Author Archives: Kendra Ganser

Movie Review: Before I Go To Sleep

before i go to sleep

Before I Go To Sleep was a best-selling book written by S.J. Watson in 2011. As usually happens, the book was subsequently turned into a movie that was released in 2014. Nicole Kidman plays the main character, Christine Lucas, and her husband Ben is played by Colin Firth. In the vein of most other movies with memory loss in them, Memento or 50 First Dates, there is a sense of frailty surrounding the main character. As the movie opens, Christine wakes up in bed next to a man she does not recognize. Once the man wakes up, he tells her that he is her husband. She gets scared and runs into the bathroom because she does not remember having a husband. In the bathroom, she sees a collage he has put up with bunches of pictures of their life together. As she goes about her daily life, she learns through bits and pieces that she has to gather every day that someone in her life is not who they seem.

We eventually learn that like in the movie Memento, Christine suffers from anterograde amnesia. She was brutally attacked and after a few blows to the head, lost her memory. She builds up memories every day, with help from a video she recorded herself with the help of her neurologist Dr. Nasch, only to lose her memories again when she wakes up each morning. Anterograde amnesia is one of the most common devices in a movie because of how mysterious it makes the person seem, however, there is one instance in which there is a factual discrepancy.

As we have learned in class, anterograde amnesia is the inability to form new memories after the accident or whatever caused the amnesia. However, long-term memories are often intact and someone’s ability to remember events that occurred before the accident are not usually impacted. Christine is not able to remember any of her past memories at all without the help of pictures. The reason I say that Christine suffers from anterograde amnesia is because rather spontaneously throughout the movie, she would suddenly “remember” flashes of certain people in her life. The whole thing becomes rather frustrating because Christine is relying on everyone else’s word as to who she is, much like Leonard in Memento. In my opinion, it feels like the director just allowed the past memories in to seep into the plot at unexplained moments to keep the story moving forward.

While it was not the worst movie of 2014 by any stretch of the imagination, I believe a movie such as Memento is much more engaging and by and large more factually correct. However, if you are looking for a relatively fast-paced psychological thriller (albeit, complete with many cliches), this might be a good Sunday afternoon movie to watch.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Imagine being in a terrible accident and ending up in a coma. Once awoken from this coma, you realize that you no longer speak in the accent that you grew up speaking. You spoke with an American accent before but now you sound British. Other people may think you are faking because to them there is no conceivable way your pattern of speech could change so dramatically. The doctor diagnoses you with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) but what exactly is it?

Foreign Accent Syndrome or FAS is a speech disorder which can be the result of brain injury, stroke, or sometimes unknown etiology. Speech timing, intonation, and tongue placement are all significantly altered so as to make the speaker sound like they have a foreign accent. Some speech changes that are caused by FAS include:

  • unusual intonation
  • consonant substitution, deletion, or distortion
  • voicing errors
  • trouble with consonant clusters
  • vowel distortions or prolongations

To listen to the differences between speech in a FAS patient before and after their injury, click here.

After reading all of this information, I was curious as to whether or not a native speaker would be able to recognize someone with this syndrome versus someone with the authentic accent. I researched and came upon a study that aimed to find the answer to that question. Dutch was the accent that was used in the study and it seemed that the native speakers of Dutch were unequivocally recognized by other native speakers and people with other foreign accents were correctly identified on the whole as being non-native speakers of Dutch.

However, to clarify, the “…speakers with Foreign Accent Syndrome, however, were in some sense perceived as foreign and in some sense as native by listeners, but not as foreign as speakers with a real foreign accent nor as native as real native speakers. These results are accounted for in terms of a misinterpretation of markers of speech pathology as markers regional affiliation.”

I found this to be a fascinating topic to research because it is definitely a cognitive deficit however with all that we do know about the brain, no one can conclusively say how it occurs in some people and yet not in others. Hopefully more research into this phenomenon will give doctors a better understanding of this frustrating syndrome.

Impacts of Technology: Digital Amnesia

Everyone uses technology in one form or another, from sending an email to a professor to posting on this blog. Although we enjoy the benefits and many uses of technology daily, we often don’t realize how technology can negatively impact the brain, memory, or our thought processes. I found this study particularly interesting in light of all the recent controversy surrounding “false” memories.

An article from the TechTimes, entitled, “Don’t Lie on Facebook, Other Social Networks. It causes ‘Digital Amnesia’” describes a phenomenon where an individual lies about personal details of their lives on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter but then end up essentially rewriting their own memories. This phenomenon which psychologists are calling “digital amnesia” is a result of anxiety, shame, or paranoia that some people feel about keeping up their social media image. This can cause memories that are stored to be less accurate and more conforming to a certain image. Alarmingly, the article notes that 68% of people said they “regularly lie, exaggerate, or embellish” when posting on social media with 1 in 10 people saying that the original memory of the event has known become skewed when trying to retrieve it. Unsurprisingly, the 18-24 age bracket is the group most affected by this phenomenon with 16% reporting “completely compromised memories.”

There has been only one study, “The effect of Twitter exposure on false memory information” that specifically looked at the effects of Twitter on autobiographical memory published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review in May 2014. However, this study was focused on whether or not Twitter could alter a person’s perception about real news events they saw while scrolling on their feed. The experiment was carried out where they showed “participants pictures that depicted a news story. Then they were shown false information about the images in a feed that either highly resembled a Twitter feed or one that did not at all. The confidence for correct information was similar across groups but confidence for suggested information was significantly lower when false information was presented in a Twitter format.” The results depicted that it is likely people will have trouble determining whether or not information is accurate on social media and incorrectly remembering what was accurate and what was not. They repeated this experiment using Facebook as well as information read from a book. Twitter prompted higher false memory rates than Facebook and information from a book.

I personally found this fascinating as this is something I see a lot on social media. Some people definitely have a tendency to recall or talk about things they’ve seen on social media without being sure the information is accurate and I find that scary. I personally take things I see on social media sites like Facebook at face-value until I can check another source. In an age where people enjoy sharing every little detail of their lives on social media, it may be a good idea to hold back and share only essential details to prevent “digital” amnesia.

Déjà Vu: Superstition or Science?

Imagine you are going out to dinner with friends. You have never been to this restaurant and this part of town is new to you but in the car on the way there you start to feel the unexplainable feeling that you have been in this part of town before. This may be quite confusing and even unsettling to you because you are certain that you have never been here before.

Almost everyone at some point in their life has probably experienced a moment of déjà vu. Déjà vu, French for “already seen,” is the unsettling feeling of having experienced a situation or having been to a place even when you know that you really haven’t. People usually shrug off déjà vu, thinking that it is just a weird phenomenon with no real cognitive basis. Recently however, cognitive psychologists are trying to make sense of déjà vu and what seems to trigger it. Applying this information in the future could be very important in providing solutions for memory impaired people.

In an article entitled, “The Neuroscience of Déjà Vu” published in Psychology Today, researchers propose certain theories about how they believe the phenomenon of déjà vu works. Apparently, around 60-70% of people have experienced it and it is most common among the age ranges 15-25. I find it particularly interesting that it is most common with people in a younger age bracket than with elderly people. Part of why it is so difficult for researchers to study people’s experiences with déjà vu is partially due to the rapid onset of the phenomenon and partially to how typically the phenomenon occurs in people with no previous underlying medical condition. Some researchers think that one of the causes of déjà vu is a so-called brain mismatch, essentially when there is a kind of mixup between sensory input and being able to recall memories. Memory works in a funny way, sometimes you are in the middle of the test and all the information you studied can suddenly just flow out of your head like you hadn’t studied at all. Other times, just the slight smell of something can bring back whole situations and memories from years ago.

When we think of déjà vu and memory in the aforementioned context, this theory makes sense. However, it does not explain why even if the particular situation seems familiar to us that it does not mean it has any familiar basis in long term memory. In this same vein of thought, there is another theory that there is a cursory glitch in the processes of long term memory and short term memory. This means that when we have déjà vu, there is a glitch where the current experience is in short term memory, somehow converts over, and is perceived to be a long term memory instead which would explain the lingering feeling of familiarity.

Recently, researchers have used epileptic patients in studies about déjà vu. They have discovered that in epileptic patients stimulation of the rhinal cortex by intracerebral electrodes has induced episodes of déjà vu. The rhinal cortex is the overall area of the brain that is responsible for episodic memory and sensory processing. The EEG signals from the rhinal cortices were analyzed in a French study that discovered that “simultaneous neural firing between rhinal cortices and the amygdala or hippocampus could induce déjà vu episodes in epileptic people through electrical stimulation.” Although the people in this study have an underlying medical condition (epilepsy), this provides additional insight into the belief that medial lobe structures may be what “triggers” an episode of déjà vu.

The connection to epilepsy and déjà vu seems to make the most sense. Although, a recent study set out to prove that the problem had nothing to do with an electrical glitch and more with our memory. A Smithsonian magazine article entitled “Wait, Have I Been Here Before? The Curious Case of Déjà Vu” highlights a much simpler explanation for the phenomenon. Anne Cleary, a cognitive psychology professor at Colorado State University, suggests that in a new setting or situation it may trigger a past memory similar to the current situation but our brain can simply just not recall it. The hallmark sense of familiarity in déjà vu she says is attributed to the fact that we are able to recall memories by the spatial configurations of the particular situation. When we are not able to recall the exact memory, that is how we are left with the feeling of familiarity.

In order to test her hypothesis, Cleary used the game The Sims to simulate two living spaces which were different in features but had the same layout. When the test subjects entered the second living space, they said they experienced déjà vu but could not pinpoint exactly why the two rooms seemed so familiar. Cleary noted that tip-of-the-tongue experiences were similar to what she was hypothesizing with déjà vu. For example, when you hear a song on the radio and know who sings it but the name of the artist is stuck on the tip of your tongue. Even though your brain may not immediately produce the exact information it is looking for, you get the feeling that you somehow know that exact information.

It is clear to see that even in the span of a year in which those two different studies were published, 2012 for the first study and 2013 for Cleary’s study, a lot was learned about this interesting phenomenon. There are many different theories and respective experiments that prove each theory or at least give it support so we may draw the conclusion that what causes déjà vu is a little bit of each theory. We may not understand how exactly it works for another couple months or even years but I agree with Cleary’s assertion that it definitely worth it to keep researching this particular aspect of the brain.