Get Your Cognition Together

(Let’s start with your elusive memory)


Part 7 of my “Senior Moment or…Something More?” Series

Every part of your brain is essential. It’s not like some other things in your physical real estate – remember when your appendix burst when you were 16 and that outdated vestigial organ was surgically removed and good riddance? Your brain, however, is not that expendable.

Each part of your brain has assignments to collect data from your immediate surroundings that will inform and protect you. This activity is called Cognition or your Ability to Think. Just what are those assignments?

A major brain responsibility is memory – your ability to retain facts, events, impressions, and previous life experiences. You have a working memory that gets you through you moment-to-moment tasks i.e. looking up a phone number and punching it into your cell phone contact list. You have recent memory that stores information for later use i.e. remembering to floss and brush for that upcoming dental prophylaxis appointment. And you have remote memory that stores stuff from years ago i.e. playing hide and seek in your back yard when you were nine years old.

memories5Sounds simple enough. But now things get more complicated:

  • There is the Primacy and Recency Effect of memory. This means the when your brain encounters anything, it immediately asks ‘Is this item important? When did it occur? Is it unique from previous experiences?’ If it passes your brain’s litmus test, it may be transferred for storage to your short term or long term memory.
  • There’s the Surprise Effect of memory: Picture this – You drive the same route to work each morning in the same vehicle and stop at that same red light (that seems to know when you are approaching and turns from green to yellow to red in seconds.) But this morning you see a goat grazing on grass growing in the median. Instantly your brain’s Novelty Detector lights up, enabling you to recall for many years that the sky was blue, spring crocuses were blooming in the ditch, and the radio was playing a most annoying advertisement. You will recall this goat-spotting event for years because of its novelty in what otherwise was a familiar context. It’s the “what were you doing when you heard about…?” question.
  • The Repetition Effect of memory seems pretty straight –forward: the more often things are presented, the more easily they are remembered. And the more often the better – until the magic number seven occurs – when it loses its memory cementing effect.
  • The False Memory Effect of memory can cause trouble. False memories are common. You see a person driving past in a green sedan. The moment passes quickly and you think the color of the vehicle was green, but wait a minute, maybe it was really dark blue. You reassure yourself that is was indeed midnight blue, introducing a false memory, which can skew your recall in the future. Usually false memories have no effect on our lives – but what if you are called to testify as to what you saw – now that could be a problem.

Nuff said on memory – see what you can remember until next installment which will be all about language.


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