Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Has anyone seen my phone?
"More attention is going to be good for memory." Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
When you forget things, you can wind up flustered and frustrated.
I literally just had my phone. What the heck did I do with it now?
The dog's bowl is empty. Did she eat her food quickly—or did I simply forget to fill it?
My password is "BigFunParty6802." That's "BigFunParty6802." Again: "BigFunParty6802." (Five seconds later: "Oh God, what was my password?")
Ugh. But while we spend the next few minutes resetting our proverbial password, we have time to look at an intriguing new study that suggests that even as people grow older and forget things more often, they may be able to use technology to improve their recall.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers said they developed a smartphone app called HippoCamera that was designed to "mimic the function of the brain's hippocampus in memory construction and retention."
They recruited study participants to study its effectiveness.
Participants were asked to use the app to record roughly 24-second videos of everyday events they wanted to recall, along with eight-second audio narrations of what was happening in the videos.
The app then paired the videos and descriptions—speeding up the videos to match the shorter length of the descriptions—and set up "replay cues at later times on a curated and regular basis."
The participants watched replays approximately eight times over the next several weeks (either two weeks or 10 weeks, depending on cohort). Three months later, they were asked detailed questions about the events they'd recorded, without having used the HippoCamera app or replayed the cues during the intervening time.
Result: Those participants who had replayed the cues as part of the experiment recalled 50 percent more details of events that had happened six months earlier than those who had recorded events but never watched the replays.
As study co-author Morgan Barense of the department of psychology at the University of Toronto put it:
We found that memories with an associated HippoCamera cue were long-lasting, and that it worked for everyone in the study—healthy older adults, those starting to show cognitive decline, and even one case with severe amnesia due to an acquired brain injury.
Many months after the initial part of the study ended, and participants had not watched their HippoCamera cues, they were able to recall these memories in rich detail.
So, why does it work? The researchers suggested two explanations.
First, because the HippoCamera app helped participants store memories in their brains differently from how they otherwise would have been stored—a theory backed up by fMRI brain scans done on the participants.
"The more detailed recollection seen earlier in the study was associated with more differentiated memory signals in the hippocampus," said lead study author Chris Martin of the department of psychology at Florida State University. "HippoCamera is aiding the hippocampus in distinctly encoding memories so they do not become confused with one another, [which] explains why users are able to recall past events in such great detail."
Second, because using the app required participants to focus—watching out for memories that they'd like to remember and taking the time to record video and audio notations.
"Someone who is committed to using HippoCamera is going to go through their lives paying attention to what is happening to them," Barense said, adding: "That act of approaching events in our lives with more attention is going to be good for memory."
Now, I acknowledge that on the one hand, this entire study sounds like common sense. If you record a memory and replay it using an external technology like a smartphone app, it seems more likely you'll remember it later.
I'm reminded of an experience I wrote about years ago: sailing with my uncle, and adopting his habit of taking photos of things he'd want to check later—did we tie the boat to its mooring correctly? so that he didn't have to drive back to the marina at 3 a.m. if he woke up in a panic.
But that was about creating visual evidence; this is about implanting accurate memories.
People live longer now, and we're developing shorter attention spans and facing memory challenges, so we'll be looking for solutions. If a relatively simple technology and habit like this one can help, it's a worthy effort to try.
7 other things worth knowing today
Search teams and emergency aid poured into Turkey and Syria as rescuers working in freezing temperatures dug—sometimes with their bare hands— through the remains of buildings flattened by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. The death toll approached 11,000. Among the many stories: 20 ISIS fighters escaped from a Syrian prison during a riot that followed the earthquake. (AP, France24)
President Biden and Republican lawmakers engaged in an animated back-and-forth during Tuesday's State of the Union address over whether to raise the debt ceiling. As Biden continued his speech, a handful of Republicans began voicing their displeasure, calling out and interrupting the president. Biden concluded by saying, “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be touched. All right.” (Yahoo News)
Google is rolling out a new conversational artificial-intelligence service to a select set of testers, and plans a broader public launch in coming weeks, part of the company’s effort to play catch-up with challengers such as OpenAI, creator of the popular chatbot ChatGPT. The new experimental service, called Bard, generates textual responses to questions posed by users, based on information drawn from the web. (WSJ)
Elon Musk says he's now "saved" Twitter from bankruptcy, but it was "extremely tough" and he "wouldn't wish it on anyone." (NY Post)
This is a pure nightmare, and it's now happened twice: An 82-year-old woman who had been pronounced dead was observed breathing three hours later in a New York funeral home. Even worse, last month, a 66-year-old woman who was presumed dead woke up gasping for air in a body bag at an Iowa funeral home. "This is an awful situation that has caused unnecessary trauma for the impacted resident and her loved ones," the attorney general's office said. (2 links: Insider, Insider)
AMC Theaters says it's rolling out a plan to charge different prices for movie tickets depending on where you sit in the auditorium. In effect, front row seats will be available at a lower price, while seats in the middle of the theater will be available at a higher price. (Variety)
A skier fell 820 feet down a mountain in Canada during an avalanche. He was saved by 2 rescuers who built him a shelter to keep him warm overnight. (CBC)
Comments are going to remain restricted to premium subscribers for a while until I figure this out. I just don’t want another phishing or spamming incident like we had over the weekend.