Author Archives: arunk

Where did I park again??

We’ve all done it. In fact, I did it just last week. When walking to my car after class, I got to the space on College Avenue where I had parked earlier that morning, and it was gone. After a brief moment of panicking and wondering if I had parked illegally and been towed, I realized that the reason my car wasn’t there was because I had parked it further down the street and forgotten. Why would I have thought that my car was parked in one place instead of another? Simple: Proactive Interference.

Proactive Interference refers to the inability to remember new information due to interference by old information. In this case, I was unable to remember where I had parked my car because old information about where I had parked it previously was interfering. Not being able to find my car is just one of many instances where proactive interference can occur. Ever try to get into a new locker using last year’s code? Or have you ever had difficulty remembering when your appointment for next week is because you can only recall this week’s appointment time?Proactive interference is prevalent in our day to day lives, and while it isn’t necessarily harmful, it can be a nuisance. For me, it meant having to walk the other direction clear to the other end of College Ave., making me late for meeting a friend.


So how do we overcome this problem? Research published in 2010 found that individuals who have prior experience with proactive interference and were given feedback have the best chance of overcoming it later on. For one experiment, participants were split into two groups. Both groups were given practice rounds for learning word pairs. Each were then asked to recall the proper word pairs and give a confidence estimate about how correct they believed they were. The first groups received no corrective feedback following the confidence rating and was immediately given a new word pair. The second group, however, received corrective feedback after each confidence rating. At the end of the first round, the second group was told how many total ‘points’ they had earned for that round before moving on to round two.

The group that received corrective feedback and was told their point total was able to more effectively avoid problems with proactive interference – even when the task difficulty was upped in a second experiment! So what does this mean for us? While we don’t live in a lab situation where someone can give us corrective feedback 24/7, we can be more conscious in situations we know this tends to happen in. For me, I now make an effort whenever I park in the morning or  re-park in the afternoon to take note of exactly where I parked so I’m not just going off old information later.

Research can be found at:



Can you draw the Apple Logo from memory?

In class, we discussed a study conducted in 1979 that examined whether or not people would be able to correctly identify the most accurate version of a penny when shown a series of similar but slightly different pennies. In this particular study, it was found that people were unable to correctly pick out the real penny despite it being an object they saw frequently in their day to day life. These findings were important in establishing the importance of active encoding in successful memory retrieval, suggesting that work must be done in order for something to be stored in your memory, even if that object is in frequently in front of you.

While obviously compelling, these findings left me with some questions after lecture. Sure, the penny is something people see quite frequently, but it’s also a pretty detailed piece of currency. It wasn’t designed to be easily memorized, only to be distinct from other coins and currency, so is it all that surprising that we aren’t able to recall exactly which way Lincoln is facing? What about things we see everyday that are meant to be remembered? Are things that are simple and designed specifically to be recognizable and memorable any easier to recall without active encoding?

... pres/White_Collaborators_Judy/Collaborators logos/Industry/Apple logo

Thanks to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, which was recently reported on by Buzzfeed, those questions and some have now been answered. Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium asked 85 participants to draw the apple logo from memory. They then had those participants identify the true Apple logo from a series of similar, but slightly different, versions of the famous logo. Like the penny study, majority of the participants were unable to accurately identify the correct logo from the options given, supporting the idea that active encoding is necessary for successful retrieval later on.

More than half of the 85 students who took this test as part of research conducted by a team from University of California, Los Angeles, got it wrong.

What was interesting about this study were the additional conclusions drawn by the researchers. While the Buzzfeed article stated that the experimenters believed their results stemmed from the fact that people might not bother to remember the logo because it’s so prevelant that we have no need to do so, the original study discusses it’s findings in slightly different terms. As we learned in class, people often use schemas to fill in missing information. Researcher’s in this particular case believe, based on the drawings done by participants, that people used their schema of what an ideal apple logo should look like (e.g. apple shape, stem) instead on relying of their actual memory of the logo, resulting in recall errors.  Even in cases where the logo is simple, in your face almost daily, and designed to be remembered, it is still possible to have an inaccurate idea of what something looks like.


Mental Time Travel


Science Daily recently posted an article covering the findings of new memory model coming out of Vanderbilt University. The study focused on the way in which the brain processes our most elaborate, detailed, and vivid memories. Dubbed ‘Mental Time Travel,’ these memories are often so detailed that we are able to recall such an extreme amount of detail, such as smells, sights, and sounds, and it feels as though we are not only remembering, but traveling back in time to when the event took place. The researchers at Vanderbilt, which houses one of the Nation’s leading memory labs, were inspired by the desire to have a better understanding of what processes our brain utilizes when searching through our memories. More specifically, they were interested in the underlying processes that determined the fidelity, or accuracy, of a given memory.

Through their research they identified two key areas of the Medial Temporal Lobe, which is known to play a substantial role in memory, that provided a glimpse into the memory processes of the brain. Their data suggests that activity in the anterior region of the MTL signals when a memory is being retrieved, but does not provide information regarding the fidelity of that memory. On the other hand, activation of the posterior region of the MTL predicted retrieval of a high fidelity, or time travel, memory. Researchers presented participants with a random word list and requested them to answer questions pertaining to the words to ensure that they paid attention to each word. These words lists were given while the participant was located in a fMRI scanner in order to collect scans of brain activity during the task. They were then asked to recall the list of words in the order that they came naturally to the participant.

Gray726_temporal_lobeCombining the brain scans with a model previously developed by the same research team, they were able to have a more accurate and reliable model that could better predict the order in which a participant recalled the list of words. Their findings indicated that participants who displayed brain activity in the posterior region (high fidelity) of the MTL when recalling a word were more likely to recall the word that was presented next on the list. For example, if the list order went “Horse, shoe, tennis, lion, hat” someone showing activity in this region would likely recall “horse” then “shoe.” On the other hand, people who displayed activity in the anterior region of the MTL (low fidelity) when doing recall may choose their next word from anywhere in the list, meaning they might say something like “horse, lion.”

These findings suggest that the brain uses what the researchers called a ‘temporal code’ to stamp memories. The brain is more easily able to recall memories that are higher in fidelity (the time travel memories) because they have these codes attached, and in turn the nearby memories, such as the next word on the list, are also more accessible to the individual. They described the process as similar to they way in which a computer is able to retrieve information when given a date and time to search for. When a memory is strong, like the time travel memories, the brain is able to search for and retrieve both those exact memories and memories of things that were nearby at the time of encoding simply because of the extensive amount of connections that time travel memories have made with nearby information.

I thought this study was really relevant with class discussion this past week as we have focused on the ways in which our memory systems work to encode and recall information. I think these are really interesting findings that help not only to form a link between brain areas and cognitive functions but they also demonstrate how our brains are working to encode that information in the first place. The original media article describing this research can be found here at Vanderbilt’s website.


The Mozart Effect

It is likely safe to assume that at one point or another, you have heard someone say something along the lines of “having your child listen to classical music will make them smarter.” Dubbed the “Mozart Effect,” the theory goes that children who are exposed to classical music at an early age will perform better than their peers on tests of cognition and intelligence. So prevalent is popular culture’s belief in this phenomenon that several states, including Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee set aside funding to ensure that all newborns and families with young children have access to classical music. Entire product lines toting CD’s and books that expose young children to the music of Mozart and other popular classical musicians have even been created and successfully sold across the country, and although the myth has now been debunked, article after article has been written praising the supposed cognitive benefits for children and many still accept the claims as absolute truth.

While the idea that listening to classical music increases intelligence may seem believable at first glance, there is no scientific evidence to support it. The acceptance of the myth in popular culture can be traced back to a study conducted at the University of California in 1993 that concluded students who were exposed to ten minutes of classical music prior to completing a spatial task performed better than students who listened to nothing before completing the same task. One look at the original article makes it obvious that the reported findings do not in any way support the claims that millions have made regarding this phenomenon and is an interesting example of how scientific findings are often misrepresented in media in order to make for a more interesting article.

To start, the original study recruited 36 college aged participants, not young children, to participate in their study. The students were asked to complete mental tasks on three separate occasions. Each time, they were either primed with ten minutes of silence, ten minutes of a relaxation tape, or ten minutes of Mozart. Of the tasks completed, those students who were primed with Mozart performed better overall on a task of spatial manipulation. The effect, however, was only found to last about 15 minutes. The paper did not once reference the term “The Mozart Effect” nor did it claim that classical music increased overall intelligence. Follow up research done exclusively on children also failed to yield any results that would suggest a lasting and significant impact of classical music on intelligence.

I found this topic really interesting primarily because such a widespread and popular belief was spread on such a shaky foundation. Anyone who bothered to look at the original research could have seen that the claims were unfounded, yet people chose to report the version of the findings they felt were most interesting and profitable. It’s obvious that a large group of people went on, and likely still are, to make enormous profits selling the public on an unsupported “quick fix” to making their children smarter, in turn perpetuating and spreading unsubstantiated myths regarding the nature of cognition and intelligence.