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.
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
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
One of the most common student-related behaviours found in higher education is that of procrastination. Through my research at a sample of students at Birkbeck University of London, I’ve found that the problem with procrastination is not the behaviour itself; it’s the lack of self-control that is had around this type of behaviour. This view is heavily supported by current research in the field of self-control in the psychological sciences literature.
In this context, self-control means the regulation of one’s own behaviour, thoughts and emotions, in line with whatever goal one is working towards the achievement of. Procrastination in and of itself isn’t bad at all! What do I mean by this? Well, if you think about it, there are probably plenty of behaviours that a person should put off and never get around to doing.. if a smoker procrastinates smoking their next cigarette in order to quit, then that’s a great thing! Or putting off the eating of that cream cake might also be a useful thing to do! So, in this vein, maybe the reason people find it so hard to solve the riddle of procrastination, is down to the refusal to notice who is doing the behaviour in the first place, whilst using the excuse of a natural behaviour that is actually rather useful, in order to cover up some underlying reason that is the real motivation behind not achieving whatever it is that isn’t being achieved.
From my research in this area, I’ve found that the typical reasons that people put things off are quite obvious and simple
Don’t want to do it
Doing it feels like giving in to authority
Awful sense of time
Performing under pressure is all they know, so they replicate it again and again
So, instead of worrying about procrastination or wondering why you do it.. chill out, recognise that you just don’t want to do whatever it is and own it.. it doesn’t belong to anyone else.. and then make a decision about how badly you want the goal.