menig001: October 2011 Archives

Unforgettable Memory

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Our memories and our ability to retrieve them from our minds play a large role in daily life, working to shape our past thoughts and experiences into individual personalities that make us each unique. In the opening paragraph of Chapter 7: Memory in our Lilienfeld textbook, the authors tell a story of a woman known as A.J. who has hyperthymestic syndrome. This rare condition allows her to retrieve memories of past experiences from any moment in her life with incredible detail, such as what she did and what she was wearing. Although many of us think we would like to have this condition, A.J. sees it as both a curse and a blessing to be able to remember every part of your past experiences. However, hyperthymestic syndrome differs from other memory altering conditions such as autism in that individuals who suffer from it are able to carry on mostly normal lives. A good example of this is the case of Marilu Henner, a television actress who also suffers from hyperthymestic syndrome. Living with her condition, she has had a very successful career, including her role in the show Taxi. Her remarkable memory capabilities are very intriguing and even led to the new show Unforgettable on CBS this fall. Henner currently works as a consultant for the show in which the main character plays a gifted detective with the same syndrome.
Conditions of incredible memory are very rare and are often the result of a certain genetic trait expressed throughout the brain. But how much of it is actually genetic is still unknown. Gianni Golfera is a man with an incredible memory, most likely the result of some genetic condition. But Gianni also spends much of his time studying and learning how to improve his memory capabilities. In the video linked below, Gianni shows his remarkable ability to recall a long list of random numbers with ease. He explains that anyone can improve their memory with practice and has developed his own memory improvement techniques. So how much of our capability to remember genetic and how much of it is learned through practice? Each of us may not be able to recall every day of our past, but how much can we improve our memory?

National Geographic Link

Gianni Golfera's Website

Our State of Consciousness

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In the BBC Horizon video The Secret You, mathematician Marcus de Sautoy shows us the major breakthroughs scientists have discovered in comparing brain activity when we are awake and when we are sleeping. We have all noticed that when we sleep we experience a state of unconsciousness; even though we may wake up to a startling noise, we are mostly unaware of stimulations occurring in our surroundings. Scientists have experimented on individuals using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to compare differences in brain activity in our waking and sleeping states. They have found that when we are awake, an electrical stimulation in one area of our brain can lead to the activation of many different areas, showing the true complexity and interconnectivity of electrical messages that occurs in the brain. When the same test was done on sleeping individuals, it was evident that the electrical stimulation remained confined to that area that was stimulated. There was no evidence of the brain sharing that information throughout its different parts. These results show us that there is a difference in our brain's activity between our conscious and our unconscious (or sleeping) states. Furthermore, it shows it is the brain's capability to share information and utilize its complex network of neurons that makes up for our conscious ability to act awake.

It is interesting to know how our brain activity is related to being asleep and awake, but is this the same reason why people lose consciousness when seriously injured or when in a coma? It also brings up the question of how our brain decides to "slow down" and not relay those messages of stimulation to other areas. If we were able to figure out how the brain induces these effects, could we be able to control when we are in conscious and unconscious states of mind? This could lead to groundbreaking medical research, allowing people to come out of comas!

The first picture shows the brain activity in the sleeping state, the second shows the enhanced activity in the waking state.

Sleep State.png

Wake State.png

Our Perception of Pain

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As we have read in the Lilienfeld textbook, our sensations and the related perceptions that we experience help us to interact with the world around us. The sensations and perceptions related to pain can be intense and give us very good reason to keep out of harms way. Sometimes our body allows us to control the amount of pain we feel by controlling our thoughts and emotions (Moore, 2008). The gate control model hypothesized by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall says that the amount of pain we feel can be influenced by what kind of psychological state we are in. In other words, we don't feel as much pain if our mind is set on a different goal such as fleeing from harms way or accomplishing a very important task.

In the 2010 Winter Olympics, Slovenia cross-country skier Petra Majdic experienced first-handedly how pain in the body can be reduced due to a psychological state of mind. During a practice run on the ski course, Majdic slid off of a curve and fell into an empty creek bed. She was in a lot of pain, but still insisted on racing the four ski races planned for that day. Following the first race, Majdic, still in pain, was quickly examined by a doctor who then (incorrectly) determined nothing was broken. She continued on for the day's races and even refused to take pain killers thinking that they would numb the muscles need to complete the race. She ended up getting a bronze medal in her last race. It was found out later that day in a more thorough examination that she had broken five ribs and punctured a lung and had been racing all day through that pain. This makes me wonder that if she were told about how bad her injury was at the beginning would she have experienced the same amount of pain? Was it her drive and determination to win that allowed her to push through or was it just because she didn't know how bad it was? All of these factors may have played a role in how she had perceived the pain as tolerable and continued on to win a medal.

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This page is an archive of recent entries written by menig001 in October 2011.

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