Archives for memory



The Relationship Between Hearing and Memory

We’ve blogged before about how easy it is to create false memories. A new psychology study explores which of our senses are generally more influential in imprinting memory. “As it turns out, there is merit to the Chinese proverb ‘I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember,” says James Bigelow, a graduate student at the University of Iowa who is lead author of the study.

From Pacific Standard:

The study consisted of two experiments that focused on short-term memory. Participants were exposed to different pictures, sounds, and objects to touch (shielded from view), and then asked to distinguish each thing from a similar item or identify it among a larger group. Sometimes participants’ memories were tested after only a matter of seconds, but in other instances the study stretched the time before recall to a day or even a week. While the accuracy of the participants’ memories declined across the board as time went on, the accuracy of their auditory recall plummeted more rapidly than that of the the other two senses.

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Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) We produced the episode in response to a question from a listener named Doug Ahmann, who wrote in to say:   

I’m very curious how it came to be that teaching students a foreign language has reached the status it has in the U.S. … My oldest daughter is a college freshman, and not only have I paid for her to study Spanish for the last four or more years — they even do it in grade school now! — but her college is requiring her to study EVEN MORE! 

What on earth is going on? How did it ever get this far?

In a day and age where schools at every level are complaining about limited resources, why on earth do we continue to force these kids to study a foreign language that few will ever use, and virtually all do not retain?

Or to put it in economics terms, where is the ROI? 

Great question, Doug! We do our best to provide some answers. Read More »



More Evidence on the Unreliability of Memory

Our podcast about false memory, “Sure, I Remember That,” featured the research of Steven J. FrendaEric D. KnowlesWilliam Saletanand Elizabeth Loftus. If you enjoyed that, you may want to check out Loftus’s recent TED talk about her research on embedding false memories in U.S. soldiers.  It focused on soldiers who had recently gone through “Survival School” training, during which they are “captured,” sent to a mock prisoner of war camp, and aggressively interrogated:

Psychiatrist Charles Morgan and his collaborators have been studying the effects of Survival School for a number of years. We worked together to conduct a study with the soldiers who’d gone through the training in which some would be fed erroneous information. Some have been exposed to misinformation about the “perpetrator” who conducted the hostile interview. They were showed a photograph of a man who was identified as the one conducting the interrogation, and were asked questions such as, “Did your interrogator give you anything to eat? Did he give you a blanket?” The trick was that the photograph was of a completely different person. When the soldiers were fed this misinformation, 84% of them later on went ahead and identified the person whose photograph was shown. All of them were, of course, mistaken.

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Messing With Memory: Mouse Edition

We’ve blogged in the past about how easy it is to create false memories for people. Now scientists at MIT say they’ve succeeded in creating false memories in mice. From The New York Times:

In the research reported Thursday, Dr. Tonegawa’s team first put mice in one environment and let them get used to it and remember it. They identified and chemically labeled the cells in the animals’ brains where that memory was being formed. The mice were not shocked in that environment.

A day later, in a completely different environment, the researchers delivered an electric shock to the mice at the same time that they stimulated the previously identified brain cells to trigger the earlier memory.

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Sure, I Remember That: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Sure, I Remember That.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player in the post, or read the transcript below.) It’s about false memory, particularly in the political realm, and how we are more capable of “remembering” an event that never happened if the event happens to synch up with our political ideology. Read More »



Messing With Memory

New research finds that it’s alarmingly easy to create false memories for people, even when they know an event didn’t happen.  Psychologists Andrew Clark, Robert A. Nash, Gabrielle Fincham, and Giuliana Mazzoni conducted a three-stage experiment: 

In Session 1 participants imitated simple actions, and in Session 2 they saw doctored video-recordings containing clips that falsely suggested they had performed additional (fake) actions. As in earlier studies, this procedure created powerful false memories. In Session 3, participants were debriefed and told that specific actions in the video were not truly performed. Beliefs and memories for all critical actions were tested before and after the debriefing.

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The Reminiscence Bump: Who’s Your Favorite Footballer?

Memory is a funny thing, as evidenced by a new experiment from Steve M. J. Janssen, David C. Rubin and Martin A. Conway. The BPS Research Digest blog summarizes:

Six hundred and nineteen people (aged 16 to 80) took part in the study online, conducted in Dutch and hosted on the website of the University of Amsterdam. Participants were presented with the names of 190 all-time leading football players and asked to name their judgment of the five best players of all time. They could either select from the list or choose their own.

The researchers calculated the mid-career point of the 172 players named by the participants and compared this against the participants’ age at that time. Participants overwhelming tended to name players whose career mid-point coincided with participants’ teens and early twenties. The modal age (i.e. the most common) of the participants at their chosen players’ mid-career was 17 years.

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National Treasure 2.7 Deciphered

In one of my previous posts, I asked for help interpreting a rather bizarre dream imagining a new plotline for a National Treasure movie. These movies often involve deciphering secret codes, and so did my post. My [day]dream was actually an aid to help me remember 40 digits of the irrational, transcendental constant of Leonhard Euler, e.

Here is the dream again with numeric annotations in brackets: Read More »