Tag Archives: Memory

Stress and Memory From a Neuroscience Perspective

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Stress and Memory From a Neuroscience Perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

“From a neuroscience perspective, amnesia in the absence of brain damage can be partially explained in biochemical terms. Stress causes a chemical reaction that affects regions of the brain responsible for memory. With repeated overwhelming stress, neurotransmitters and stress hormones are released in the brain in such excess quantity that they can adversely affect portions of the brain responsible for emotional memories as well as other kinds of memory.” p. 33, The Wandering Mind: Understanding Dissociation from Daydreaming to Disorders by John A Biever, M.D. and Maryann Karinch.

i'm not out to convince you or draw upon your mind*Image Credits (all work used with permission through CC license)–
“i’m not out to convince you or draw upon your mind” by Andrea Joseph
“Standing at the Gates of Hell” by Shane Gorski

“Tip-of-the-Tongue Syndrome,” Transactive Memory, and How the Internet Is Making Us Smarter by Maria Popova

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“The dangerous time when mechanical voices,radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary in 1946, decades before the internet as we know it even existed. Her fear has since been echoed again and again with every incremental advance in technology, often with simplistic arguments about the attrition of attention in the age of digital distraction. But inSmarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (public library), Clive Thompson — one of the finest technology writers I know, with regular bylines for Wired and The New York Times — makes a powerful and rigorously thought out counterpoint. He argues that our technological tools — from search engines to status updates to sophisticated artificial intelligence that defeats the world’s best chess players — are now inextricably linked to our minds, working in tandem with them and profoundly changing the way we remember, learn, and “act upon that knowledge emotionally, intellectually, and politically,” and this is a promising rather than perilous thing.

see more… http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/09/13/clive-thompson-smarter-than-you-think/

The tabula rasa

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We have all wished for it, one time or another. What if we could forget all the bad things that happened? What if we didn`t have to feel all the pain? If we could erase all of it, would we do it? Some of you might have seen the movie eternal sunshine on a spotless mind, where the protagonist wants to erase the memory of his former lover, but discovers that he doesn`t want to, when the process has begun. I am a bit curious. What would you do, if given the choice?

Can our memories be edited, even turned off? Can we turn bad memories into good memories? MIT neuroscience lab rats, Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu, say yes. In fact, they’ve done it.

But what about the ethics of such science? They discuss that, too, in today’s featured TED talk

Enjoy.

 To manipulate memory

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http://ted.com/talks/view/id/1813

 

Feats of Memory anyone can do

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One of the reasons I started this blog, was from my personal experiences of starting to read psychology and the dawning realization that much of what I learned, would have made my life very different had I known what the books told me, much earlier. One of the things I really loved, was the memory techniques. Why did we not learn this at school? Already in first class? In finland they have a school system that actually have started to apply principles from psychology. They don`t focus on rote repetition, but on meaningful learning. But many countries have much to learn when it comes to school. Last fall we had a course with the «memory expert» from Norway, called Oddbjørn By. He talked about the method of loci, and told us the tricks. He made learning and memory fun, and I think life should be more about enjoying learning than making it a drag. I want to present a TED-talk that presents the method of loci, and the concept of «elaborate learning». I think we all are eager to learn and explore, but sometimes this thirst is quenched. I like this talk, since it inspires and give hope!

Enjoy!

 

Joshua Foer: Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do

There are people who can quickly memorize lists of thousands of numbers, the order of all the cards in a deck (or ten!), and much more. Science writer Joshua Foer describes the technique — called the memory palace – and shows off its most remarkable feature: Anyone can learn how to use it. Including you!

Joshua Foer is a science writer who 'accidentally' won the U.S. Memory Championship.

Joshua Foer

Joshua Foer is a science writer who ‘accidentally’ won the U.S. Memory Championship. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Slate, the New York Times, and other publications. He is the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura, an online guide to the world’s wonders and curiosities, and is also the co-founder of the design competition Sukkah City.

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What Is Digital Dementia?

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smartphones(Originally posted 7/4/13 on my own blog.)  In the last few days, I’ve been reading about some interesting research coming out of the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, Korea.  They have identified something called digital dementia, which a recent study was shown to affect some smartphone users and cause them to exhibit symptoms similar to those seen in other forms of dementia.

Smartphones have already been blamed for many ills.  These include addictions, cancer, and a decline in face-to-face social interaction.  These problems only increase as society’s dependence on technology grows with each passing year.

According to Dr. Byun Gi-Won, persons who use smartphones rely heavily on the left side of the brain.  The left side of our brain governs language, reasoning, and logic.  The right side, on the other hand, is responsible for creativity, concentration, and emotion.  This lop-sided use of the brain, so to speak, can result in a significant imbalance that leads to memory problems (particularly for details, such as telephone numbers), shortened attention spans, and emotional flattening.  The reduction in social interaction can lead to problems initiating or carrying on a conversation, or forming friendships.

It has been estimated that close to 20 percent of smartphone users are between the ages of 10 and 19.  Because the brain is not fully developed during this period, this places youngsters at a significant risk for negative effects which can become permanent and influence their academic, social, and emotional growth.  As many as 15 percent of this group is at serious risk of developing digital dementia.

Some experts have classified digital dementia as a form of early onset of a more lasting and serious form of the disorder.  However, a lot more research needs to be done before we can be sure about the long-term effects of this new condition.  It is recommended, however, that smartphone users consider the possible risks that can accompany a dependence on these devices until more is known about them.

Digital dementia has become so prevalent in South Korea that a number of clinics have been established to deal with the problem.  Experts have already called for internet addiction to be classified as a mental disorder; the emergence of this condition only intensifies the outcry for moderation of smartphone use.

Sources:

http://www.inquisitr.com/812289/digital-dementia-may-affect-smartphone-users/

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/06/26/new-digital-dementia-plaguing-young-tech-users/

http://fox4kc.com/2013/06/28/digital-dementia-surging-among-young-electronics-users/

Dissociation and Memory Loss in movies

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Patients with amnesia usually know who they are, but they have problems storing new memories. You wouldn’t realize this from the movies. Films like The Bourne Identity show us the opposite pattern — characters who have forgotten who they are, but who have no trouble with their everyday memory. This mismatch has led to criticism of Hollywood, most notably by Sallie Baxendale in her entertaining BMJ paper published in 2004. “Most amnesic conditions in films bear little relation to reality,” she wrote.

However, a psychologist and a neurologist in Switzerland have made the case in a new book chapter (from Literary Medicine: Brain Disease and Doctors in Novels, Theater, and Film) that while Hollywood and many novels certainly present a distorted view of a typical amnesiac, there are in fact many historical real-life cases of amnesia that are just as outlandish, or more so, as those found in fiction. Moreover, these authors — Sebastian Dieguez and Jean-Marie Annoni — argue that fictional portrayals of memory and amnesia are a useful scientific resource for understanding people’s conception of memory, and they point out that fictional portrayals can feedback and influence the manifestation of memory disorders in real life.

 Cases of real memory loss. On point for the truth, thereby illustrating that dissociation is a real phenomena.

There has been a lot of controversy when it comes to memory loss, that often portrays itself in movies too good to be true. Consider the Hollywood obsession with characters like Jason Bourne who have forgotten who they are. It’s true that dissociative fugue states of this kind are rare, but Dieguez and Annoni argue they 3bd9c35d1d8209471f5075b287836650do exist, they are little understood, and they are often bizarre. One of the most incredible real-life stories involves the “living dead” — 10 French soldiers who returned from the First Wold War with no recollection of their identities. One of the 10, who called himself Anthelme Mangin (but knew nothing else of his past) was claimed by over 300 families after his case was publicized. “Despite extensive testing and innumerable court-ordered expert appraisals,” write Dieguez and Annoni, “Mangin’s real identity … would never be officially recognized.”

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Another favored Hollywood plot device (also mentioned in Baxendale’s critique) involves an amnesiac character suddenly rediscovering their life’s memories after being exposed to a particularly familiar or emotional object or situation. For example, Baxendale cites the 1950 film The Woman With No Name, in which the trigger for the eponymous character is a wood panneled door. Such sudden surges of memory may seem preposterous, but Dieguez and Annoni highlight two real-life casesdocumented by Federica Lucchelli and her colleagues in Italy. One amnesiac man recovered all his life’s memories while lying on an operating table, presumably because it transported him back 25 years earlier to a previous operation. Another amnesiac man enjoyed a surge of restored memory on a tennis court when a poor shot reminded him of an error he’d made years earlier.

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Lastly, let’s look at the fictional form of amnesia in which a person’s memory is wiped clean each night. This is what happens to Drew Barrymore’s character in 50 First Dates, and it happens to the main character in S.J. Watson’s hit novel Before I Go To Sleep. It’s tempting to dismiss such portrayals as factually inaccurate — memory simply doesn’t work that way. But here we have an excellent example of how fictional portrayals of brain disorder can influence real-life manifestations of symptoms. In 2010, researchers led by Christine Smith reported the case of a female car-crash victim known as FL, who said her memory was erased each night. The researchers tricked FL into thinking they were testing her on material learned the same day, but which she’d actually learned the day before, and this revealed that her nightly amnesia was psychogenic. That is, it had psychological rather than neurological causes. Smith’s team think FL was probably influenced by that Drew Barrymore film.

Dieguez and Annoni’s book chapter certainly gave me pause for thought. I’ve been researching misconceptions about brain disorders for a book I’m writing and I’ve uncovered a lot of material about factual inaccuracies. Their perspective has made me strive for a less dogmatic view of the subject. As they write, “the view that literary amnesia is clinically inaccurate or far-fetched is at best too simplistic, and at worst misguided.” Rather than judging the clinical accuracy of fictional amnesia portrayals, they say “we should ask instead what are the uses of amnesia in literature and how do authors and readers conceive of memory and its disorders. As such, cases of literary amnesia become valuable data, just like real-life cases but for different reasons.”

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How we remember, and how we forget

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How We Remember and How We Forget: Trauma, Denial, and Dissociation

I “forgot” a good part of my life.  I “forgot” the 3-6 months I spent in foster care, the events that led up to it, and the intense grief of being returned to a biological family I felt no connection to.  I “forgot” being trafficked for sex by my own father.  I “forgot” being placed in a freezer, tied to a wall in the dark in the garage like an animal, and forced to hang myself.

For a long time, I “forgot” about appointments, bills, and things I had done and said within the last 24 hours.  Sometimes, I still do.

I know a lot about forgetting.

Since then, I’ve been working at remembering.  I know a lot about that too.

A diagram of a neuron.

We remember information, experiences, and ideas because there are robust neural pathways between them.  If I am trying to remember a person’s name, I will most likely start with a piece of information that seems like it will lead me there: the face, trivia about the person, our last conversation.  If I am really intent on remembering, I will continue to dredge up these bits of associated memory until I am able to locate it.  So, the more connections we have between something we want to remember and other things and the more robust those pathways, the easier memory becomes.

Neural pathways become faster and more efficient with use.  When we stop using a particular pathway on a regular basis, it becomes less robust, slowing us down when we try to use it.  We may not “forget” information so much as lose the connections that allow us to find it.

I suspect that denial and dissociation both affect memory because of how they impact the neural pathways between parts of a memory.

Both the cortex and the limbic system are involved in memory formation. The amygdala, in particular, plays an important role in emotional memories.

In the case of dissociation, I speculate that the lack of robust neural pathways occurs at the time of the event.  Sensory impressions, thoughts, and emotional reactions are recorded, but with very little connection between them.  Whether this is because the brain functions that create order and connectivity are suppressed during traumatic events or because the parts of the brain involved in forming memories during life-or-death situations are different and don’t form connections as well, I’m not sure.

But I am sure that it happens because of how my own memories arise for me.  A major part of working through the trauma I’ve experienced has been simply finding things and putting them together–connecting pictures to words, declarative knowledge to sensory impresssions, physical responses to my knowledge of feeling states.  I “remember” nearly everything significant that has happened to me, but when I first began to work with them these memories stood in no particular order and in no relation to one another.

How the events were recorded in my mind in the first place has something to do with this.

Now, I know that the general wisdom is that we suppress trauma because we are trying to protect ourselves from the knowledge of what happened until we are in a position to deal with it.

I don’t entirely believe that.  I don’t think the memories are difficult to locate for the sole reason of emotional self-protection.  Partly, yes, but not entirely.

At the time of the event, we shut down certain types of awareness for two reasons that really come down to physical survival: one, we do this in order to suppress an awareness of physical pain so that our reactions to pain don’t interfere with doing what we need to do to survive.  Two,  we do this because conscious thought is the slow-track to action, and if we engage in it we could be killed before we’ve even come to a decision.  Much better to think like a lizard and just run away.

It is this state of suppressed conscious awareness that limits our ability to form connections between parts of a memory.  If a traumatic event is extremely intense, or if we have a lot of experience with being traumatized, touching on one aspect of the memory can re-start the process of suppressing conscious awareness, and our brains remain unable to form connections.

That is what PTSD looks like.  Elements of a memory are triggered, but instead of this access to the memory allowing us to form robust connections between parts of the memory, the connection is instead formed to whatever processes are involved in dissociation.  The more this happens, the better we get at dissociating as the pathways involved in dissociation get more and more robust.

But we may never figure out why red sweaters scare the bejesus out of us, or what happened after we put one on.  We may never link the scratchy feeling of the sweater with the color, or with the queasy feeling in our stomachs.  Not because we are avoiding that connection, but because we are busy doing something else.  We aren’t trying to protect our psyche.  We are trying to protect our bodies, and our brains don’t know that they can stop.

Denial, on the other hand, can lead to a kind of deliberate forgetting.  Every time the memory is accessed, we shift our attention away from it.  (For why, see Unsolicited, Bad Advice.)  The connections are there, but we train ourselves not to use them.  With time, the connections become tenuous, weak, frail.  They may break altogether.  The memory then becomes suppressed.  It is there, but we no longer know how to find it.

In dissociation, there may not be enough connections to the memory or between parts of a memory to start with.  In denial, we can intentionally remove them.

In the case of childhood trauma, the family can aid in this.  Children remember events partly because others in the family rehearse what happened with them later on.  Those pleasant sessions of “Remember when…?” reinforce and strengthen neural pathways between the details of events.  They also help children construct comprehensible narratives of what may be more fragmented impressions.

When traumatic experiences occur in the family, members often actively avoid doing this.  The message implicitly or explicitly stated may be that it would be better to talk (and think) about other things.  Without those rehearsals, children lose the connectivity between traumatic events and the rest of their lives and may have trouble accessing them as adults.  Or they may be able to access them, but assume the memories were simply bad dreams or the products of a fertile imagination.  The memories may not seem like memories because no one else seems to have them.

In cases of family abuse, both mechanisms involved in “forgetting” can work to “repress” a memory.  Elements of memory start out disconnected and isolated because of the functioning of the brain in the midst of trauma, and the connections that are there can become disused, slow, and inefficient because of denial within the family that means those pathways are deliberately avoided.

No wonder I feel like I’m giving my brain an extreme home make-over–cleaning, organizing, and re-designing.

Further reading:

The Brain Athlete. (2012)  Brain Plasticity Forms Who We Are.  Retrieved from: http://www.brainathlete.com/brain-plasticity-forms/

—-Neocortext and Not Hippocampus May Form Memories.  Retrieved from: http://www.brainathlete.com/neocortex-hippocampus-form-memories/

How to Forget Unwanted Memories.  (2012, October 20).  Medical News Today.  Retrieved from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/251655.php

Plasticity and Neural Networks.  Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  Retrieved from: http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_07/d_07_cl/d_07_cl_tra/d_07_cl_tra.html

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Factsheet.  (2011, October 17).  National Institutes of Mental Health.  Retrieved from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-research-fact-sheet/index.shtml