Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Friday, July 22, 2016

Building A Better Memory

"We are who we are because of what we learn and remember"
Eric Kandel, Nobel Laureate

"Without learning and memory processes, personality would merely be an empty, impoverished expression of our genetic constitution"
Joseph Ledoux, author of Anxious

Are learning and memory completely distinct?  No; both are experienced based.  “[M]emory is the consequence of learning from an experience- that is, the consequence of acquiring new information” , asserts James McGaugh (memory researcher, author of Memory and Emotion).  Learning is a process of memory formation.  There are 2 general categories of memory: explicit and implicit.  Explicit (declarative, conscious) – is what most people think of when they think of memory.  It involves conscious recall of people, places, objects, facts and events. As an example, direct memory testing (tests in school) reflects explicit memory.  Implicit (procedural, unconscious) – the storage of information that does not require conscious attention for recall- often in the form of habits, perceptual or motor strategies, and associative and non-associative conditioning.  Examples of implicit memory include the memory utilized for riding a bike, or throwing a ball.  IM has an automatic quality, it is recalled through performance.  The tips provided in this article are for enhancing explicit memory, but they are also applicable to implicit memory (some modification may be required). 
Strategies to maximize learning

Be prepared! Familiarity with class material- read all assignments – complete understanding of directions

Focused Attention! Eliminate distractions- No FB or texting – focalfilter.com

Take detailed notes! Highlight – learn highlighted material well- read aloud

Following class, review lecture (notes and reading materials)! Don’t rush- think deeply about materials,  meaning and how it is connected to information already in memory

Ask questions!  In class, out of class, e-mail

Don’t worry about if you will remember! Concentrate on understanding- understanding means strong memory formation

Foundations of Memory

Strong memory rests on some key foundations.  These foundations include: brain health, focused attention, elaborative encoding, spaced rehearsal and testing.  With the appropriate strategies most people can strengthen the foundations substantially.  When considering memory and learning some people may have some biological advantages, but in most cases the right strategies goes a long way in building strong memories. [Refer to Emotional Memories and Genes for more info on how genes may influence memory]    

All memories require the brain (explicit and implicit memory).  When a new memory is formed changes occur in the brain.  Memory reflects biological change (change in brain connections).  Short term memory does not lead to brain changes, while long term memory does.  The formation of long term memory requires protein synthesis. Due to the brain's central role in memory it is apparent that brain health is important in regards to learning / memory. The pillars of brain health are exercise, nutrition, cognitively challenging activity, positive social interaction and minimal stress. 
Focused attention involves being  attentive to desired sensory outputs while ignoring undesired sensory outputs. That is, attention to current goal while ignoring distraction [Refer to The Benefits of FocusedAttention to learn more about this important aspect of attention]

Another foundation of  memory is elaborative encoding or rehearsal.  It involves think deeply- about meaning and connecting the to-be-remembered information to other information already stored in memory.  When using elaborative rehearsal I often recommend that students apply the VSOC principle.  This principle involves thinking about whatever your trying to remember from the following perspectives: visual, spatial, outrageous (salient) and consequential (personal consequences in regards to yourself).  This technique helps  attach the information to a large framework of existing memories, thus leading to the possibility of many retrieval  paths. An array of variations might be used.

Spaced rehearsal (distributed practice effect) involves studying or practicing persistently over time.  Cramming is not conducive to strong memory formation.  Three 1hr sessions are more beneficial than one 3hr session.  One of the key reasons that spaced learning increases memory is that each time you study you may perceive the material from a different perspective.  [Refer to HowTo Study]   

Test yourself on the information you are trying to remember. Do not have the answers in plain view while testing.  Testing serves as a powerful mnemonic aid for future retention.Testing allows for an accurate assessment of knowledge. Individuals often over estimate their level of knowledge.  [ Refer to Does Testing Enhance Learning]

To reiterate, the foundations of memory include: brain health, focused attention, elaborative encoding, spaced rehearsal and testing.  Understanding is imperative for strong memory.  Studying should be structured: progressive, organized, spaced over multiple sessions and involve accurate evaluation.    

Monday, May 16, 2016

Defending- In Evidence We Trust

In 2005 I had an idea to write a book about scientific and rational thinking. I started writing the book that year, but progress was slow. In 2006 and 2007 I wrote a few books on different subjects; however I continued to work on the 2005 idea.  In 2010 I completed another book; this one was on exercise and nutrition myths.  Over the next few years I was occupied with various projects, and my ideas about the book contents changed often.  January 1, 2014, after changing the contents many times, my idea- In Evidence We Trust- came to fruition. 

The majority of books sold have been to college students (undergraduate & graduate).  Surprisingly, the book hasn't done as good as I thought it would with science writers and others that perpetuate science to the public.  Before publication of the book I thought those promoting science to the general public would be my main audience.  In accordance with reviews and feedback from readers there are 2 major criticisms aimed at the book- it is redundant and too complex.

Firstly, I would like to respond to the redundancy criticism.  To reiterate, the book was written over a period of 9 years, so overlap can be expected with contents regarding similar topics. Some of the short articles presented in chapter one and two have been published on various internet sites, and some of the same or similar information may be discussed in different articles. In chapter three some of the questions overlap. Many of those questions were questions asked by students from courses on research methods and statistics.  There are at least two key benefits that for presenting similar information across different articles (in different contexts): strengthening of memory connections, and each article can be read as a stand-alone article.  Elaborating on the information and repeating consistently over time will assist in enhancing memory (2 of foundations of memory).  I suspect some of this information will be new to readers, thus redundancy will be beneficial to an even higher level.  Novel information is processed differently than routine information.  With the appropriate strategies novel information moves from being cognitively difficult to much easier (requires few cognitive resources and is retrieved with less effort) to process, once it becomes learned (discussed in detail in my seminars - Strategies To Maximize Learning and Exploring Memory). Stand-alone articles have the benefit of allowing the reader to read that section only; no need to read entire chapter if only interested in specific topic.

In addressing the second major criticism- complexity- it is important to point out that science, rationality and statistics are difficult.  A comprehensive understanding of science and its applications requires general knowledge in the meta-sciences (philosophy of science, history of science, sociology of science, psychology of science) research methodology and statistics.  In Evidence We Trust- is not a complete guide to the meta-sciences (consists of phil. of science and psy of science information- concise), but it is focused on research methodology and statistics.  It is important to recognize different areas of science use the same words differently, and they often use different types of methodologies. The research methods and statistics discussed in the book may not apply to some areas of science.  This topic is mentioned in the book.  Is the book too complex?  The content in this book may be difficult for some to comprehend. However, with some effort and patience the content is learnable for most people. In the words of Albert Einstein “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.” Science, rationality and statistics can be simplified to a degree, but relative to most other topics these topics are difficult.  This book is not written for cognitive misers (the cognitively lazy).  This book is written for individuals that are interested in separating knowledge and nonsense, and are willing to put forth at least a moderate level of cognitive effort.  If you sale science (science writer, science educator, science based -often synonymous with evidence based provider) you need to  understand research methods and statistics. If you are not willing to learn at least the basics you should stop selling science. 

Mervine, in a review of In Evidence We Trust published in Skeptic Briefs, points out that "Hale states, 'after learning the information provided in this chapter [chapter 3], you should have the skills necessary to read scientific reports.'  I come from a non-science background, and I do not feel confident that I could tackle a scientific report after reading this chapter alone."  A few others have pointed out that they agree with Mervine on this point.  A more appropriate statement is, after learning the information provided in this chapter and thoroughly reviewing the recommended sources (at end of chapter 3), references and appendices, you should have the skills necessary to read scientific reports. 

Overall, the response to the book has been positive.  Almost all of the conversations I have had, regarding he book, with students have been good.  A few students have said the book helped with their school work and assisted them in distinguishing between science and pseudo-science.  In addition, some top intellectuals have had some good things to say about the book.

“A great introduction to scientific thinking, useful for the student and the general reader alike”  …Keith E. Stanovich, Emeritus Professor, University of Toronto, author of How To Think Straight About Psychology 

“A useful, informative, and engaging compendium of critical thinking tools.  Should come in handy for novices and experts alike.  I recommend it!”  …Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, co-author of 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology.

"Jamie Hale has written an engaging introduction to the importance of scientific and critical thinking and how useful and needed it is in everyday life. On top of that, he throws in a nice primer on basic statistical topics and offers useful and insightful answers. This book would be useful to any student of science and rationality as well as any person interested in these topics."
...Gregory Feist, Ph,D., Associate Professor of Psychology, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, author of The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind.

In the context of In Evidence We Trust evidence is synonymous with scientific evidence. Testimonials, anecdotes, they-says, wishful thinking and so on do not count for evidence.  If we consider these types of claims and feelings as evidence then any discussion of evidence is vacuous.  Testimonials exist for almost any claim you can imagine.  That does not mean that claims of this sort have no value.  However, experiences are confounded (confused by alternative explanations).  Experiences may be important in some contexts, and they may serve as meaningful research questions.  However, a meaningful question or a possible future finding is not synonymous with evidence; although, in the future they could become evidence.  

Recommended Readings:

Review Article: In Evidence We Trust
Mervine, B. (2014).  Trusting Evidence.  Skeptic Briefs, 24(2), p.7.