Author Archives: Jada Ford

Video Killed the Cognitive Star

In every corner of the Earth, there’s someone using technology. Whether it is a tablet, a cellphone, or a laptop, someone is engaging with an electronic. Today’s society is driven by immediate gratification, which we achieve through instantaneous messages, live updates, and social media. Picking up an encyclopedia to read for knowledge or finding a good book to immerse oneself has become a thing of the past. Recently a popular talk show discussed the idea of not needing to know how to spell common words because spell check does it automatically. But has this progression actually been a hindrance to our cognitive health? Perhaps there is an over reliance on technology to solve what our brains once could do? The reality seems to be that cognitive skills and problem-solving have received the short end of the stick in our technological advancement, and continue to dissipate like our outdated processes. Problem-solving skills, memory, and emotion processing decline because of our technology use. It can be hoped that advocacy for using less technology and increasing physical and mental activity may rectify this well-defined problem.

One of the best features humans have is the ability to critically think. Problem-solving is commonly taught throughout all levels of schooling and mandated for most employment opportunities. It is a prerequisite for life and learning how to do it effectively can be a lifelong challenge. Thanks to technology, some problem-solving can be done immediately. Think of calculators or thermometers. It’s a wonder what people ever did before they existed. School systems have even begun to implement videos into their curriculum, with parents supporting visual learning a lot more as well. Consequently, it was also found that wiring the classroom for internet access does not enhance learning. One study analyzed the retention of lecture information and tested students who had internet access during class and those without. Those without internet access did better than those with internet access (Wolfpert, 2009). Reading develops critical thinking, reflection, induction, and imagination, yet reading has also declined in the lack couple of decades among young people (Wolfpert, 2009). Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist at UCLA found that reading for pleasure enhances thinking and engages imagination in a way that visual media does not (Wolfpert, 2009). Surely students may learn to think in more engaging ways and absolve their functional fixedness, the inability to see objects, people, or events in views outside of what is customary for them, by learning in multiple forms. It is simply a matter of finding a balance between using multiple methods of visual and audible learning.

Rarely ever do we go to a payphone and dial in our friend’s number. Cellphones today are equipped with an address book and a favorites list to make phone calls more convenient. What does this mean for our memories though? When was the last time we were required to remember a phone number, or a grocery list, or a show time? Scientist at Columbia University ran experiments on how students remembered random trivia. Students were given random trivia facts and requested to place them in a folder labeled true or fact. Some students were told the computer would save which folder they were in. Later on, students were asked to recall which facts were placed in the fact folder. The results indicated that students who knew the computer saved the information were less likely to remember the trivia facts (Thompson, 2013). When we know a device will remember a piece of information for us, we will less likely remember it ourselves. It was found that 40 percent of all search queries were of people trying to refresh details of something they previously knew (Thompson, 2013). Recalling information involves both short-term and long-term memory. If we are overindulged in our apps and cellphones, it would be hard to retain information in your short-term memory, and even harder to encode that into long-term memory. Helpful it may be, technology should be a tool not a guide.

Lastly, technology has a great way of bridging the gap that land and sea have created. People from all over the world can communicate with each other in seconds or minutes. While people are fond of getting to know each other and transcend to another place online, some people maintain the extent of substituting physical relationships with electronic ones. Consequently, these people experience social isolation when withdrawn from their devices (Lickerman, 2010). Being online can also give the advantage of identity protection in some cases, and this can make confrontations and harassment (Lickerman, 2010). It’s possible that people are more irresponsible and hurtful with their dialogue since their comments can’t be traced directly to their person. Empathy, compassion, and sympathy can be reduced by offering an anonymous platform to be just the opposite. Cognitive biases like prejudice that misrepresent social issues are given a platform on social media and their own websites. While the internet can be great for achieving factual information, it does a disservice to gaining the interpersonal interactions lexchanged in communicating.

How and what we perceive as a problem plays a big role in how we solve it. Improving through mechanical and online advancement has been a significant goal of civilizations. The benefits of our progress are never fully aligned with their detriments; therefore we’ve never perceived any need for a resolve. The fact of the matter remains that improvement is necessary, but our previous modes of communication, reading, and learning are still very vital to our cognitive health. We are sacrificing our mental capabilities in exchange for convenience. In return our spelling, our intelligence, our memory, and our creativity suffer. This is not to justify a ban on all technology or to limit the advancement of machinery and electronic tools. This is to make others aware of the implications of cognitive dependence on technology. Social psychologist and educators should start intervention at an early age, introducing children to more interesting ways in reading, reinforcing the family to try trivia and mental activities, or to advocate a reduced amount of cellphone or internet usage. The primary importance is that society advances without compromising any aspect of our health.


Lickerman, Alex. 2010, June 8. The Effect of Technology on Relationships. Psychology Today, retrieved from:

Thompson, Clive. 2013, September 20. Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? Slate, retrieved from:

Wolpert, Stuart. 2009, January 27. Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis? UCLA Newsroom, retrieved from:

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:

The Decline in a Mood and a Mind

“I’m not hungry.” she utters. Little does she realize, she’s not eaten in three days. Her face looks inquisitive but her eyes seem blank. Dementia is slowly settling in.

Dementia is a progressive neurological disease denoted by significant cognitive decline (2015). It is characterized by impairment of memory, communicative language, reasoning, and judgement. The hippocampus is one of the first areas to be affected, and this is why memory issues are key characteristics of the disease (2015). Issues such as depression, thyroid issues, alcoholism, or vitamin deficiencies exacerbate the disease.

She had lost her dog, her son, and her house within 3 years. It was a devastating loss and a significant change in her reality. We had all believed she was as fit and mentally stable as can be. There were no abrupt changes in personality, no issues with memory, and certainly no decline in physical capabilities. With time, It seemed that the more she worried over her losses, the more she forgot and the more she withdrew herself.

After a couple of MRI’s, memory test, and family histories, it was determined that she has dementia. None of the family was quite aware of what that meant, nor were we aware of what the implications were. What would happen to her in the future? What would change about her? How would we take care of her? We were reassured on how to keep her in good shape and good standing. As it turns out, “Use it or lose it” means something in cognitive neuroloscience. In order to keep her brain functioning we were advised to engage her in activites. The more cognitively challenging, the better we were told.

Ever since her diagnosis, we have been fighting a battle with keeping her engaged. Crossword puzzles and word searches no longer hold her interest. We continue to go on daily walks and ask her questions to keep her recall. So far, those have been our only resources. Luckily, she’s drinking ensure and taking vitamins. Any opportunity that I can, I attempt to improve her mood and restore a bit of familiar happiness.

It is very underestimated just how affective depression is in reducing our mental states. Cognitive decline can induce or exacerbate depression, but it can also work in the reverse order. Professor of Neuropsychology at Rush University, Dr. Robert Wilson states that these subtle changes in behavior can actually be early predictive symptoms of the disease (Bowers, 2014). It is imperative to treat depression to prevent the development or progression of cognitive decline in senior citizens. Doing so can implicate an improvement in the prognosis of the disease.



Bowers, Elizabeth. (2014, October). Depression as a Risk Factor for Dementia. Everyday Health, retrieved from:

(2015). What is Dementia? Alzheimers Association, retrieved from: