Category Archives: Social Media

These posts describe and review mentions of cognitive research in the media.

A Cogntive Review of “Memento”

Nobody in their right mind would ever accuse Hollywood of being a halfway decent source of scientific information. Understandably so, facts are twisted to service the plot, real science merges absurdly with pseudoscience, and the laws of physics are largely ignored as action heroes perform feats that defy gravity and logic. Which is completely fine- Hollywood is an entertainment business, and nobody comes to an action movie to gain a deeper understanding of the human brain. However, once in a while a movie will be both entertaining and surprisingly accurate.


Memento is a thriller that takes us inside the mind of Leonard Shelby, a hero suffering from amnesia as he single-mindedly pursues the man who killed his wife. Amnesia is great dramatic fodder for Hollywood, although its portrayal is usually improbable at best. Heroes are bopped on the head and wake up remembering nothing of their past- until another head trauma or plot convenience miraculously gives them back their memory. In most movies, amnesia is simply another plot device.


However, Memento is different. Unusual for Hollywood, the hero suffers from anterograde amnesia, where he remembers with perfect clarity his life before the attack that left his wife (in his recollection) dead and his brain damaged by blunt force trauma. However, Leonard cannot form any new memories, and spends the entirety of the movie in this state- leaving himself notes on his own body to give himself clues, and forgetting character reveals and betrayals midway through a scene. Several scenes show him frantically jotting down something important on a photograph before his amnesia forces him to forget. The film has a fragmented, twisty feel that actually does a lot of justice to real cases of anterograde amnesia.


In Latin, the word for “seahorse” is hippocampus. Located under the medial temporal lobe, the hippocampus is highly involved in long-term memory. It is hypothesized that the hippocampus serves as a “gateway” for new memories- they must travel through the hippocampus before being stored permanently as long-term memories in the brain. Damage to the hippocampus, whether by injury, infection, or chronic alcoholism (Korsakoff’s syndrome) can result in anterograde amnesia. Like in Memento, people with anterograde amnesia may be able to access old memories already laid down in long term storage. However, they will not be able to form new memories, due to failures in encoding and storage. A famous case of anterograde amnesia is patient H.M. – apparently an inspiration for the director of Memento.


Before he became a vigilante hunting down “John G”, Leonard was an insurance investigator. In light of his amnesia, it seems unlikely that Leonard would be able to maintain any of the new skills he learned hunting for John G. However, even this can have a cognitive basis. Research has shown that people with retrograde amnesia can retain their procedural memory, which is involved with learning skills and habits. This is because the hippocampus is not involved in procedural memory the same way it is involved in declarative, or autobiographical, memories.


On top of being a stellar movie in its own right, Memento has the additional value of being an atypically cognitively solid movie by Hollywood standards. In fact, the most improbable thing seems to be why Leonard wasn’t under hospital care or study, instead of being free to track down a rapist.


If you ask someone what their blood type is, a fundamental aspect of what their body is comprised of, odds are they might not know. However, if you ask them something important, like what their Zodiac sign is, they’ll answer with no hesitation. For example, I’ll be able to tell you that I’m a Leo without a second thought. Some people live under the false notion that their zodiac sign is a major determining factor in their overall personality, but could this be true? Is it possible that there are only 12 different types of personality in over 7 billion people? And is it likely that you’ll be having the exact same kind of day with 1/12th of the population based on an arbitrary assignment? According to horoscopes, yes, you and 1 in every 12 people will find love today in the place you least expect it.

But why do people believe that the cosmos have an effect on personality? There’s this thing called subjective validation which basically states that two completely unrelated events are connected because a relationship is demanded. In other words, we find a way to make our horoscope apply to us. This “relationship” between the stars and personalities was put to the test by psychologist Bertram Forer. He gave a “unique” personality assessment to a group of students based on  a personality exam that they took and asked them to rate the accuracy of their assessment on a scale from 0 to 5, 5 being the most accurate. The average score was 4.26/5, meaning that everyone thought their personality assessment accurately captured how they view themselves. But here comes the plot twist:

Every student’s “unique” result was actually the exact same one.

What Forer basically did is he took a line or two from each horoscope’s description and compiled them into a single paragraph. This is where subjective validation comes into play. Odds are, people paid more attention to the “hits” rather than the “misses” in this paragraph and tried to make the traits apply to them. This unique paragraph also consisted of a number of Barnum statements, or statements that could apply equally to anyone. For example, “you have a great desire to be liked by everyone around you.” Well yeah, I haven’t met anyone whose sole goal in life was to be hated by everyone in their life.

To further debunk the astrological myth, all you have to do is look around you. The 25% of people who rely on “compatibility” to find destiny’s one true love for them are living under the world’s greatest delusion. My best friend is a Sagittarius and I’m a Leo, so apparently we’re supposed to be enemies. My parents are also supposed to remain as friends. 40 years of marriage and 5 kids would all beg to differ. Does compatibility largely rely on personality? Of course it does! But does personality rely on the stars? Not at all. This is one of those moments where A = B but B C, so it should logically follow that A C.

But what are some of the factors that make horoscopes so convincing? First of all, the subject believes that the unique description of how their day/week/month/year/life will pan out applies only to them, hence the term unique. However, as I’ve said before, this “unique” description applies to 1 in every 12 people. This is where you have to keep in mind that snowflakes are the only things that are abundant yet still remain unique, unlike humans. What’s more, people tend to believe what’s being told to them if they’re being told by a veritable source of authority, such as a psychic with a turban, a crystal ball, and maybe some incense burning in the back room to set the mood. So with this divine being forecasting your future and your love life, of course there will be some sense of credibility to it. But again, this is where people tend to make their own self-fulfilling prophecies.

Another experiment was carried out by French astrologist, Michel Gauquelin. He provided readers of a French newspaper with a free horoscope so long as they provided feedback of the accuracy of the prediction. Lo and behold, over 90% of the readers said their prediction was accurate. This is where the next trick comes in: the horoscope was exactly the same for all readers, much like Forer’s experiment.

What’s more, personality may change but not as quickly as some people may think. In 2011, the planet underwent some slight realignment, which meant that the stars realigned as well and therefore changed everyone’s zodiac sign. I was a Leo before this change and apparently now I’m a Cancer (a change I refuse to accept because I liked being a lion and I don’t know how to feel about being demoted to a teeny little crab). But this means that everyone’s personalities will change as a result, making those who were introverted before relatively extroverted because their date of birth fell within a different range. Just because the signs changed, that doesn’t mean that personalities changed overnight.

So when determining your personality, don’t rely so much on horoscopes. Consult a psychological examination backed by a credible institution or just ask the people around you and obtain some Informant Data. Better yet, do some introspecting and ask yourself rather than the crystal ball.

Lucy: A film fascinated with the human brain

Many of you may have  seen in theaters or a glimpse on TV commercials the movie “Lucy” (Trailer for Lucy) that was released in theaters July 25th, 2014. I personally have not seen this movie but I have seen TV commercials and have watched the trailer for this movie and grasped a basic understanding of what the movie is about. The concept of this movie was that humans only use 10% of their brains capacity but in a rare case, this woman Lucy is able to go beyond that 10% and acquire certain skills that other humans can not retrieve in their brain.

If you did not know before, this claim that we only use 10% of our brain is a myth. Authors, producers, directors, and the media use anything they can to make an interesting film or book society will want to buy or pay to see. There have been tons of movies and books on the end of the world phenomenon, for example, that people are fascinated with because it’s interesting for us to think about something we do not really know. The “10% Myth” is one of those marvels that some people may believe in and others not at all.

There has been many theories about where this myth of “We only use 10% of our brain” has come from. According to the Scientific American, the myth has been linked to the American psychologist and author William James, who argued in his novel “The Energies of Men” published in 1907, that we are only making use of a small part of our mental resources. They also said it has been associated with Albert Einstein, who used this figure to describe his own intellect.

Now we may ask ourselves, “Why does such a myth still exist?” A plausible reason why this myth has been popularly is because it is sometimes used to describe psychic powers according to Snope Magazine. People pay to see someone with “intuition” or “supernatural power.” These unique individuals are able to use 80-90% of their brain compared to the ordinary person that is only able to use “10%” favoring the myth for this specific business or entertainment. The myth is also common for people to use when one cannot remember or retain information that they want to tap into. If we can’t remember something, what else to blame but the brain?

If you are one of those people that are firm believers that we do only use 10% of our brain, then you probably found the film, “Lucy” pretty intriguing. From what I saw, she learned how to write Chinese in an hour, can move people with her mind, feel every living thing, and much more. This mix of unused intellect and intuitive brain powers fascinates people who believe in the 10% Myth that if we could access the other 90% of our brain, what would we be like and how would that change our society?

On the other side of the subject, people who believe the 10% Myth is really a myth can back the brain up with scientific studies on the brain. Looking at the Scientific American again, it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not simultaneously active, but brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, just like the body’s muscles, most are continually active over a 24-hour period. This evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain according to neurologist John Henley. Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine did admit that at certain moments when we are simply just resting and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains. He also said that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time. If you study the brain, you’ll find out that 10 percent of it is composed of neurons the other 90 percent are glial cells. The mystery of this known fact is that glial cells support neurons but their function are unknown. Coincidentally, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.

The film “Lucy” gives the field of cognitive psychology attention to where the field is advancing in the future with the improvement in imaging technology and scientific studies that can help us find out more about what goes on inside our head.