been more efficient to commit the information to my personal memory.

At other times, however, the criterion will concern how deeply you need to understand the information. Do you only need to bookmark or tag where to find it should you need it in the future? Although you need the information, it is still not central to your primary interest and can get by with knowing where to locate the information. Or is the information central to your understanding and needs to be committed to your personal memory. You would not usually commit a major piece of work central to your interests to verbatim memory, but you would commit its essence and its major points to personal memory. The number and depth of those points would depend upon the importance of the particular work.

1Gray, W. D., Sims, C. R., Fu, W-T, Schoelles, M. J. (2006). The Soft Constraints Hypothesis: A Rational Analysis
Approach to Resource Allocation for Interactive Behavior. Psychological Review, 113, 461-482.

© 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.

Online Memorials

February 4, 2010

Consider using transactive memory to leave a part of you behind once you have moved on to the hereafter. Consider a conventional memorial that consists either of a headstone marker, indicating the location of your remains, or an urn, enclosing your remains. With today’s technology, you can do considerably better than that. Even if you use traditional means for handling passing on, these means can be substantially enhanced via today’s technology.

The Navy Memorial offers a means of leaving an online memorial for Navy veterans. My Dad, who was cremated, is memorialized there. I find this of great comfort. Any time I am on-line I can visit and renew old fond memories. He was one terrific Dad.

His is a very simple memorial. One can go well beyond this. My Last Email, mylastemail.com, provides for both on-line obituaries and on-line memorials. Other services are bcelebrated.com, wildrosecemetries.com, and memorial2u.com.

These sites provide a means not only of communicating directly with your loved ones, but also of celebrating your life and documenting your accomplishments. Videos and recordings can be included. You can leave behind those accomplishments for which you are most proud. There is always the possibility that some of your work might be discovered and appreciated by later generations.

It is not advised to wait until you are at death’s door before starting this. You can start now, while you’re still healthy. You might find that this exercise will force some discipline on you that will increase your focus and the desire to leave something significant behind.

It did that for me. So long, I need to begin…

© 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.

Transactive Memory and the Dearly Departed

February 2, 2010

The Washington Post published an interesting article, “Let Online Lives Outlast the Dearly Departed” (Rosenwald, January 25, 2010; A01, or search for the tag “transactive” on delicious.com). With the advance of technology, more and more of our personal information is stored online. Our logons and passwords are stored throughout cyberspace. Included here are bank accounts, stockbroker accounts, insurance accounts and other accounts of considerable importance. This article addressed the issues that arise when your physical being leaves behind only its virtual reality. In the terminology of this blog this information is residing in transactive memory.

The Post article writes of a coming cybercrisis as many Internet services have policies that forbid accessing or transferring accounts, including recovering money without the password. Court orders are usually required to circumvent this requirement. Of course, this assumes that those you left behind know that there are accounts to access. At one time there was a paper trail that could be traced to find these accounts. But should you go the paperless route, there is no paper to trace. The paper trail has gone online.

Of course the simplest way of dealing with this problem is to leave your loved ones with a paper trail leading to these accounts and their passwords. Such a paper trail is risky, however, should it fall into the wrong hands. Legacy Locker, legacylocker.com, provides a means of securing this information in cyberspace. For a fee you can store all your passwords an log-in information. When you pass-on this information will be accessible to whomever you designate as digital executor. Short of passing on, such a resource can be helpful in dealing with less traumatic problems, such as forgetting a password.

Entrustet is part of LinkedIn and provides a variety of services in this area. As do DataInherit, datainherit.com, Parting Wishes, partingwishes.com, and deathswitch.com. If I Die, ifidie.org, is a free service, that will send out an email written by you with all the information you want to pass on.

In all of these services you are employing transactive memory to store information after your biological memory is no longer available to function.

© 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.

Remembering to Do Things

January 31, 2010

The technical term for remembering to do things is prospective memory. A great deal of research has been done on prospective memory, but practically all of it has ignored transactive memory. Transactive memory is an external support like writing it down or entering it into computer or some type of smart device. It might seem like these researchers are overlooking the obvious. Perhaps they are, but they are doing so for their own theoretical purposes.

Writing it down might seem like the obvious answer. Although it might appear to be the obvious answer, it is flawed. One study showed that when daily planners were used, they were overlooked 25% of the time. So external aids can work, but only if you remember to consult them. Electronic devices where alarms could be set as reminders of where you should be at which time can remedy this problem. Such warnings are commonplace on computers. The problem here is that you need either be at your computing device or carrying it with you for the alarm to be effective.

Mnemonic techniques are also available. The techniques discussed in the blog posts “The Method of Loci” and “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic” can be used to make ordered lists of things to do throughout the day or week. Similarly Pierre Herigone’s technique (presented in the blog post, “Remembering Numbers”) for recoding numbers as sounds so that they can be converted into words and images can be used. Specific use of Herigone’s technique for remembering the times of appointments is discussed in the blog post “Remembering Historical Dates and Appointments.”

Perhaps the best method is to use a combination of mnemonic techniques and transactive memory tools. They each support the other. External supports compensate for memory failures. Mnemonic techniques compensate for the absence of technology. Both techniques require attention and most memory failures are, at bottom failures to employ enough of the right kind of attention.

Perhaps the most alarming failures of prospective memory are those that result in leaving children unattended in vehicles. The response to these cases typically is what terrible parents these people are. But the vast majority are good parents who suffered from prospective memory failures. This story has repeated itself numerous times. A mother, or father, goes to the day care center to pick up the child. Unfortunately, the child cannot be picked up because she is already dead in the back of the vehicle, the victim of a prospective memory failure (to drop off the child in the morning).

The number of these failures has increased drastically since the child seat laws required that the seat be in the back seat (due to the danger of the airbag injuring the child if it was in the front seat). The fundamental problem is out of sight, out of mind. Here an external aid, such as a doll place in the front seat or a ribbon tied to the steering wheel can reduce the number of these prospective memory failures.

© 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.

An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory

November 2, 2009

  As you know if you have been reading previous blogs, prospective memory is the memory to do things. Today I had a breakfast meeting with two important people, one a dean, from the University of Utah. The meeting was set for November 2. I missed the meeting this morning. I had been planning on meeting them tomorrow, not today. I am profoundly mortified by this failure. Moreover, I inconvenienced and wasted the precious time of people I respect.

Do you love irony? How about this fellow who writes blog on memory health, memory errors and how to avoid them, and he forgets such an important meeting. I think it is instructive to examine the reason behind this prospective memory failure and how it could have been avoided. The reason for the failure was that I had mistakenly encoded November 2 as a Tuesday. This morning I was telling my wife about this important breakfast meeting I was going to have tomorrow, Tuesday.

How could this have been avoided? It could have been avoided by taking recourse to transactive memory. Had I written the meeting on a Calendar or entered in in the Outlook Calendar, it would not only have served as a reminder, but it would also have pointed to my error in encoding November 2nd as a Tuesday. Had a asked my wife to remind me of this meeting, a human source of transactive memory, she too would have corrected me of my misconception that November 2nd was a Tuesday.

Now back to the irony. If I know all this stuff, why don’t I use it? This is a very good question. In this case I probably did not think that this meeting warranted a transactive memory entry because it was so important it was inconceivable that I could forget, or in this case, erroneously encode the prospective memory. It is ironic that we often forget those items that we are so sure that we shall remember them. This can lead to carelessness in their storage due to overconfidence.

Generally speaking when I fail to remember when I need to remember, it is usually due to a failure to attend and use the appropriate encoding techniques. Especially important information also needs some form of supplementary storage in transactive memory. So mental laziness is responsible for most of my memory failures. I have no other excuse. I would guess that I am not unique in this regard.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.