Author Archives: lkaestne

Forget Remembering!

Retrieval can mess up all sorts of things. The retrieval of a story can affect what you will continue to remember and what you’re likely to forget. It’s simple, imagine: You’re sitting around a table with your best friends after having finished your meal, sipping your drinks and just talking. You decide to share a story, we make more decisions then we realize at that moment. You can’t possibly share every detail, you may have a complex mental image of the harbor you wish to describe, but you can’t mention every house, every seagull, every wave, footpath… You see where I’m going here? The story you choose to share becomes your tellable “That Day We Saw a Whale in the Harbor” story in your head. Retrieval allows your memory to be altered by new information. If you learn new information after you retrieve your old information, you are more likely to misremember or remember fewer details of your story. Remarkably it affects similar types of memories. Forgetting Our Personal Past: Socially Shared Retrieval-Induced Forgetting of Autobiographical Memories. Charles B Stone, Amanda Barnier, John Sutton, and William Hirst.

The same happens, of course, if someone else tells the same story. Your Significant Other came too, and they’re sitting next to you and both of you aren’t mentioning something. You two had a big fight day 1 and there was a terrible tension the rest of the time. You decided that you really don’t travel well together but you’ve been leaving that part out (why would you tell people anyway?). Every time you don’t mention it you start to forget it, in fact, you might mention how much you liked spending that time together and that you’re actually pretty compatible traveling partners

Hilariously, (at least I think it is), I use this on myself to convince me to do things, experiments you might say. One of which is that I don’t like popcorn, I’ve been saying that for years now, it wasn’t true at first, but right now I consider it to be true. I imagine if I eat it, I might like it, but the memory and information I have regarding it is “I don’t like it”. I also did that in order to lie to my parents, I found out that if I told them that I didn’t take the candy enough times, I’ll actually believe it myself. I remember when it first happened, I was sitting on the floor of my room and I had been thinking in my head that I hadn’t done it and suddenly I realized that I actually believed myself. At that point lying was easy, I really hadn’t done it. Really! (Oh, and don’t tell my parents)

Speaking of which, this is sort of a side note: People, watch what you say. If you say it enough, you’ll believe it. Self-deprecating remarks and too much playful insulting to your friends can lead to true belief in what’s being said.

This forgetting has to do with the cues used to retrieve the memory, so other memories associated with the same cue as the memory recalled are in danger. You might forget that trip to another harbor. This may be due to the new strength that the story you just told’s neural pathway has, sharing is apparently not caring.

This really disturbs me, personally. So we traveled all over the world, this stopped at college for me and so it’s all stored in my long-term memory. I love telling stories about things that have happened and I treasure my memories (especially since I’m not adding anything remarkable nowadays), but I have a horrible memory and have always worried I might lose thing. In fact, I actively tried to go over as many things from different places as I can, wanting to renew the memories so to speak. What have I cut out of my life from doing this?!

P.S. I’ve been trying to remember a personal experience of a time where my family or I added something to a story and then we just adopted it. There is one, and this is not me misremembering (but then I wouldn’t know, would I?) and it’s driving me nuts that I can’t think of it. I remember them saying it and my sister and I both looked at my parents who’d said it, but after that it was just a part of the story.

Explicit vs. Implicit Second Language Acquisition

We’ve all heard and accepted that the best way to learn languages is to immerse yourself in them, having grown up with parents always learning one language or another I’ve never doubted that. The question that never occurred to me is; why?

One possible contributing factor is the type of memory engaged when learning a new language in a classroom vs a real world setting. When learning definitions, verb tenses and composing sentences we are using explicit memory, conscious memory. The type of memory where you find yourself digging through your heading looking for a word or recalling how to conjugate a verb. This is as opposed to implicit memory, that which is below our conscious awareness. When a friend greets you in the morning in your native tongue it takes no thought at all to put together a response. In a classroom setting you are able to think and dwell on what and how you are going to say, but that’s not realistic. In the middle of a conversation time will not stop to allow you to go sifting through your word bank in order to respond, it has to be natural. To get by you have to learn and store the information implicitly.

There are more reasons that learning languages ‘in the wild’ is more beneficial then in a classroom setting, but this information alone interests me greatly in how I’ve seen it played out in my own life. I lived in Guatemala in 3rd grade and while there was fluent in Spanish, then I left and moved 5 more times until now. First to a place where they spoke Portuguese, then English, then Arabic, then Hindi and then English again. Now I’m back to learning Spanish, but this time only in a classroom and I’m finding the most interesting interplay between being able to say pretty much whatever I want except that I don’t have the vocabulary and sometimes I’ll just naturally use a wrong verb tense. The words just spew out of me like I know what I’m doing, it skips my consciousness the way that English does except for when I trip up on a word. I never had a great explanation for why that would be, but this article has finally accounted for it. When I learned Spanish originally as a child in Guatemala, it was stored to be dragged out at random from my implicit memory, but now I try to add on the details explicitly and hopefully be able to incorporate the new information in my implicit memory so I can use it naturally again.
In 1976 Dr. A. S. Reber conducted an experiment where he had subjects memorize letter strings dictated by an artificial grammar. In the course of study the participants were able to recognize letter strings which did and and those that did not belong to this synthetic grammar, though none of them could explain their reasoning. This perfectly explains how I know what I want to say sounds like but can’t necessarily find all the words for all the blanks! I learned the grammar of Spanish implicitly though exposure.  There is so much more here for me to read, to say that I scratched the surface with that I first found is amazingly simplified. I’m definitely going to come up with study tips for second languages once I’ve read more!

The article that started it:

The book that will end it:

Leow, R. P., & Sanz, C. (2010). Implicit and Explicit Language Learning : Conditions, Processes, and Knowledge in SLA and Bilingualism. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

For UMW students, this link should get you to the full text that I’ll be reading: