Author Archives: rbv5024

Never Forget

It was just another day of elementary school. We were sitting in our assigned seats, eager to learn, when my teacher, Mrs. Pickard, excused herself from the classroom. The teachers gathered in the hallway. At first, we all thought they were going to play a fun joke on us (as they had done in the past). Then, we heard Fear – shock – concern – in their voices. Finally, they returned to the classroom where we waited for a special announcement from our school’s principal: “There has been a terrible incident in New York City. We will be excusing our students early today.” My mom came to pick me up shortly after. Still confused, I asked my mom what was going on- and even she couldn’t comprehend what had happened. What is this terrible event that I’m referring to? 9/11. My memory of the event rings so clear in my mind, despite it being so long ago.

This extreme memory is classified as a flashbulb memory. According to Muchinsky (2012), flashbulb memories are an individual’s memory for the circumstances surrounding highly shocking, supercharged events. Thus, in this case, my description of where I was and what I was doing on 9/11 is a perfect example.

In the article “A Memorial Is Itself a Shaper of Memory”, Boxer (2001) determines if it is possible for individuals to remember events as they actually were, or if they are highly influenced by emotion. Memory is highly susceptible to change; when individuals talk or hear about a pressing issue, they fulfill an internal consensus, forming new collective memories. Boxer (2011) describes a public memorial or ruin as a “scaffold,” something on which collective memory can hang. Ruins have the ability to “erase history”, as individuals are more likely to believe the narrative that comes with it.

This article explains just how inaccurate our memories may be. If we were to measure the accuracy of an individual’s reported memories, a repeated recall must be used to compare later memories with memories collected immediately after the event.

References:

Muchinsky. (2011). Cognitive Psychology. Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA (3).

Boxer, S. (2001). A Memorial Itself is a Shaper of Memory. NY Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/27/arts/27MEMO.html.

An Extreme Recognition

Goldstein (2011) explains that long-term memory is the system “responsible for storing information for long periods of time” (149). This area of our memory archives past events and knowledge throughout our lives. In the article “London Police ‘Super Recognizer’ Walks Beat with a Facebook of the Mind,” an impressive example of long-term memory is displayed.

This article surrounds Constable Gary Collins, a police officer in London’s metropolitan police force. Collins is an exceptional police officer, largely in part of his gift as a “super recognizer”. Collins has the special gift to recall facial powers, matching even low-quality and partial imagery to faces he has seen before – whether being on the street, or in a database from years earlier. For example, Collins was able to correctly identify Mr. Prince, a wanted felon, from a “blurry silhouette of a man with a black woolen hat pulled over his forehead and a red bandana covering everything but his eyes” (Bennhold 2015). Super recognizers far exceed the abilities of facial recognition software, such as in Collins’ case, where he was able to correctly identify 180 faces while the software could only identify one suspect out of 4,000.

In a related study by Richard Russell and colleagues (2014), two studies were conducted on people like Collins who claimed they were super recognizers. The first test was a Before They Were Famous test, where subjects viewed photographs of famous individuals as children and were asked to identify the individual. The second test was the Cambridge Face Memory Test, which used images of males with no hair or other identifying clues. In both of these tests, subjects performed far above average results.

According to psychologists like Russell, Collins is a part of a rare 1-2% of people in the world who have this special ability. This “super recognizer” title is a relatively new one, as previously, psychological research only supported developmental prosopagnosia (below average facial recognition) – now, they have reason to state that the complete opposite also exists. As a relatively new field of research, psychologists still have to discover what makes facial recognition so heightened despite other areas of photographic memory. Collins states that while he has this extraordinary facial recognition ability, he lacks in other areas of his life regarding photographic memory: he still has trouble remembering a simple grocery list.

References:

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

Bennhold, K. (2011). London Police ‘Super Recognizer’ Walks Beat with a Facebook of the Mind. NY Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/world/europe/london-police-super-recognizer-walks-beat-with-a-facebook-of-the-mind.html?_r=0.

Russell R. et al. (2009). Super-recognizers: People with extraordinary face recognition ability. US National Library of Medicine: 16(2): 252-257. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904192/.

The Imitation Game

I am a mother to two beautiful boys: a 2.5 year old and a five month old. Before I became a mother, strangers would always say: “Cherish every minute. It really goes by too fast!” I never thought much of this until I actually had my children; now, I really wish I could put a pause on time. Watching them grow has been the single most rewarding thing in my life. It’s especially been satisfying to see the progression in their development: from speech, physical changes and personality. One thing that my husband and I have found particularly amusing is how much my toddler imitates us, whether it be right after we do or say something, or even a couple days later.

This act of imitation is funded by mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are derived in the premotor cortex of the brain and were originally discovered through a study by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his coworkers on a monkey in the early 1990s. The results from their study concluded that these neurons responded both when carrying out an action, as well as when they observed the action themselves (Goldstein 2011: 75). In humans, mirror neurons are important for understanding the actions and intentions of other people and for learning new skills by imitation.

Even before children are a year old, they are able to imitate their caregivers. For example, my five month old recently started making eye contact, cooing and smiling when looking at me. When I smile, he smiles back. This is a simple example of the mirror neurons in action. Dr. Andrew Meltzoff’s study showing that infants a few minutes old will stick their tongue out at adults doing the same thing is another example (Blakeslee 2006). Meltzoff also claims that “humans are hard-wired for imitation”, which is why mirror neurons are so heavily involved in observing what others do. This explains why even at such an early age, infants show signs of imitation, like the examples I provided.

Mirror neurons in humans are fundamental in multiple aspects, significantly impacting language and learning. Proper functioning of these neurons is essential for healthy development in infants. Learning more about these neurons have allowed me to understand, from a cognitive aspect, why my children imitate so much and how important it is that they do so.

References:

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

Cells That Read Minds (NY TImes Article): http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/10/science/10mirr.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0