Tag Archives: memory

Evolutionary Theory of Fiction

The age of “politically charged” analyses of literature has passed and the latest phase is that of analysing fiction through the lens of evolutionary psychology, looking at how the brain processes literature.

Humans can comfortably keep track of three different mental states at a time, Ms. Zunshine said. For example, the proposition “Peter said that Paul believed that Mary liked chocolate” is not too hard to follow. Add a fourth level, though, and it’s suddenly more difficult. And experiments have shown that at the fifth level understanding drops off by 60 percent, Ms. Zunshine said. Modernist authors like Virginia Woolf are especially challenging because she asks readers to keep up with six different mental states, or what the scholars call levels of intentionality.

It’s a short article, and left me wanting more. More will no doubt come when this field matures.

via Arts and Letters Daily

Unconscious Plagiarism

Cryptomnesia, according to Wikipedia, is “a memory bias whereby a person falsely recalls generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, when the thought was actually generated by someone else”.

Newsweek has an article discussing this phenomenon; including what appear to be genuine cases of cryptomnesia and the novel tests being conducted by psychologists to uncover them.

When people engage in creative activity, they are so involved in generating or coming up with something new or novel that they fail to protect against what they previously experienced. […]

It’s easier to remember information than it is to remember its source. Under the right conditions, this quirk can even evoke false memories. […]

But misattributing memories from one source to another, whether from imagination to reality or from a friend to oneself, is only one of the psychological quirks behind unconscious plagiarism. Another is implicit memory, which Dan Schacter, a psychologist at Harvard, called, “the fact that we can sometimes remember information without knowing that we’re remembering it.”

All of the famous cases of cryptomnesia are mentioned (George Harrison, Nietzsche), but one: Richard Nixon’s wartime experiences that were later traced to Hollywood movies.

via Mind Hacks

Indefinite Memories

There are many substances in the brain thought to be responsible for maintaining long-term memories. Now, research is showing that by blocking one of these substances, the enzyme PKMζ (PMKzeta), we could ‘erase’ certain memories. The hope is that the opposite could work, too:

The drug [ZIP] blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information [PKMζ]. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

However, should we really be trying to erase memories (traumatic experiences, an addiction, etc.)? Another group of researchers say no, and instead are looking at how a certain neurotransmitter receptor (mGluR5) may allow us to override or ‘unlearn’ memories, possibly helping with conditions such as PTSD, phobias, and anxiety.

We don’t need to annihilate bad memories to get over them. A normal brain is able to take in new information that overrides or “unlearns” traumatic experiences. […]

“It’s more appropriate to remember [a traumatic] event, […] you just don’t want it to affect your daily life.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a study published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review in 2002 looks at how researchers successfully created false childhood memories using doctored photographs (pdf).

In prior research on how adults can be led to report false childhood memories, subjects have typically been exposed to personalized and detailed narratives describing false events. Instead, we exposed 20 subjects to a false childhood event via a fake photograph and imagery instructions. Over three interviews, subjects thought about a photograph showing them on a hot air balloon ride and tried to recall the event by using guided-imagery exercises. Fifty percent of the subjects created complete or partial false memories. The results bear on ways in which false memories can be created and also have practical implications for those involved in clinical and legal settings.

via @jakeybro, @rightthought and @mocost