27 July 2009
26 July 2009
Obviously the purpose of the research was to promote the National Lottery, but it raises an interesting question: Since our brains are so amazing at remembering vast amounts of information, why do we forget simple things?
Some scientists believe that the answer lies in the differences between your short-term working memory and your long-term memory. It is known that the two are different and that your short-term memory is somewhat transient. This is why some brain-damaged patients can suffer from a condition where they are unable to create any new memories. In these cases their memory will be intact up to the time when the brain injury took place, but they will have no memories from that time onwards.
Another theory is that our memory works on associations. For example, if you show people pictures of a part of an object, such as the end of a settee, they generally have no difficulty in identifying what the object is. Scientists have discovered that we remember the details of literally thousands of objects when shown part pictures in this way because our memory works on associations – by being shown a bit of an object, our brain instantly recalls all the rest of the information necessary to reconstruct the whole object. However, although the brain contains detailed representations of lots of different events and objects, our memory performs much less well when we attempt to remember things spontaneously. The reason is that it doesn’t have the associations to work from. If you want to remember where you put your keys, you therefore need to be consciously aware of them when you put them down – easier said than done!
This brings me on to the last reason why we might forget small things – it is because we were not really aware of them in the first place. Some months ago I lost our home telephone. I tried paging it and I searched high and low, all to no avail, and I ended up having to buy a new one. Some months later I found it – in the garage! I must have been in the middle of something with the phone in my hand when I needed my hand for something else. My brain helpfully would have known that I could not hold two things at once so it subconsciously instructed my hand to put it down.
Because our brains can only consciously process around seven pieces of information at any one time, they have become brilliant at dealing with everything else subconsciously. For example, most of us will have had the experience of not being able to remember the journey home from work even though we managed to drive perfectly safely.
The reason we forget trivial things therefore is because our brains prioritise. I forget to drink my tea because I am concentrating on something else, I lost the phone because I was trying to do too many things at once and I forget the journey home from work because I know the route so well that I don’t have to think about it.
Brilliant things brains!
What are the things you forget?
19 July 2009
What actually happens is that the information from the eyes is directed to a form of processing centre in the brain where it is added to information from our other senses and memories of our past experiences. Once all this information has been assembled our brain jumps to a conclusion as to what it is we are looking at.
It therefore stands to reason that factors such as our mood, tiredness or health might affect our ability to process all this information. In fact, this is the conclusion of researchers at the University of Toronto who have found that our mood can affect our sight.
Their findings, which were published in the Journal of Neuroscience, were that people in a positive mood saw while those who were more down in the dumps suffered from tunnel vision. While being cheerful is generally seen as a good thing, Taylor Schmitz, one of the researchers, commented; “this can lead to distractions on critical tasks that require narrow focus, such as operating dangerous machinery or airport screening of baggage.”
The conclusion therefore seems to be that if you need to do something that requires you to focus your vision in a concentrated way; rose tinted spectacles can be dangerous!
14 July 2009
One of the conditions associated with Alzheimer’s is a build up of amyloid protein plaques in the brain. It is thought that this interrupts the transmission of electrical signals between brain cells, resulting in the symptoms of dementia. Scientists have found that brain plaques in mice have been shown to dissolve when the mice were given high doses of curcumin and that in younger mice the spice appears to prevent the plaques from forming in the first place. The research is supported by evidence from India where, according to Dr Susanne Sorensen of the Alzheimer's Society, "communities that regularly eat curcumin have a surprisingly low incidence of Alzheimer's”. However, to have any impact, you would need to eat a curry meal two to three times a week, making it difficult to fit in all the other things we are supposed to eat as part of a healthy diet. Luckily they are working an a “curry pill” as an alternative. Click here to see related comments from the Alzheimer's Society.
06 July 2009
However, according to a report in the journal “Human Nature” the reason the human brain has tripled in size over the past two million years is because we became envious of our neighbours.
In other words, once we no longer needed to compete with other animals we started competing with each other. Scientists at the University of Missouri came to this conclusion as they have uncovered evidence to suggest that the brains of our ancestors who lived in larger communities grew faster than the brains of those living in smaller communities.
Their conclusion is that competing against other people is the biggest factor in the brain’s development.
So there you have it, science has established that one of the Deadly Sins delivers beneficial effects – just six more to go!