Category: Memory

People with higher working memory ability suffer more from brain freeze

Puzzled businessman scratching his headBy Christian Jarrett

Some fortunate people have more “working memory” than others. It’s as if they have an extra pair of hands available for mental juggling; extremely useful for doing arithmetic and similar tasks in your head. These folk with abundant working memory capacity also tend to fare well academically and in their careers. Little surprise that “brain training” games like Lumosity and Cogmed target working memory in pursuit of these knock-on benefits (though the evidence that the training brings such benefits is weak).

What is surprising is the discovery a number of years ago that mentally dextrous people with greater working memory capacity seem to be particularly susceptible to “brain freeze” or choking under pressure.

For a new study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, researchers at the University of Chicago and Michigan State University attempted to find out more about why this happens. Their results suggest that actually it’s only a subgroup of high working memory people who have this problem and it’s because of their high distractibility. These high ability chokers or brain freeze victims are “typically reliant on their higher working memory resources for advanced problem solving” but their poor attentional control renders them easily distracted by anxiety, causing their usual mental deftness to break down when the pressure is on.

Continue reading “People with higher working memory ability suffer more from brain freeze”

Could the way we talk to children help them remember their science lessons?

Little scientistBy Christian Jarrett

When a parent asks their child plenty of “who?”, “what?”, “when?”, “where?”, “why?” questions, encourages them to go into detail and includes open-ended questions, psychologists call this an elaborative style. Past research has shown that children with parents like this tend to remember more experiences from their lives (the opposite parental style is to ask fewer questions in general, and to ask questions that only need a short, basic response). More specific studies have found that parents’ elaborative chat can also help their children remember museum visits.

A new study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology is the first to apply this line of research to young children’s memories of a recent science lesson. The findings provide tentative evidence that conversing with a child in an elaborative way could help them remember more about their lesson.

Continue reading “Could the way we talk to children help them remember their science lessons?”

Researchers surprised to find abused children less suggestible

Thoughtful and sad little girlBy Christian Jarrett

A hugely controversial topic in psychology concerns how likely it is that some or many claims of abuse made by children are actually based on false memories, possibly implanted through the suggestions of therapists or leading questions from investigators. A related issue is whether going through the terrible experience of being mistreated makes it more or less likely that a child will be prone to forming false memories based on the suggestions or leading questions of others. In a small but important new study in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, a team led by Henry Otgaar at Maastricht University report that while a group of maltreated children were more prone to spontaneous false memories than control participants, they were in fact, to the researchers’ surprise, less prone to false memories based on suggestion. “This is a hitherto unreported finding,” they said.

Continue reading “Researchers surprised to find abused children less suggestible”

Brain training may be harmful to some aspects of memory performance

Brain lifting bar illustrationBy Christian Jarrett

Much attention has been focused recently on whether brain training programmes have the far-reaching benefits claimed by their commercial purveyors. Brain training usually involves completing exercises on computer to strengthen your working memory – essentially your ability to hold in mind and process multiple items of information at once (“cognitive training” would be a more apt name). The argument put forward by brain training companies like Lumosity and Posit Science, is that working memory is such a fundamental mental process that if you boost your working memory capacity through training, then you will experience wide-ranging benefits, even in ostensibly unrelated activities, such as in your performance at work. However, a comprehensive review published earlier this year concluded that there is in fact inadequate evidence to justify such bold claims. Now a study in Memory and Cognition brings even worse news for brain training enthusiasts – compared to control conditions, working memory training was actually found to worsen performance on a test of recognition memory. Continue reading “Brain training may be harmful to some aspects of memory performance”

“In-group infamy” – we have a lasting memory for colleagues who let the side down

Coworkers in a meetingBy Alex Fradera

Are we more likely to remember the good or the bad done by people on our team? In general, we favour our own group over outsiders, classically demonstrated by Henri Tajfel’s “minimal group” experiments, in which sorting people into groups by something as arbitrary as a coin toss resulted in higher positive ratings of traits of in-group members, and more negativity towards out-group members. You might expect, then, that we’re disposed to remember our colleagues’ good behavior. But new research in Cognition shows us that the opposite is true.

Continue reading ““In-group infamy” – we have a lasting memory for colleagues who let the side down”

For faster learning and longer retention, interleave study sessions with sleep

Teenage schoolgirl sleeping on deskBy Christian Jarrett

Some basic rules of effective learning, informed by psychology, are already well established. Testing yourself and relearning any forgotten items is beneficial,  especially so when this is done after a sufficient delay, rather than “cramming”. Sleep too is known to be incredibly helpful for consolidating new memories. Now a study  in Psychological Science has built upon these insights, showing how interleaving two study periods with sleep leads to particularly efficient and long-lasting learning.  Continue reading “For faster learning and longer retention, interleave study sessions with sleep”

It feels as though we learn better via our preferred learning style, but we don’t

By Christian Jarrett

The idea that we learn more effectively when we’re taught via our preferred “learning style” – such as through pictures, written words, or by sound – is popular with students and teachers alike. A recent survey found that 93 per cent of British teachers believe in the idea. But time and again laboratory tests have failed to find support for the concept of learning styles. In fact, the most effective learning modality usually depends on the nature of the material to be learned. So why does the myth of learning styles refuse to die? A new study in the British Journal of Psychology uncovers a compelling reason – when learning via what we think is our preferred style, it feels as though we have learned more effectively, even though we haven’t.  Continue reading “It feels as though we learn better via our preferred learning style, but we don’t”

New clues about the way memory works in infancy

Neurons in the beautiful background. 3d illustration of a highBy Alex Fradera 

Can we form memories when we are very young? Humans and non-humans alike show an “infantile amnesic period” – we have no memory of anything that happens during this time (usually up to age three or four in humans) which might suggest we can’t form very early memories. But of course it might be that we can form memories in these early years, it’s just that they are later forgotten. The idea that at least something is retained from infancy is consistent with the fact that disorders present in adult life can be associated with very early life events.

Now Nature Neuroscience has published a paper confirming that in rats some kind of memories are created during the amnesic period, but that these operate differently and are produced by different brain chemistry from adult memories. What’s more, such events may have a role in kickstarting memory system maturation. Continue reading “New clues about the way memory works in infancy”

We assume distant negative events remembered in detail must have been extreme

Boring seminar

By Alex Fradera

If I insisted on telling you about a recent meeting I’d endured at work, and I went into vivid detail about every misunderstanding and awkward moment, you’d probably infer that I’d had a fairly bad experience. Now imagine I told you about the same events with the same level of detail, but I was talking about a meeting that happened more than a year ago. Now you’d probably get the impression that I’d had a truly awful time. The reason, as reported recently in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, is that we tend to interpret negative events recounted in detail as being more serious, the longer ago that they happened. Continue reading “We assume distant negative events remembered in detail must have been extreme”

The secret to strong friendships? Interconnected memories

exchanging thoughts with each otherNo man is an island: we act together, think together and even remember together. Elderly couples have interconnected memory systems, working together to deftly remember their shared past. New research in the Journal of Personal and Social Relationships shows that platonic friends see themselves similarly. In a sample of 216 students and online recruits, Nicole Iannone and colleagues found high agreement with items such as “my best friend and I can remind each other of things we know,” part of a scale measuring “transactive memory systems” – shared systems of recording, storing and recalling information. Ratings were even higher when participants were referring to friendships that were longer, more trusting or of a higher quality overall.

Gender had no effect on degree of interconnection, but seemed to shape the kind of interconnection. In a second study with 340 participants, same-sex friendships were more likely to have overlap in similar memory areas, such as both knowing a lot about movies, whereas mixed-sex friends had distinctive areas of expertise – suggesting a good team-up for a trivia night. The authors note that in their sample, memory interdependence was the single best predictor of friendship quality, more even than relationship length or a general measure of trust, raising the idea that putting faith in someone else to preserve your past is an important facet of long-term intimacy.

With a little help from your friend. Transactive memory in best friendships

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest