Description: Before you read any further look around the room that you are in and then focus your attention on a particular feature (look out the window, look at the television set). Your visual impression while focusing on one feature in the room is probably that you’re still able to “see” most of the other items in the room. However, if someone were to ask you detailed questions about the other items in the room you would likely not be able to answer them unless you turned your visual attention towards them. Basically, we focus on very few things in the visual field at any moment in time and an interesting memory related question is whether information that we are not focusing on even though we may have scanned it recently is entirely lost from memory or simply squirreled away out of reach from our usual information processing strategies. The article linked below looks of this question directly.
Source: Magnetic Brain Stimulation Can Activate Dormant Memories, Janice Wood, PsychCentral.
Date: December 4, 2016
Photo Credit: PsycCentral.com
What the research discussed in this article seems to indicate is that a fairly large amount of information may in fact be stored in memory but may not be accessible in situations where the various cues that are driving our attention in particular directions are not in any way focused upon this incidental information. What that means is if you’re looking for a word you are not likely to recover memories about faces or objects. What the researchers found was that they could essentially drive this attentional focus by applying magnetic fields to areas of the brain were non-focused memories seemed to be located. All this perhaps sounds a little bit simply like playing with people’s brains in ways that might seem similar to the way in which Wilder Penfield use micro-electrical voltages to stir up memories and other sensory experiences in the exposed brains of patients upon which he was operating. However, what these researchers are suggesting is that the kind of information they seem to be tapping into about the sometimes problematic relationship between where your internal attention is focused and the information that you need might actually be useful when trying to understand what is going on in the brains of individuals who seem to have particular difficulty in this area such as those dealing with schizophrenia. As one of the study authors, Brad Postle, pointed out, “a lot of mental illness is associated with the inability to choose what to think about”. His research can be seen to be focused upon the mechanisms through which we control what it is we focus upon mentally or, simply put, think about.
Questions for Discussion:
- What does the linked article above suggest in the way of the relationship between conscious internal attention and memory?
- Can you think of any strategies that you may employ from time to time in order to make it possible for you to recover information from memory that may be beyond your current attentional focus?
- What might some of the implications be of the research described in the linked article above for our understanding of mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression and possibly for future possible approaches to treatment of these disorders?
References (Read Further):
Rose, N.S., LaRocque, J.J., Riggall, A.C., Gosseries, O., Starrett, M.J.,Meyering, E.E., and Postle, B. R. (2016) Reactivation of latent working memories with transcranial magnetic stimulation, Science, 354(6316), 1136-1139.
Bartrés-Faz, D., & Vidal-Piñeiro, D. (2016). Noninvasive brain stimulation for the study of memory enhancement in aging. European Psychologist. http://cbc.upf.edu/sites/default/files/activities/Bartres-Faz_Eur_Psychol_2015.pdf