The Art of Forgetting

By Anupum Pant

At school we were expected to remember things. Every single piece of misplaced information in your brain costed you points  in tests. You couldn’t afford to forget – The very mental pressure which caused panic and made you forget things!

Turns out, there is a forgetting protein in our brains called Musashi. It messes with the way nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other – basically makes you forget stuff.

Scientists have, genetically modified ringworms to clear Musashi off their brains. As expected, the Musashi free ringworms remembered things much better and were far less forgetful. [read more]

So, can’t we just do the same to our brains and never ever forget?  No, we can’t. If we did, we’d have our brains filled with information and there’d be no space to learn new things. We forget for a reason and it is totally normal. It’s probably high time that the educations system at schools be modified to embrace what is only natural – in fact, like  Vanessa Hill says in this new video from the BrainCraft channel, forgetting actually helps you remember!

Drink it Right and Coffee Can Help You Remember Well

By Anupum Pant

With our ever-increasing hours at work, coffee is what keeps most of us running at office. While some revel in the ability to stay hyper active by taking in no dose of caffeine whatsoever, others just can’t live without it. A few days without coffee can turn them into irritated, stressed out and cranky colleagues.

Caffeine in coffee, coke and other energy drinks basically works by tricking your brain into thinking it isn’t tired, even when it badly needs rest. In short, it messes with your brain by creating an artificial brain chemistry to keep you alert. So can it really be good in any way?

Obviously, at such a stage, still keeping up with the intake can harm your brain (up to some extent) without it showing any clear signs. Lack of sleep (at the time when it is needed) can mean, starving brain of the time to perform several essential processes – Memory consolidation being one of them. As a result, lack of sleep means, you are not forming strong memories.

So, how does it help you remember well when it doesn’t let you form strong memories?

According to Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain science at John Hopkins University, and his team, caffeine can indeed have positive effects on your memory. The trick lies in limiting your intake of coffee. In a study, they have been able to show that caffeine intake can enhance certain kinds of memories even when tested after a day.

Study in short: In a double-blind trial where subjects were given caffeine tablets or placebos and were shown images of a few objects. It was found that people who were given caffeine doses showed a deeper lever of memory retention on the other day than people who were given placebos.

Since caffeine isn’t very effective after about 6 hours, people feel a need to replenish their bodies with more of it. It seems as if it is addictive, but as Hank says, technically, it isn’t. You can positively keep on drinking red bulls for the whole day and not get addicted to it. It will make you cranky for a day or two, but you won’t experience any long-lasting effects. The thing is, if you drink a lot of it, you’ll not sleep well and give your brain enough time to consolidate memories. So, since it isn’t really addictive, a good idea would be to limit the intake.

Solution: The crux of it comes down to keeping your intake of coffee to about 200 mg a day. That means, a cup of strong coffee or 2 small cups of normal coffee every day, is actually good for your brain.  As the recent research shows, it helps you remember well. That much, will help you consolidate memories during sleep (at the same time, it won’t mess with your sleep). Anything more than that will probably mess with your activities and anything less than that will have no effect on your memory. [Video]

Working Memory – Chimpanzees vs. Humans

By Anupum Pant

At least in one known cognitive area, chimpanzees prove to be far smarter than human beings. While it is possible for humans to train themselves up to some extent at it, they lack the capacity for an excellent working memory. On the other hand, chimps naturally display a remarkable working memory.

So, naturally the next question we’d ask – what exactly is working memory and how can I beat chimps at it?

But before that is answered, let us have a look at this study conducted by Japanese scientists.
In the study, scientists use a test where numbers from 1 to 9 are arranged on a screen randomly. The test taker is given a chance to remember all the nine positions. When the subject is ready, the areas go blank and the user is required to recall all the nine numbers in sequence. One mistake and the subject has to start over. In the test, we see this chimpanzee named Ayumu showing remarkable ability in terms of working memory. The opponent human loses badly.

BTW at this test, the chimp Ayumu, can now recall 19 numbers in sequence without making a single mistake. Not just Ayumu, this knack is observed in all chimps.

Why?

As the researcher mentions, chimps are not the same as humans. Both humans and chimps had a common ancestor several millions of years ago. Now, both of these species have evolved in their own ways for all these years. While they’ve gotten good at something, we’ve picked up different abilities. You don’t have to feel bad about it.

This ability to actively hold multiple pieces of information in the mind and play with them has helped these chimps to survive in the wild by helping them to make quick decisions. As a result, they have evolved to master it.

Training + Caveat

Although you can train yourself to have an amazing working memory, you’ll probably never be able to beat chimps. Also, you should know that very few humans have a nearly equal level of working memory as compared to chimps, and these are the people who are affected by a mental disability called the Savant syndrome. It is beyond common humans to train themselves to chimp-level-working memory.

A game known as n-back, used as a test and an exercise tool can help you to master your working memory. The game starts easy. Then you move on to the second level where things straight away move from easy to difficult. The next levels seem impossible at first. But it has been proved that this game can help you to improve your working memory. The harder you train, the better you get at it; of course, never as good as Ayumu.

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