Posts Tagged ‘memory’


Photo: Newshub
Sans Forgetica is a typeface meant to aid memory. It was invented by researchers at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.

There’s a new memory-boosting font that you can download for free and use for short texts. The inventors say you wouldn’t want to use it for long texts like a novel because it would give you a headache. But I say, what good is a typeface if you can’t read novels with it?

Lisa Martin writes at the Guardian, “Australian researchers say they have developed a new tool that could help students cramming for exams – a font that helps the reader remember information.

“Melbourne-based RMIT University’s behavioural business lab and design school teamed up to create ‘Sans Forgetica,’ which they say uses psychological and design theories to aid memory retention.

“About 400 university students have been involved in a study that found a small increase in the amount participants remembered – 57% of text written in Sans Forgetica compared with 50% in a plain Arial.

“Typography lecturer Stephen Banham said the font had an unusual seven-degree back slant to the left and gaps in each letter.

“ ‘The mind will naturally seek to complete those shapes and so by doing that it slows the reading and triggers memory,’ Banham told the Guardian.

“Senior marketing lecturer Janneke Blijlevens said the concept of ‘desirable difficulty’ underpinned the font’s design. …

“The font was designed with year 12 students cramming for exams in mind but could also be used to help people studying foreign languages and elderly people grappling with memory loss.” More at the Guardian, here.

I can see that having to work harder to read something may cause memory to fire on more burners, but when I was a kid, a friend who purported to analyze handwriting told me that broken letters like this indicated a criminal mind!

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Credit: Tjflex2/Flickr
Inside the pupa (or chrysalis), the caterpillar actually turns to liquid during metamorphosis. Despite such an extreme transformation, the butterfly or moth can retain learning from its caterpillar days.

Do you remember being a newborn? I don’t think our species is capable of that kind of remembering. What about other species? Recent research suggests that butterflies have a kind of muscle memory from the good old days of their caterpillar-hood.

An article from Curious Kids — a series that gets experts to answer questions that kids send in — has the scoop. Evan, age 5, asked the question.

“We have caterpillars at home. I would like to know whether they will remember being caterpillars when they are butterflies.”

“Dear Evan,

“I think it is highly unlikely that a butterfly or moth remembers being a caterpillar. However, it may well remember some experiences it learned as a caterpillar.

“That fact in itself is especially amazing because inside the pupa (or chrysalis), the caterpillar actually turns to liquid as it transforms into a butterfly or moth (the adult stage).

“The transformation from the pupa to the adult is the most dramatic change in the life cycle of a butterfly, and scientists refer to this change as metamorphosis. During metamorphosis, the body tissues of the caterpillar are completely reorganised to produce the beautiful adult butterfly that emerges from the pupa.

“Scientists have known for a long time that caterpillars can learn and remember things when they are caterpillars, and adult butterflies can do the same when they are butterflies. However, because of metamorphosis, we were not sure if an adult butterfly could remember things it learned as a caterpillar.

“This ability to remember caterpillar experiences as an adult was tested in a study by a team of scientists at Georgetown University in the US.

“The researchers trained the caterpillars to dislike the smell of ethyl acetate, a chemical often found in nail polish remover. They did this by giving the caterpillars little electric shocks every time they smelled the chemical. Soon, these caterpillars were trained to avoid that smell because it reminded them of the electric shock.

“They let the caterpillars transform into adult moths, and then tested the moths again to see if they still remembered to stay away from the ethyl acetate smell.

“And guess what? Most of them did! The scientists had shown that the memories of avoiding the bad smell experienced as a caterpillar had been carried over into the moth stage. …

“Thank you for sending in this very interesting question.

“Yours sincerely,

“A/Prof Michael F. Braby”

More at the Conversation, here.

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Photo: Richard Saker for the Guardian
“Oh, this is fun. I feel as if I’m at the party.” Seniors fighting off dementia benefit from Wayback Virtual Reality.

I often think I overdid it in early 2000 repeating myself over and over to encourage an impaired relative to remember her childhood, but an article by Giulia Rhodes in the Guardian suggests that stirring up old memories can indeed be helpful to seniors with dementia.

“In a comfortable armchair, glass of sherry at her side,” writes Rhodes, “Elspeth Ford is getting to grips with her 3D goggles. …

“Elspeth, 79, is a resident at Langham Court, a dementia care home in Surrey, and today she is trialling a virtual reality project, Wayback, that has been designed especially for those living with dementia. Peering into her headset, Elspeth is temporarily transported to 2 June 1953, and a street party for the Queen’s coronation. She is enjoying a children’s fancy-dress competition. ‘I love that boy dressed as an Oxo cube,’ she laughs.

“This is the first in what will become a series of virtual reality films set at historic moments, and available free for those with dementia, their families and carers to enjoy together through a mobile phone and a pair of inexpensive 3D goggles. The idea was developed by three advertising creatives with family experience of dementia.

“For Camilla Ford, Elspeth’s daughter, it is an exciting concept. ‘It gave Mum a huge amount of pleasure and really engaged her,’ she says. … ‘She was immersed in this and it took her back to a time of happy memories, when she was productive and emotionally fulfilled.’

“Elspeth has had vascular dementia for seven years, and finding a point of contact increasingly involves moving to where she is, rather than trying to bring her into the present, says Camilla. ‘If she is in a place she can identify with, and we can see it too, we are somehow equalised. We are at a stage where we aren’t trying to create memories but to relish positive emotions, dropping the expectation of who Mum was and just being with the person in front of us.’

“Elspeth sets off for lunch with her son Dominic, still smiling. It is unlikely, says Camilla, that her mother will remember what has made her feel happy. ‘The point is that she feels uplifted, not necessarily that she knows why.’

“Dan Cole, one of Wayback’s creators, agrees. ‘If the film can open some memories, start a conversation or bring a smile, that’s a success,’ he says. The idea began to form after a drive around Camden, north London, with his father, then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. ‘It was his old stomping ground and he kept recognising places and telling me little tales; the pub his dad drank in, where he hung about with his mates, even an alley where he once got into a scrap,’ says Dan. ‘In that fleeting moment it was so clear in his mind. I could ask questions. He could tell me things.’ …

“The resulting film was made over two days in a north-London street (satellite dishes and other modern trappings digitally removed) with a volunteer cast and crew of 187 and painstakingly sourced period props, costumes and menu (fish-paste sandwiches, notes one Langham Court resident approvingly). …

“Langham Court’s philosophy is based on the Butterfly Household model, devised by Dr David Sheard, a dementia specialist and CEO of Dementia Care Matters, who is supporting Wayback. ‘People living with dementia become more feeling beings than thinking beings,’ he says. ‘Feelings endure and are more to be trusted when facts diminish.’ ”


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Here is Suzanne the one year we cut our own tree. I think she had the most fun of the four of us. The thermos had hot chocolate.

We set our sights on smaller trees nowadays, and my husband just put this year’s in the stand. I’ve been gearing up to decorate, first looking through the ornaments. It’s like greeting old friends after a year. Some of them are very familiar and beloved, but I can’t remember their stories. Here are a few whose stories I do remember.

The big red one on the lower step: from the Crafts for Christmas class I took the year we were married. Amazing what you can do cutting up egg cartons!

The sparkly tear-drop shape and the doorknob cover: from the church’s craft workshop when John and Suzanne were young. The angel with sequins: made by Aunt Mae in her 90s. She also made the smiling snowman backed by a green star and many other items — in secret, to surprise everyone. The round milk-bottle-cap ornament: don’t get me started now on highly educated women with no occupation spending their time on that. But I like to think of the woman who made it, with sympathy.

The soldier with John’s name on it: that was a gift from Aunt Peggy.

The Esperanto green star: from a friend in my Esperanto group. The two crocheted Chinese dolls: from a trip to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake when Suzanne was about 1. My husband went to see a Shaw play while I babysat. I went to see hilarious concert comedienne Anna Russell while he babysat.

The bear: John was 3, and I was spending considerable time in graduate classes. John insisted my husband make a bear ornament just like that one out of cardboard. We have that too, somewhere. It doesn’t look just like that one, but we love it.

The Clymers brought the saddle from a trip to South America. John stitched the cross-stitch tree at a ridiculously young age (3? 4?).

The see-through snowball: a gift at DeAnna’s December wedding to Mairtin at the Peabody-Essex Museum.



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Sometimes it’s hard to remember the details of what I did last week, or even today. If it’s a question of work, I can review my calendar, the e-mails I sent, or see what I checked off my checklist.

But the things that seem important and keep popping up in my head are shreds of conversations the details of which I can’t always remember. Who said that to me? And where? Was it in the hallway, the ladies room, the cafeteria, walking into the building, waiting to go through the security line? Was it someone I see a lot? A stranger at a food truck?

My new project is to do a better job of holding on to these brief but significant interactions.

One day, as I approached the cafeteria with a colleague, I asked if he went to his vacation home at this time of year. He said, “No. I rented it for the summer, and a new tenant is coming in for the winter. I had to remortgage it to pay for my mother’s care. She had Alzheimer’s.”

The woman in the office across the hall mentioned the supermoon and eclipse: “At first I thought it would be something huge and orange. We were going to make an event, take a blanket and a thermos to the beach and watch it from there. But after reading about it online, we scaled back our expectations about huge and orange and were happy watching from the front yard.”

Coming into the building with my lunch, I met another woman coming out. We hadn’t seen each other for weeks and stopped to chat. I admired her earrings. She said they were from the Rhode Island School of Design and told me her son just started grad school there. We talked about the wonderful craft sales RISD has, and I said I especially like the one where they block off several streets sometime around Mother’s Day.

Going home on the train, I sat next to a co-worker who had been strung out with anxiety about her only child, six months old, who had a fierce case of croup that got her hospitalized for a whole weekend. My colleague thought the baby was starting to pull out of it. As she talked about how cheerful the little girl is and how much she loves to carry her in the baby carrier next to her chest, the subway car seemed to fill with love and lift toward the heavens.


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In case you missed it, there’s a new movie about using elderly people’s favorite music to call them back from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The website for Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory says the movie is an “exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music.”

The documentary follows “social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’).”

At the Washington Post, Michael Sullivan writes, “The benefits of music to enliven and awaken the senses are not limited to those with dementia. ‘Alive Inside’ also focuses on a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and on a man with multiple sclerosis. The scenes in which they and others are shown listening to music that has personal meaning are absolutely joyous, but they also might move you to tears.

“As the movie makes clear, none of these conditions are reversible. Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.” More.

Hmmm. It seems that in addition to making wills, we should all be writing lists of the music that we have enjoyed in our lives so that people know what to play. Should I go with “Swan Lake” and “The New World Symphony” or “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Mary’s Boychild”? Or how about the Platters and Elvis and Nina Simone and Edif Piaf or musicals like Nine and Chess. Anything in a minor key.

I haven’t even scratched the surface.

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Even when I take my walk in the house on a bad day in winter, I find that walking helps me think. My pace indoors or out is not very energetic, but I like that all sorts of ideas and memories pop into my head as I walk.

At the NY Times blog called “Well,” Gretchen Reynolds describes new research that ties walking to creativity.

“A brief stroll, even around your office, can significantly increase creativity, according to a handy new study. Most of us have heard by now that exercise, including walking, generally improves thinking skills, both immediately and in the longer term. …

“Similarly, exercise has long been linked anecdotally to creativity. For millenniums, writers and artists have said that they develop their best ideas during a walk …

“Researchers at Stanford University recently decided to test that possibility, inspired, in part, by their own strolls. ‘My adviser and I would go for walks’ to discuss thesis topics, said Marily Oppezzo, at the time a graduate student at Stanford. ‘And one day I thought: “Well, what about this? What about walking and whether it really has an effect on creativity?” ‘

“With the enthusiastic support of her adviser, Daniel Schwartz, a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Dr. Oppezzo [gathered] her volunteers in a deliberately dull, unadorned room equipped with only a desk and (somewhat unusually) a treadmill, Dr. Oppezzo asked the students to sit and complete tests of creativity … Then the participants walked on the treadmill, at an easy, self-selected pace that felt comfortable. The treadmill faced a blank wall. While walking, each student repeated the creativity tests, which required about eight minutes.

“For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked.”

The study was published this month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

 More here, where Reynolds notes that there was no difference when the volunteers walked outdoors instead of on a treadmill.

Embed from Getty Images

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou never know what you’ll find at Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Today he notes research on the memory of toddlers. A new study has demonstrated that three-year-olds have memories of  seeing someone once, back when they were one.

Danish researcher Osman “Kingo and his team first renewed contact with parents and their children who’d taken part in an earlier study when the children were age one. That earlier research involved the infant children interacting with one of two researchers for 45 minutes – either a Scandinavian-Caucasian man or a Scandinavian-African man.

“Now two years on, 50 of these parents and children – the latter now aged three – were invited back to the exact same lab (hopefully cueing their earlier memories). Here the children were shown two simultaneous 45-second videos side by side. One video was a recording of the researcher – either the Scandinavian-Caucasian or Scandinavian-African man – interacting with them two years earlier; the other video showed the other researcher (the one they hadn’t met) interacting with a different child in the exact same way. …

“The children spent significantly more time looking at the video that featured the researcher they’d never met. … This result provides strong evidence that the children had some recognition of the researcher they’d met, and were drawn more strongly to look at the unfamiliar researcher.”

More at Andrew Sullivan, here, and at Research Digest at the British Psychological Society, here.

I am especially delighted that there’s a bit of proof for what I have long insisted was true. (No one ever believes that I remember taking my first steps.)

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I grew up with stories about elephant memories and how elephants held grudges. “If you give an elephant a stone instead of a peanut when you are little, he’ll get even next time he sees you, even years later.”

Now Megan Garber at The Atlantic says dolphins’ memories top all other animals’.

“Dolphins, it turns out, have the longest social memories of any species besides humans. And we’re learning more and more about how lengthy those memories can actually be.

“The researcher Jason Bruck, a biologist at the University of Chicago, wanted to test whether bottlenose dolphins in particular can, indeed, remember each other after a long stretch of separation. So he took advantage of something else about dolphins: the fact that they seem to have something like names. Sometime between their first 4 months and their first year of life, dolphins will develop a distinct whistle — one that will remain the same for the rest of its life. According to research published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dolphins use these whistles in pretty much the same way we humans use names: as ways both to identify themselves and to call each other. …

“While it’s unclear what his findings might mean about dolphins’ memories overall — he was testing name recognition, not circumstantial or emotional memories — there’s some reason to think that dolphins’ memories stretch beyond rote recognition itself.

“In tests that broadcast the signature whistles of ‘extremely dominant males,’ for example, Bruck found that females responded with ‘exceptional interest.’

” ‘There was also a lot of posturing from the males,’ Bruck noted. And ‘some young ones would just go ballistic.’

“In other words, dolphins may well have the capacity for relatively complex memories — memories that associate individuals with actions.”

Read all about it here.

Photo: eZeePics Studio/Shutterstock

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When I take down the tree, I like to allow myself time.

Time to unroll the strings of lights and re-roll them in tissue paper. Time to lift off the sparkly cobwebs of tinsel and store them in a basket for another day.

Time for the ornaments, nearly every one eliciting a memory of something.

The small wreath of green and red puff balls that Suzanne made in the First Parish craft workshop (attended by nearly every kid in town, regardless of religion). The cross-stitch embroidery John made with hardly any help at age 3 or 4. The fishing tackle box and the saxophone representing past interests. The smiley felt-and-sequin jobs that 90-something Aunt Mae kept secret until Christmas. The coffee grinder for my husband. The goofy red ornament that I made from egg cartons when I was first married. The bird-in-a-nest that is supposed to bring good luck. The Chinese doll I got at Niagara-on-the-Lake the year we took turns babysitting the kids in order to see shows at the G.B. Shaw festival. The frosty ball from DeAnna’s winter wedding. And my new “tradition,” quotations hung on a ribbon.

I am the only person who remembers the things I remember exactly the way I remember them; you are the only person who remembers the things you remember exactly the way you remember them.

taking the tree down


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I tend to think that our creativity comes from our memories, because no one who has ever been or ever will be has exactly the same collection of memories bouncing off one another in exactly the same way.

A recent NY Times science story on a successful artist who got viral encephalitis — and suffered damage to the part of the brain where memories form — doesn’t exactly contradict that view, but it sure raises a lot of questions.

“She is still able to make art, though it is simpler and more childlike than her professional work. Her case is rare, experts say, because few accomplished artists continue to create after sustaining severe brain damage.

“Now scientists at Johns Hopkins University hope Ms. Johnson can help them answer longstanding questions: What parts of the brain are needed for creativity? With little access to one’s life experience, how does an artist create?

“And as Michael McCloskey, a professor of cognitive science at Hopkins, put it, Ms. Johnson’s case ‘raises interesting questions about identity: Here you’ve lost an awful lot of what makes you who you are — what’s left for art?’ ” Read about her.

Although the artist doesn’t seem sad, I think it’s sad to lose memories. I want to keep mine — the bad with the good.

Enjoy this amazing Moray McLaren video about memory, called with irony “We Got Time.”

“Time is a memory
“And memories can make you sad
“With time still in front of me
“Oh we can get it back”

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