NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Friday, April 13, 2012

NEWS: More Seemingly Random Factors That Control Your Memory [Full link to blog for email clients.] 

In the previous blog I started a discussion of a recent article that appeared in,  The article was entitled "Five Seemingly Random Factors That Control Your Memory"  (  I previously discussed the neuroscience behind the idea that you can assist your memory by walking through a doorway.  While the article was correct in its description, the actual scientific story behind doorways as means to "jog" one's memory is a bit more complicated.  However, that's a subject for the previous blog.  If you've just found this topic the and Internet search, I suggest you start back here ( at the previous blog before reading this one.

After describing the utilities of doorways as a context for memory, the article goes on to mention points number four and three: "Ridiculous Fonts" and "Deep Voices".  The article describes several tests in which subjects were prompted to read and remember information that was presented to them as text.  When the text was printed with an unusual font, it was much easier to remember.  In particular, a school textbook printed in its normal uniform typeface, vs. the same material printed with a noticeably unusual typeface, was much harder to recall from the "normal" typeface.  The reasoning behind this, and the neuroscience as well, is that human memory is quite graphical.  If one examines a lizard brain, you find that the largest portions of the brain are those that process the sense of smell. This is because the lizard primarily uses the senses of smell and taste to explore its environment.  Now look at the brain of a dog or cat: the regions of the brain for processing sight and sound are much larger than those for processing smell and taste.  Cats and dogs still use their sense of smell, but now they have very sensitive hearing, and a decent sense of vision.  Finally, let's look at primates: monkeys, apes, and humans.  Our brains have very large areas for processing visual information.  Oh, we still have a fairly large region for processing auditory information, but the regions for smell and taste are quite small compared to sight and sound.  Again, this is because the primate brain is primarily oriented around visual information to describe its environment.

Memory is Association.  I've said this before, and will continue to repeat that: The association between environmental context, events, and specific information to be remembered is what allows memory to be stored and retrieved. does information that is presented by graphical means is much better remembered.  This is why television commercials are very successful.  It's also why advertisements which catch our eye are much more easy to remember than other types of information.  Unusual fonts are a method for taking information and adding a specific graphical context.  The additional context not only provides more items to be encoded with the information, but also provides additional context information used for recall.  In addition, there are specific brain areas to look for unusual items in our sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  The cingulate cortex is a region of brain, which reacts to novelty, or information that does not match what is expected.  The amygdala is another region that response to unusual input, since its primary job is to compare current information with remembered, or historical information.  Both regions of the brain are involved in detecting novelty, and in determining whether what we see or sense is familiar or the same as we remember.  Both cingulate and amygdala have connections back to the medial Temporal Lobe where memory is encoded and processed.  Once again, additional context facilitates memory.

A similar mechanism is in play for both men and women who receive information in an appealing context.  For women, hearing information in a low sexy male voice is frequently associated with better recall.  The same works for men, but then, they may get distracted by the source, if it's a sexy female, and not pay enough attention to the information!  Sex appeal (and emotion!) activates additional portions of the brain and the basal ganglia and in the limbic system, which is heavily connected with hippocampus.  Once again, sex appeal provides additional items of context, and the richer the context, the more easily information is retained.  By the way, the appeal of different voices is also reflected in musical choices.  I have noticed that the listening preferences of men and women are quite different: in many cases, men tend to prefer female singers, where women prefer male singers.  This can occur even in the absence of the visual images of the singers, and reflects preferences in the auditory processing of men and women.  Men respond better to treble voices, whereas women respond better to  bass voices.  This may have to do with the tuning preference of the auditory system, and certainly can change with age.  Of course there are other factors:, the style of music, the appearance of the artist, and other social information, but men and women really do seem to have a built-in wiring difference for male and female voices and this shows up in our ability to remember.

In the next blog .  We will continue to discuss the article with the effective faces on memory.

Until next time, just imagine that I'm narrating this  with James Earl Jones's voice!

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