Monthly Archives: October 2015

Can’t Remember Most of my Childhood

Alex Helligar is an example of a man who has lost memory of most of his memory. It’s common for people to lose memory. As we learned through our lessons, short term memory has a limited capacity, and long term memory comes in different forms. Our experiences are easier to retrieve based on the emotional attachments we have to those moments. Infantile amnesia happens to most people however, even though we probably never thought of it. An example of infantile amnesia is how most of us forget part of our childhood. Personally, I can recall certain experiences that were extremely significant but I have no real memory of ages 3 to maybe 5. According to this article “most of our first four years are a complete blank despite the fact that we retain language and habits acquired in those years.” Based on studies, because of the new cells that start for form, the old memory circuits are pushed out. In result we lose memory of things as time goes on.

Alex, however, is someone who has lost memory as far back as high school. His brain may have developed some trauma or stress and he has experienced amnesia that has made memories fade as he develops more memories. As mentioned before, he can remember specific people and can recall significant memories from high school, possibly because of the emotional impact, but the rest of his high school experiences are quite blurry. It’s often difficult for him to recall the things he ate a week ago as well. It’s difficult to imagine not being able to recall most experiences in your life, especially high school seeing that it’s a time that most of us learn a lot about ourselves.



Divided Attention

The average person in today’s society tend to never simply focus on one task a time. A person mind is always clouded with a bunch of stuff that surrounds there life which leads to them possibly forgetting to do things on their “To do lists”, or just simply forgetting something in the house as they may be rushing off to work or school. With the average person today having so much to handle it’s liable for them to forget which leads them to simply doing one or more things at a time. We call this multitasking, but it’s more than just multitasking it is that our attention is divided. Divided attention is what leads us involving ourselves among two or more task at a time (Goldstein pp.91). It is how much we pay attention to one or tasks at a time. Divided attention is broken down into two processes automatic and controlled processing (Goldstein pp. 92-93). Automatic processing is a part of divided attention where a person does something without the intention of doing so; it just happens automatically without the person tending to do it (Goldstein pp. 92). Controlled processing is when a person must pay close attention on a task that is hard and requires much focus to complete. For instance, talking on your phone while driving your car is an example of controlled processing in divided attention, the lack of focus you have while driving is split between paying attention what the person on the phone is talking about and still driving the car but you lose focus on putting your full attention to the task at hand which should be driving because you have to make sure you are pay attention to the road, signs, speed, etc, to avoid an accident. In my everyday my attention is heavily divided between raising my kids, school work and my full-time job. My supervisor gave me a write-up saying that while I am at work my focus should be paying close attention to the clients I must care for because while I am studying and reading for my homework my attention is diverted between caring for the clients and reading for classes. She stated that while I am reading I am not paying attention to the needs of the clients, they might be having a seizure, may be hungry or might be at fall risks and I wouldn’t know because I am focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time. Another example of how divided attention affects my life is that I always tend to forget things. Every day I leave work I always forget something and once I left and be on my way to pick up my kids from school I remember and then have to return all the way back to my job to retrieve it. This is what is called automatic processing because my intentions weren’t to forget anything at work but it just happened. Divided Attention is something we all go through on a regular basis, we just have to be mindful on how we divide attention because it could cause risk to our lives or make us forgetful.


Goldstein, E. B. (2011, 2008). Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, And Everyday Experience. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning .

Memory v. The United States Legal System

Shoot everything that moves or leave no witnesses are common criteria of the criminal community, but that may not be a necessary bargain. Witnesses can only conclude as much as they see and even that is often charged with emotional, cultural interpretations. Domestic abuse may not seem wrong to someone who’s religion condones physical punishment for a spouse. So in this instance, a witness would do no more damage than they would do good. Just as well, chunking, the length of short term memory, and the serial position effect, may all impose incorrect recall of what happened.

A prominent case involving an eyewitness account includes the trial and prosecution of Clarence Elkins. On June 7, 1998, Clarence Elkins’s mother-in-law and niece were raped, strangled, stabbed, and beaten. Elkins’s niece survived the attack and went on to claim the attacker “looked like Uncle Clarence”. Police took this to mean Elkins had committed the attacks, which was also corroborated by Tonia Brasiel, a neighbor that drove Elkins’s niece home right after the attack, thus giving basis for his arrest. The case was built on circumstantial evidence, mostly the eyewitness accounts of the niece and neighbor, and did not include DNA testing. Solely based on his niece’s testimony of him as the attacker, Clarence Elkins was sentenced to 55 years in prison. Tonia Brasiel’s common law husband was a convicted sex offender who had just been released from prison two days before the murder. It was also found suspicious that Tonia left Elkins’s niece on the porch, bloodied and beaten, for over 30 minutes before calling 911. Brasiel’s husband was in prison during Elkins attempts to appeal; coincedentally, the very same prison as Elkins. Elkins collected DNA from Brasiel’s husband through use of a cigarette butt and sent it to his attorney for lab testing. The results were inclusive! It was also found that Brasiel’s husband drunkenly admitted to the murders to an officer four months prior to  Elkin’s trial. Despite the DNA evidence connecting Brasiel’s husband, the district attorney refused to release Elkins and the prosecutor declined to revisit the case. Public pressure prompted the prosecution to conduct DNA testing, which finally resulted in the charges being dropped and Elkins release from prison. Following his release, Elkins helped pass Ohio’s Senate Bill 77 which required DNA preservation in homicide and sexual assault cases.  This case and many others helped promote the increasing necessity of DNA testing and the devaluation of eyewitness testimonies.

This case illustrates the fault in memory.  Memory is not a perfect video recording. It is often emotionally-charged and edited. Memories are hard to interpret because they are constructed based on personal experience. Retrieving and discussing our memories can also distort them in small ways, such as slight exaggeration or purposeful omission. Only small amounts of information are held actively available for a short period of time. Couple this by the chunking effect that can take place with witness interrogation, where one may remember and recall only grouped facts and omit others, and they may forget processes or occurrences that occurred between what they first saw and what they last assessed due to the serial positioning effect.

Daniel L. Schacter  in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University set out to discover the correlates and underlying cognitive neuroscience behind how memory can be represented in eye witness accounts. Prompted  by a recent change in New Jersey legal proceedings, which now require jurors to consider the different factors that affect eyewitness testimonies, Daniel Schacter states, “…cognitive neuroscience research could help jurors and other participants in the legal system to better understand why it is that memory does not operate like a video recorder, and why it is sometimes prone to error and distortion.”  These new instructions educate the reader on how to interpret eyewitness testimonies, unlike before. Daniel Schacter identifies neuroscience research “regarding false and imagined memories, misinformation effects and reconsolidation phenomena that may enhance understanding of why memory does not operate like a video recording”. This information can be applied in jury duty protocol to help achieve a more accurate ruling or at least a more accurate interpretation of the facts presented.



(2013). Our Falliable Memories in the CourtRoom: A Q&A with Daniel Schacter. CNS, Cognitive Neuroscience Society, retrieved from:

Prime, Richard. 2007, Nov. The Impact of DNA on Policing:Past, Present, and Future. The Police Chief,
James, Sarah. 2007, Mar. 11. Killer Instinct. NBC News,
2012, Aug. 9. DNA Evidence: Basics of Identifying, Gathering and Transporting. National Institute of Justice.

Schacter, Daniel; Loftus, Elizabeth. 2013, January 28. Memory and law: what can cognitive neuroscience contribute? Nature Neuroscience16,119–123 (2013) doi:10.1038/nn.3294 retrieved from:

Short-term Memory and Work Performance

For this blog post, I will discuss short-term memory and how it pertains to my previous experience in the military. While working in Afghanistan, I was constantly required to receive and report the specific grid coordinates of individuals or events. Depending on the length of the grid coordinates, they could be difficult to report accurately. The capacity and duration of short-term memory and the use of chunking to expand the capacity did have an effect on my job performance.

In lesson 5 of this course, we learned that George Miller discovered what he believed to be the capacity of short-term memory. This capacity was 7 +/- 2 items (Miller, 1956). This means that on average, one is able to memorize and recall 7 +/- 2 specific items at any given time. I do agree with this suggestion based on my own experience. The Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) uses a header for each location that denotes the general area in which to find the grid points. An example header would be 15P SU. Following the header, there would be a four-digit, six-digit, eight-digit, or ten-digit grid point, with the longer grid points being more accurate. Due to the capacity of short-term memory, the four-digit and six-digit grid points were usually simple to recall, and longer grid points did prove to be more difficult. While attempting to recall longer grid points, I often had to report half of the grid and reference the grid again before reporting the second half.

I also noticed that chunking was very helpful if the number sequences held any significance. For example, 15P SU 1776 2001 would be easier to recall than 15P SU 5476 8729. This is because 1776 and 2001 become only two separate items instead of eight separate items, but 5476 and 8729 are number sequences which hold no significance for me, so I would have to recall each number individually.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that short-term memory usually has a duration of 15-30 seconds. This means that even if a sequence of numbers is initially memorized, that memory may diminish over a very short period of time. I experienced this quite often as well. While it was simple to recall a memorized grid point during the few seconds that it took to report it over a message board on the computer, it was much more difficult to recall the same grid point only a minute or two later when attempting to report it over the radio or to the commander. Therefore, it was most efficient to document the grid points for future reference.

The use of short-term memory was constant during my military career, and knowing the limits of short-term memory can be crucial when dealing with important tasks, such as reporting accurate grid coordinates. Many experiments have been conducted in the past in order to study the capabilities and processes of memory in humans. After learning about the results of these studies and comparing them to personal experiences, I believe that they are relatively accurate, and I have gained a more thorough understanding of the cognitive processes involved with memory.



Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review63(2), 81.

Articulatory Suppression and the College Mom

Being a working mother of three children and attending Penn State World Campus full time has proved to be quite challenging. As the courses are being increasingly difficult, I am finding it harder and harder to study vocabulary words while my children are up and about. I have found myself preferring to either work very late into the night, or waking up extremely early in order to get my studies done. I had always assumed it was better to study in quiet, but never really knew the phenomenon that was happening in my own head: the articulatory suppression effect on my phonological loop.

We have learned that the phonological loop is where verbal information is stored, and where everything we try to commit to memory is first contained (Goldstein, 2011). When listening to an online lecture or any other information that is coming at us verbally and trying to retain what it is saying, we are using our phonological loop. This component of working memory only lasts a few seconds, and the incoming information must be refreshed in the phonological loop in order for us to retain the relevant information (Goldstein, 2011). In order to properly retain the information of the vocabulary words that I try to remember and repeat over and over in my head, and I find myself having a hard time retaining the information because of the constant sounds of my children chatting or playing.

The articulatory suppression effect is a phenomenon that interrupts the phonological loop and reduces memory retention. It is usually demonstrated in a laboratory setting (we all had an experience of that with our CogLab) and occurs when a word is repeated over and over again while one is trying to remember a separate list of words (Goldstein, 2011). I can compare this phenomenon to my life, because when I am trying to memorize a list of definitions and terms for my classes, I am using my phonological loop and the articulatory suppression effect occurs when my noisy children interrupt the processes going on in my head. They prohibit me from converting the information to long-term memory and although the sounds they produce are not the same repetitive sounds, the concept in itself is very similar. Their verbal interruptions interfere with my rehearsal and memorization, so I have found that it is better to study in the quiet of the late night or early morning when I have the best opportunity to store information without articulatory suppression.

Works Cited

Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

What was I wearing that day?

Why is it that we have the ability to remember the details of our first kiss like the time, location, day, and even the clothing we were wearing when it happened? Yet, among plenty of other things we can hardly remember the food we ate for breakfast the day before. Although each of these memories were events in which you participated in, only one Is episodic in nature. Episodic memories represent our memory of experiences and specific events that allow us to reconstruct the actual events in our minds at any given point in our lives. We tend to see ourselves as actors in these events and the emotional feeling is normally part of this memory as well not just the details and facts of the event almost like an “episode” of our lives.

There are three steps in episodic memories, they are encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. Encoding is the process of receiving and registering information. Attention is a necessary component for encoding events and information effectively. If you are distracted you are less likely to recall the event. The next step is consolidation, the process by which memory traces of encoded information are strengthened, made stable, and stored for later retrieval. This process is completed easier by linking the information ready to store with an existing network of information. The memory trace can indefinitely be retrieved once the information or event has been consolidated which can take anywhere from days to weeks. The last and final step of forming episodic memory is retrieval, which like it sounds, is the recollection of the information that was encoded. This can be expressed as mentally traveling back in time to replay that moment.

Someone’s first kiss can have a very large emotional tie, making the event easy to encode and consolidate as well as easy to retrieve later on. Due to the episodic memory, if you wanted to know what color shirt you were wearing during your first kiss you would play the “episode” in your mind as if you were watching yourself in order to easily “retrieve” such information.


Works Cited

UCSF Memory and Aging Center (2015) Episodic Memory San Francisco, CA: Sandler Neurosciences Center.

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd Ed.). California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Pay Attention!


Sometimes when I sit down to study for a test I feel as though I’m looking at the material for the first time. Honestly, I’ll start reading through a chapter and think…did I forget to read this part before? But I have read it before. Every now and then a piece of information that I do remember will surface to verify that I did in fact read this mysteriously forgotten chapter. (Re)Reading chapter 4 of our textbook covering “Attention” got me thinking about how we learn and what we pay attention to. If I sit down every night to study for an hour or two, how is it possible a few weeks later that there are entire chunks of information that I just don’t retain…or even recall?

I didn’t have to dig very far to find some research on the subject. Annie Murphy Paul, A fellow at the New America Foundation has spent a good deal of time researching what we pay attention to and how we learn. In her article for Slate magazine she discusses her findings. In short, her findings are that students from high school through graduate level programs are multitaskers, and therefore our attention is divided and our ability to learn and apply information suffers. According to her research, which involves observers seated in classrooms and dorm rooms all over the country and well as numerous surveys completed by the students themselves, and even spyware in the classrooms (hello big brother!). The use of spyware was a little shocking, however the professors in the participating classes obtained permission from all students for the study. The results were even more shocking. The spyware study showed that 42% of students in college classrooms participating in the study had non-course related windows open and active during class (Murphy Paul, 2013 p.2) The observational studies showed that 58% of 2nd and 3rd year law students were engaging in non- class related activities during lectures (2013, p.2).

These numbers were surprising to me but then again…not so surprising. The biggest culprits stealing our attention from studying are texting, email, Facebook, and other social media. I took note this week as I went online to participate in my classes, get assignments, and do my reading of just how many times I interrupted my own studying. I checked my phone, my email, answered text messages, got side tracked by stray thoughts that led to random Google searches. I read all of my assignments, completed all my homework, aced my quizzes, and turned everything in on time so despite my “multitasking” I did just fine. But it still didn’t explain why I probably won’t remember most of the information in a few weeks when it’s time to study for the final.

Memory loss man, presented in the form of secondary particles of the brain

Memory loss man, presented in the form of secondary particles of the brain

According to Murphy Paul, there are five good reasons why this information will likely not be retained for the long term. First, while seemingly mindless activities, things like texting and Facebook are complex tasks that use the same part of the brain that we use in class – the prefrontal cortex (2013, p. 2). Second, the repeated dropping and picking up of “various mental threads” fatigues our minds making it harder to retain information (2013, p.2). Third the act of dividing our attention during the encoding process makes it more difficult to remember information accurately or at all (2013, p.2). Fourth, research using brain scans shows that different areas of our brain light up when we are learning a piece of information undistracted than when we are multitasking – this suggests that while multitasking we may be storing the information in a different and possibly less useful way (2013, p. 3). Finally, all of the research shows a negative correlation with media multitasking and grades suggesting that “Engaging in Facebook use or texting while trying to complete schoolwork may tax students’ capacity for cognitive processing and preclude deeper learning,” (2013, p.3).

So, while it may be possible, even beneficial to be able to multitask in some areas of life – at work, at home, etc., it’s clear that media multitasking while studying is bad news for students. To be honest, I had no idea I was doing it as much as I do before I really took the time to notice it. For most of us, our phones are rarely more than a few inches from where we study and most of the work is done on laptops so hoping from one thing to the next and back again can happen in a blink. Now that I am aware of how many disadvantages there are to dividing my attention I think I will definitely be making the effort to focus on one thing at a time. Especially before finals!




Murphy Paul, A. (2013, May 3). You’ll Never Learn! Students can’t resist multitasking, and it’s impairing their memory. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from


Were you talking to me?

Too many times have we all been in a room filled with people conversing with one another, when suddenly we are deterred from our current topic and our attention is directed all the way across the room when we hear our name, by the time we refocus our attention to the original topic we most likely can’t recall the topic. This attentional ability has been termed the cocktail party effect. This phenomenon gives us the ability to focus our listening attention on a single talker among a cacophony of conversations or background noise.

It is possible our brains are wired to favor some auditory cues over others however understanding why humans are so remarkably good at using this ability is extremely difficult. Colin Cherry carried out a study to demonstrate our ability to separate one conversation from another. Cherry used the method of playing back two different messages at the same time to people, under different conditions. In the first set he played two different messages voiced by the same person and had his participants shadow one of the messages out loud and then write it down. Results showed this task to be very hard but still possible until both messages were nonsensical. The second set cherry played one message in one ear and one in the other, and both messages were still voiced by the same speaker. Recall for this study participants found much easier. This also shows that if someone in front of you is directly talking to you, and you are listening across the room that you will remember very little of the conversation directly spoken to you. In one other study, two-thirds or people don’t even notice when their name is pulled into an unattended conversation, while those that do notice their name across a room can become extremely distractible.

Could this also happen when you’re driving down the road with an early morning talk show on, most of what they’re discussing goes in one ear and out the other and is not doing a great job holding your attention until some sort of promiscuous word comes across the radio, suddenly you catch that word among all of the rest.


Goldstein, E. B. (2011) Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience 3rd Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Arons, B. (2002) A Review of The Cocktail Party Effect Cambridge, MA: MIT Media Lab

How can you remember that?

Everyone dreads studying for exams. I know that I dreads studying for exams. My girlfriend, Shayla, can remember everything she learns from her text book. One day I asked her, “How do you remember everything?”. Shayla looked at me and said “I make the information in to sentences that help me remember the concepts.” I still think she is super human for being able to memorize so much so quickly and easily but after learning about how encoding can help us retrieve information from our memory I began to understand this concept more.

So let me start at with encoding. Encoding is the way that we gather information and transfer it into our memory. For example Shayla uses encoding by placing words she needs to remember in to complex sentences. By placing words in complex sentences it helps create more connections between the word and the other things in the sentence. The other words in the sentence also help cue the retrieval of the word when Shayla needs to retrieve the words for her exam. You may wonder what retrieval means in this context. The process of remembering information stored in our long term memory and transferring it back to our working memory is what we call retrieval. (Goldstein, p.173) So for the example of Shayla, she accesses some of the information she encoded to help her retrieve the information from her long term memory.

Recently I have been trying to find ways that I can help information remain in my long term memory until I need it for my classes and exams. I have begun to try a new technique that I have learned from my great memory with directions. I am great with directions because I am good at remembering visual images. To help me use this in my classes I started pairing the information I was learning with images. This is another form of encoding that influences my retrieval performance. Take for example if I needed to remember the words head phones and cantaloupe. Separately remembering these words would be difficult for me to remember just as plain words but if I picture a cantaloupe with over the ear headphones on, I am much more likely to remember these two words. Forming visual images to create a connection with words can enhance memory.

I am still not a fan of exams and I still cannot use the same type of encoding as Shayla. One thing I have come to realize from our lessons about encoding and long term memory is that encoding can affect retrieval. The important part of this is that the way you encode information when you learn it is going to affect if you can retrieve it from your long term memory. Try both types of encoding that Shayla and I use and see if they work for you.




Goldstein, E. B. (2011) Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience 3rd Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

How Did I Get Here?

How many others have driven to work and then can’t remember their drive to work? This has happened to me many times. I get so focused on what needs done when I get home from work or there was a bunch of good songs on the radio and I sang along with them without any recollection of driving. This is an example of automatic processing. Driving has become so automatic to me after all these years of driving that it does not take up much of my cognitive resources or is also known as a low-load task.

I have also left the house and frantically worried if I shut off my hair straightener and then returned home to it not only being shut off, unplugged from the outlet, but also hung back up on the organizer that I store it on. This is another example of automatic processing. This is something that I do automatically without paying any attention to my actions.

Driving may have become an automatic process but if a deer jumps out across the road or another circumstance occurs I snap to attention and turn off my “auto pilot” mode as I call it and pay closer attention to the task at hand. This is when the “easy or well-practiced” task becomes “more difficult and you need to devote all cognitive resources to driving” or also called a high-load task (Goldstein, E. Bruce, 2011, p. 87, 93).

All of these examples are also examples of divided attention. Driving and thinking, driving and singing, driving and avoiding a deer that could jump out across the road, and shutting off the hair straightener while thinking about getting out the door for work are all things we do with our divided attention. Divided attention is performing two or more tasks at once.

Divided attention can be an automatic process with an easy or well-practiced task or a controlled process when the task is harder. Easier tasks are considered low-load tasks and harder tasks are considered high-load tasks. Practice can turn those high-load tasks from a controlled processes to an automatic process without you even intending to do it.

Goldstein, E. Bruce. (2011). Cognitive psychology connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.