Author Archives: lmaches5

Can doodling improve memory and attention?

I have always been a doodler. For as long as I can remember my notebook pages have been covered in them. I honestly have no idea when or why I started doodling, it’s not like I sketch out masterpieces or anything and teachers are never happy to see you “distracted” during their lesson. However, i’ve found that doodling helps me stay engaged and focused, especially on days when I am seriously fighting to stay awake. Nevertheless, doodles have a bad rap in our culture and they are viewed as meaningless and distracting scribbles. Because of this, I have tried hard not to doodle as much, especially in college, I would never want my professors to feel disrespected!!

However, freshman year my digital storytelling professor showed us this TED talk by Sunni Brown. She argues that doodling shouldn’t be ousted from learning situations, in fact, she encourages it and thinks it helps us process the complex information we might be taking in. Not only did I feel like less of a delinquent after watching this, but it encouraged me to start doodling again, and I have definitely noticed a difference in the amount of information I retain from an in-class lecture.


Brown talks a little bit about a study in which people who were doodling while taking in information recalled at least 29% than those who did not. Of course I became more interested in the effects doodling might have on memory and after some further research, I found the infamous “Doodle Study.” The researchers contribute the beneficial effect of doodling to its ability to retain an individuals attention and therefore promote deep processing of information. As we have learned this semester, stimuli that are processed deeply are more likely to enter long-term memory.

Are our dreams influenced by memory?

Memory is fascinating and the more we’ve learned about it the more intrigued I became about its different functions. I was interested in the role, if any, our memory plays in in the formation and recall of our dreams. More specifically, I wondered if in the same way we have flashbulb memories, we could have “flashbulb dreams.” This blog post is more about me exploring ideas and connections rather than providing concrete answers, so proceed with that in mind.

As we’ve learned this semester, flashbulb memories are vivid, detailed memories of a situation which are often highly emotional. These are the instances we can draw to mind immediately and the details of which we recall enthusiastically and automatically, from start to finish. However, we also established that flashbulb memories are not always accurate. After learning specifically about these, I then began to think about this concept and how it might relate to dreams. The reason being, there is a recurring dream I had as a kid, every detail of which I remember down to a tee. I began to question whether I actually ever had the dream at all. What kind of relationship exists between recurring dreams and our memories?

Obviously, there are a million different theories about dreams and their meanings, but because of limited research, they are a still a mystery. There does however seem to be some correlation between memory and dreams. Even on a very practical level, sometimes we remember them, sometimes we don’t.  Dr. Patrick McNamara, a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine, evaluated the cognitive processes involved however, and theorized that brain mechanisms that mediate memory processing might also produce cognitive contents that reflect or participate in that memory processing, however, there is no clear data to support this. Researchers have found memory fragments in both the REM and NREM cycles, but because memory fragments are also found in waking consciousness, we can’t determine how significant they actually are. Then again, since memory fragments are necessary in most cognitive processes, it would be strange if none were found in dream cycles.

As we can gather, this topic is confusing and complex. However, a theory proposed by Professor Sue Llewellyn at the University of Manchester has attempted to clarify the role of memory processing in dreams. Llewellyn proposed that dreams play a key role in elaborative encoding of episodic memory, the collections of our own autobiographical events that we explicitly remember, during rapid eye movement (REM) dreaming.  Her theory predicts that cognitive platforms for memory encoding are established during REM-NREM sleep cycles and that a REM dream scene is retained by the hippocampus, which plays an important role it the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory. Her theory is much more complex, but it does suggest that episodic memory encoding must in some sense depend upon dreams.

So, this research fed my curiosity to an extent… There obviously seems to be some correlation between memory processing and dreams. There is still A LOT of research to be done in this field and I don’t think i’ll ever know if that recurring dream I had as a kid was real or just something I thought I dreamt. I’ll be looking out for some research on “flashbulbs dreams.”

Why are we so bad at remembering names?

I’m sure it’s happened to us all… You’re at an event or walking down the street when you see someone you recognize smiling and waving enthusiastically. They start towards you; you panic. They clearly know who you are because they are confidently coming your way, but for the life of you, you can’t remember what their name is!!! If you’re lucky, you can get through the conversation without mentioning either one of your names, however, some of us have also experienced the awkward moment when you call them by the wrong name or just completely blank all together.

This has happened to me on several occasions, as I am a volunteer leader for a youth ministry and am constantly meeting new students! It’s really important that I am able to remember their names because I’m always interacting with them, but also, it sucks when someone forgets your name. I feel like the worst human as they run up to give me a hug and I can’t even remember their names. I’ve tried so many times to come up with little ways to put faces with names, but sometimes even the tricks fail me.


Scenarios such as these are not only completely humiliating but also beg the question: Why are we so bad at remembering names?!


It turns out, our brains are far more capable of picking up and storing visual data, like a face, than they are storing names. E. Clea Warburton, a cognitive neuroscientist from the University of Bristol even pointed out that more of the brain’s cortex is devoted to processing visual information than for any of the other senses. Auditory information just isn’t as easily processed or stored in our brains. She also theorizes that is probably due to how our species developed evolutionarily. Before language was developed, socially dependent primates relied on sight to distinguish “people” they knew from those that could be potentially dangerous.


Additionally, our ability to recognize faces stems primarily from an area in our brain called the fusiform face area. However, names we associate with those faces don’t seem to be stored in the same place, therefore, the brain must perform an integration of the information, which as we know often fails… This process alone makes it extremely difficult to match names and faces. However, the ways in which we encounter faces and names also affect the way we remember them.


When we meet someone for the first time, we often hear their name for about a second or so, but are able to “study” their facial features for a longer period of time. Warburton also clarifies that our inability to remember names is not a memory problem but a matter of attention. If we are only exposed to someone’s name for a very short period of time, we haven’t been able to process the information. Therefore, we never stood a chance at storing the information, let alone, remembering the name later.


Knowing that biology and the mechanics of brain functioning are mostly to blame for my failure to remember student’s names makes me feel a bit better about myself. However, after being aware of this information I thought I ought to be able to come up with some tricks and tips for remembering names that are actually helpful.


So far, repeating someone’s name back to them after they have introduced themselves has been fairly successful as well as writing their names down after the event, if I can remember them, with a brief description. If you come up with anymore, please post them in the comments!



If You Can Raed Tihs, You Msut Be Raelly Smrat

As we were discussing object recognition and the role of feature detectors in class this past week, I instantly thought about my 8th grade English class and an activity my teacher, Mrs. Rupe, had asked us to complete. She put up a slide on the projector that read:


“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”


My classmates and I were all surprised to learn we could read the jumbled mess of words with almost no difficulty. Wow. This concept blew my mind at age 13 and gave my little ego a boost. Apparently, this brainteaser of sorts had been floating around via email amongst the teachers and Mrs. Rupe thought it would be a fun and interesting activity to share with the class. Obviously, our teacher wasn’t an expert in Cognition so the only information I knew about it from then until now was what was written in the text. However, as previously mentioned, this memory popped into my head during lecture this week and I began to wonder about the logistics.


After doing some research I found a couple articles with some pretty interesting information about this particular word scramble. According to there are some flaws in the above statement. Though we do read words as a whole instead of reading each individual letter, there was never actually a research study done at Cambridge to prove it! The original email was sent without any mention of Cambridge University, it was added somewhere down the line after The London Times interviewed a neuropsychologist about the phenomenon.


Matt Davis, a researcher at Cambridge University was interested in the origin of the email, likely because the “research study” was done at the University of his employment. In the article he confirms that no actual research was done at Cambridge (he works as a researcher for Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in Cambridge, UK, and a Medical Research Council unit that investigates how the brain processes language) As an expert on this subject matter, he was also interested in the evidence that supposedly backed claims made in the email. He points out a number of flaws and explains the research in an article on his web site.


He dubs the word scramble email an Internet meme and claims that though some of the ideas are true, it is generally incorrect. He then breaks it down line-by-line, addressing elements of relevant research on the role of letter order on reading.


The basic, “hypothesis” is that because we see words as a whole instead of letter by letter, the order of the letters doesn’t matter when we’re reading, just as long as the first and last letters are in their respective places. He easily debunks this idea with a series of examples that become progressively harder to read:


  • A vheclie epxledod at a plocie cehckipont near the UN haduqertares in Bagahdd on Mnoday kilinlg the bmober and an Irqai polcie offceir
  • Big ccunoil tax ineesacrs tihs yaer hvae seezueqd the inmcoes of mnay pneosenirs
  • A dootcr has aimttded the magltheuansr of a tageene ceacnr pintaet who deid aetfr a hatospil durg blender


He also elaborates on ways in which the authors might have manipulated the text to “enhance the desired effect and further prove its point.” Davis and his colleagues noted that the author used shorter, easier words when writing the email and most of the function words like (the, be, and, and you) remained unscrambled. One of the most significant “cheats” the author uses however, is what Davis calls transpositions of adjacent letters. (e.g. for “problem” -porbelm is easier to read than pborlem.)Davis further elaborates on these flaws and introduces a few more that were detrimental to the validity of the email.


Though we ultimately know that people do perceive words as whole, the order actually does matter. When you get down to the specifics, we aren’t as “smart” as we think we are, or at least as smart as I thought I was at 13…


After reading through all of Davis’ research, I feel like I’ve been duped. The word scramble was well intended and interesting, but was ultimately not very accurate.