Memory encoding and behavioural change

Memory research is an important field of study which is typically divided into three areas. Encoding, storage and retrieval of memories having been empirically studied since the 19th century, after the psychological sciences took a departure from the field of philosophy. 
At the time of a memory being encoded into the human mind, there are multiple things in the environment that are being perceived at once. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and even the internal state of the body at the time of the memory being encoded, and registered as part of the encoding process in order to form the ‘memory trace’
In the 1970’s, there was a wealth of interest into understanding how memory encoding and memory retrieval are related. The results and conclusions of such studies could then be available for application in a variety of ways including education, personal development, governance, marketing and business too name a few.

One line of research, headed by researchers such as Craik, Lockhart and Tulving, lead to relatively robust theories about memory retrieval that I will elaborate on in order to demonstrate how empirical evidence within the field of memory research can be used and applied specifically on the field of education, specifically facilitation of groups of adult learners.

According to Craik & Lockhart(1972), the extent to which memories are encoded is dependant on which processes are in play at the time of encoding. They developed the ‘levels of processing’ theory, commonly criticised for its use of the metaphor of depth to convey memory encoding processes. Craik & Lockhart found evidence for and concluded that information can be encoded in 3 different levels which are shallow, medium and deep(for a full review of this theory see Craik & Lockhart, 1972)

My current thoughts

If semantic depth results in more robust encoding, then it stands to reason that the more task-relevant cognitive and affective processes are activated during the construction of imagined scenarios based on components of remembered experiences, the higher likelihood of encoding being carried out at depth on a semantic level that can be utilised for sustainable behavioural change on a physiological level and beyond.

There is a lot more to this, but I’m on an iPad tapping away and I’ll need to continue at a later date 

Darren Shaw BSc(hons) MBPsS

Modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy – excessive daytime sleepiness – can improve memory in patients recovering from depression

Modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy – excessive daytime sleepiness – can improve memory in patients recovering from depression, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. The findings, published today in the journal Biological Psychiatry: CNNI, result from a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study and offer hope of a treatment for some of the cognitive symptoms of depression.

via Patients recovering from depression show improvements in memory from the drug modafinil | University of Cambridge

Intentionally recalling memories may lead us to forget

Intentionally recalling memories may lead us to forget other competing experiences that interfere with retrieval, according to a study published today. In other words, the very act of remembering may be one of the major reasons why we forget.

The idea that the very act of remembering can cause forgetting is surprising, and could tell us more about selective memory and even self-deception
Michael Anderson
The research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, is the first to isolate the adaptive forgetting mechanism in the human brain. The brain imaging study shows that the mechanism itself is implemented by the suppression of unique patterns in the cortex that underlie competing memories. Via this mechanism, remembering dynamically alters which aspects of our past remain accessible.

In a study funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), researchers monitored patterns of brain activity in the participants using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans while the participants were asked to recall individual memories based on images they had been shown earlier.

The team from the University of Cambridge, the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, and the University of Birmingham, was able to track the brain activity induced by individual memories and show how this suppressed others by dividing the brain into tiny voxels (3D pixels). Based on the fine-grained activation patterns of these voxels, the researchers were able to witness the neural fate of individual memories as they were initially reactivated, and subsequently suppressed.

Over the course of four selective retrievals the participants in the study were cued to retrieve a target memory, which became more vivid with each trial. Competing memories were less well reactivated as each trial was carried out, and indeed were pushed below baseline expectations for memory, supporting the idea that an active suppression of memory was taking place.

Dr Michael Anderson from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the Behavioural and Clinical Neurosciences Institute at the University of Cambridge said: “People are used to thinking of forgetting as something passive.  Our research reveals that people are more engaged than they realise in shaping what they remember of their lives.  The idea that the very act of remembering can cause forgetting is surprising, and could tell us more about selective memory and even self-deception.”

Dr Maria Wimber from the University of Birmingham added: “Forgetting is often viewed as a negative thing, but of course, it can be incredibly useful when trying to overcome a negative memory from our past. So there are opportunities for this to be applied in areas to really help people.”

The team note that their findings may have implications for the judicial process, for example, in eyewitness testimonies. When a witness is asked to recall specific information about an event and is quizzed time and time again, it could well be to the detriment of associated memories, giving the impression that their memory is sketchy.

Studying the neural basis of forgetting has proven challenging in the past because the ’engram’ – the unique neural fingerprint that an experience leaves in our memory – has been difficult to pinpoint in brain activity. By capitalising on the relationship between perception and memory, the study detected neural activity caused by the activation of individual memories, giving a unique window into the invisible neurocognitive processes triggered when a reminder recapitulates several competing memories.

Adapted from a press release by the Medical Research Council.

Wimber, M et al.  Retrieval induces adaptive forgetting of competing memories via cortical pattern suppression.  Nature Neuroscience; 16 March 2015

via Recalling memories may make us forget | University of Cambridge