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J ramanand neuroanatomy_projectsubmission_memoryathletes

Submission for a coursera course on Neuroanatomy

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THE ‘BRAIN’
BEHIND MEMORY
By J. Ramanand (quatrainman@gmail.com)
Submission for Final Project on ‘Understanding the Brain: The
Neurobiology of Everyday Life’
COVER PAGE
Project Overview
The project discusses the following:
• Memory athletes and those who rely on memory
• Is there anything different about their brain?
• How the course helped me study this aspect
Note: all images used are those allowed to be used in non-commercial settings and the links are included.
The world of memory athletes & London taxicab drivers!
Motivation:
• I’m an avid quizzer, which means I often take part in trivia events
• A key aspect of doing well in such events is memory recall i.e. the ability to
remember and retrieve a piece of information at very short notice
• Some do it better than others. In the case of amateurs, this seems to be largely
a factor of their innate powers of memory and learning. Most amateurs don’t
spend time specifically honing their memory or retrieval skills.
• There are, however, professional situations where memory is honed
deliberately. Three of these are:
• The world of Memory Athletes (people who take part in memory-based
competitions)
• Trivia contestants (similar to the above)
• London taxicab drivers
MEMORY ATHLETES
Try to memorise and recall
arbitrary sets and sequences (such
as the order of a pack of cards)
LONDON CABBIES
Required to memorise ‘The
Knowledge’ i.e. a map of London and
best routes between any two spots
RELEVANT NEUROANATOMY PARTS
From Prof. Mason’s course, we know the following about ‘semantic
memories’ (i.e. facts etc.):
• Information moves from short-term memory to the long-term
memory via the Hippocampus
• There are two hippocampi in our brains and they are part of the
temporal lobes
• The hippocampus also plays a big role in capturing spatial
information and is useful in navigation
• People who have injuries to this area develop amnesia and are not
able to make new memories
KEY QUESTIONS
1. In the case of high-performing memory athletes and taxi drivers, is
there anything special about the structure of their brain?
2. What role does the hippocampus play?
3. What can we learn from these athletes and drivers to improve our
own memory ability?

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J ramanand neuroanatomy_projectsubmission_memoryathletes

  • 1. THE ‘BRAIN’ BEHIND MEMORY By J. Ramanand (quatrainman@gmail.com) Submission for Final Project on ‘Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life’
  • 2. COVER PAGE Project Overview The project discusses the following: • Memory athletes and those who rely on memory • Is there anything different about their brain? • How the course helped me study this aspect Note: all images used are those allowed to be used in non-commercial settings and the links are included.
  • 3. The world of memory athletes & London taxicab drivers! Motivation: • I’m an avid quizzer, which means I often take part in trivia events • A key aspect of doing well in such events is memory recall i.e. the ability to remember and retrieve a piece of information at very short notice • Some do it better than others. In the case of amateurs, this seems to be largely a factor of their innate powers of memory and learning. Most amateurs don’t spend time specifically honing their memory or retrieval skills. • There are, however, professional situations where memory is honed deliberately. Three of these are: • The world of Memory Athletes (people who take part in memory-based competitions) • Trivia contestants (similar to the above) • London taxicab drivers
  • 4. MEMORY ATHLETES Try to memorise and recall arbitrary sets and sequences (such as the order of a pack of cards) LONDON CABBIES Required to memorise ‘The Knowledge’ i.e. a map of London and best routes between any two spots
  • 5. RELEVANT NEUROANATOMY PARTS From Prof. Mason’s course, we know the following about ‘semantic memories’ (i.e. facts etc.): • Information moves from short-term memory to the long-term memory via the Hippocampus • There are two hippocampi in our brains and they are part of the temporal lobes • The hippocampus also plays a big role in capturing spatial information and is useful in navigation • People who have injuries to this area develop amnesia and are not able to make new memories
  • 6. KEY QUESTIONS 1. In the case of high-performing memory athletes and taxi drivers, is there anything special about the structure of their brain? 2. What role does the hippocampus play? 3. What can we learn from these athletes and drivers to improve our own memory ability?
  • 7. ANYTHING SPECIAL IN THE BRAIN? From the online reading I did, I found: • These people have enlarged hippocampi (source, source) • This enlargement was not something they were born with • The enlargement happened over a period of time and was a result of memory practice and ‘cognitive exercise’ • The current understanding is that the brains of these people were normal, but repeated work on memory and knowledge-related activities enlarged the hippocampus, and thus its ability to help them memorise and ultimately retrieve
  • 8. LINK BETWEEN TAXI DRIVERS AND MEMORY ATHLETES • Memory athletes use a technique called the ‘method of loci’ (a.k.a the Memory Palace) (source) • This attaches arbitrary information to be memorized to spatial information (such as a place, a route etc.) • Interestingly, the hippocampus’s role in both spatial memory and memory consolidation could be the reason why the Memory Palace works.
  • 9. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS? • Looking to improve memory? You don’t need a different ‘type’ of brain. • Practice and cognitive engagement helps improve the brain’s receptivity to the task • So the answer lies in what we do with our ‘normal’ brains
  • 10. HOW DID THE COURSE HELP ME? • As an active quizzer, I’ve always been curious about the role of memory and the brain in such tasks, and whether there was something particularly special about the brains of such people. • Prof. Mason’s course helped me understand the various part of the brain, especially how memory works. Learning about types of memory, structures like hippocampus, and processes of consolidation helped me map my own experiences. • I also now know that more than the structure of the brain, it’s what you do with it in terms of practice, right conditions (such as sleep), and memory techniques that help better memory.