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Effects of Common Behaviour on Memory

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By shreya521ghosh
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Memory, is an abstract term with no real concrete definition or absolute understanding thus making the word intriguing enough to draw attention to the greater subject of what it is, how it works and why it goes wrong. It is an essential concept in our daily life yet is the most elusive and misunderstood human attribute. Its constant presence in our everyday and its intricately complex mysteries is what ignites my interest in the research conducted in this field of Psychology.

As a college student memory plays a great role in our academic performance, from weather we can recall mathematical formulas to recalling something a professor said in class to remembering certain solutions, key words and definitions we read in course material. Therefore from a personal standpoint the topic of memory interests me, as by understanding this complex concept and going into the depths of it’s functioning, I might be able to improve my own. Memory is formed from childhood and I am interested to see if memory is an natural capacity, and if so what factors lead to a better memory and if not can memory be affected by daily everyday factors.

From a Psychological perspective memory excites me because the way we remember things and how can help us understand behavior and reactions to various situations. Memory hence affects decision-making and all other spheres of human life. The recollection of memory, the gaps, failures and lack of recollection hence play a huge role in societal functioning. This makes me curious as to the causes, how’s and why’s of false or inadequate recollections and if decline in memory is affected by natural and genetic factors.

The main focus of this paper is going to be on how different factors and habits, both natural and artificial affect memory in children and young adults. Its going to highlight how certain factors lead to higher memory whereas others lead to memory problems and decline in cognitive health.
The paper explores the factors that I feel are personally the most relevant to college students who are in a situation where memory and cognitive health are of the utmost importance. The paper will look into the effects of bilingualism, acute exercise, smoking and stress on different aspects of human memory, hopefully enlightening us with insights into how to have the healthiest memory possible as undergraduates who encounter these factors on a daily basis.

ARTICLE 1: The benefits of being bilingual: Working memory in bilingual Turkish– Dutch children
SOURCE: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Vol 128, Dec, 2014. pp. 105-119
The purpose of the studies conducted

Over the years it has been highly debated if bilingual children have any advantages over monolingual children, especially with respect to working memory. The fact that bilingual children may have an advantage is based on the theories that that bilinguals need to constantly solve the competition between their two language repertoires and, because of the simultaneous activation of lexemes in both languages, constantly inhibit one of their languages (Green, 1998, Jared and Kroll, 2001 and Poarch and van Hell, 2012). In an alternative account, Costa and colleagues (2009) posited that continuous monitoring of which language to use for each communicative interaction plays a more crucial role than the search for appropriate lexicalization. Both views share the assumption that bilingualism enhances executive control, which is key to cognitive advantages.

The study conducted aimed to answer two main questions. First if bilingual Turkish-Dutch children from low Social Economic Status (SES) backgrounds perform better on executive-loaded tasks testing Visuospatial and verbal working memory than monolingual Dutch controls, and do results differ depending on whether between-group differences in Dutch vocabulary and SES background are controlled. And secondly if bilingual proficiency and use of both Turkish and Dutch at home predict bilingual Turkish–Dutch children’s performance in executive-loaded working memory tasks.

Data collected as a part of a study conducted by Messer (Messer et al., 2010) was analyzed for this study. For the current study, data comparing Turkish-Dutch bilingual children and Dutch monolingual children at ages 5 and 6 were used. Background information on the children’s SES and language used at home was determined by oral interviews with mothers. The children’s knowledge of Dutch and Turkish vocabulary was measured using receptive vocabulary outcomes. The working memory measures were adapted from the Automated working memory assessment. For Visuospatial working memory the Dot Matrix and Odd-One-Out tasks were selected and for Verbal working memory the Forward Digit Recall and the Backward Digit Recall were selected. The testing took place in a quite room over 2 sessions that were one week apart where each session lasted about 75 minutes.

The outcomes of the research were in line with the expectations of the researchers. The experiment showed that when no statistical control for Dutch vocabulary and SES background was exerted, no differences between the bilingual and monolingual children emerged. However when statistically controlling for Dutch vocabulary and SES background, it was observed that there was no overall difference at age 5 years between the two groups. At age 6 years, an overall advantage for the bilinguals was found. The bilingual children outperformed the monolingual children on one visuospatial working memory task (Dot Matrix) and on one verbal working memory task (Backward Digit Recall), and a trend toward a bilingual advantage was found for the second visuospatial working memory task (Odd-One-Out). This effectively answered the researchers first research question. In answering the second research question researchers found that executive control develops as a function of growing bilingual proficiency. This was seen as the difference in performance in the Backward Digit Recall task between proficient and non-proficient children at the age of 6.

This experiments highlights how factors such as bilingualism influence our memory. I however believe that the experiment needs to go further and try to establish an even more definitive correlation between bilingualism and working memory. I feel the experiment can extend itself to see if the number of languages known by a person affect memory. For example will someone who is exposed to three languages from a young age outperform a bilingual, or does the number of languages not make a difference after one is bilingual.

ARTICLE 2: Influence of acute high-intensity aerobic interval exercise bout on selective attention and short-term memory tasks
SOURCE: Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol 118(1), Feb, 2014. pp. 63-72

There is a huge body of literature on how exercise affects certain aspects of memory, especially selective attention and short-term memory. Selective attention can be defined as the prioritization of information for further processing (Stroop, 1935; Scerif, 2010), while short-term memory is the capacity of holding information in mind for a short period of time (Cowan & AuBuchon, 2008). Both of these are very important cognitive functions required in our daily life and hence studying them is of key importance.

Most research show that there is a positive relationship between exercise and cognitive processes, they state that moderate intensity exercise improves cognitive function performance in the fields of selective attention and short-term memory. Also research claims that exercise intensity affects cognition in a U-shaped fashion, hence implying the High Intensity Training (HIT) may impair and decrease cognitive performance. Since there is a scarcity of research and data in that field this study attempted to show the relationship between acute high intensity aerobic interval exercise and selective attention and short-term memory tasks.

A convenience sample of 22 volunteers were chosen (13 female and 9 male) after a series of tests to ensure that there would be no misattribution of results. The volunteers were required to perform one familiarization session to the cognitive tasks. One week after these procedures, the volunteers randomly performed two experimental sessions on separate occasions (seven days apart). The experimental sessions were: (1) a HIT session and (2) a control session. Cognitive function was assessed before (PRE) and immediately after (POST) each experimental session. For cognitive function tasks the Victoria version of the Stroop test was used whereas the Digit span test was used for short-term memory.

The results of the experiments were contrary to the popular hypothesis, as it was recorded that the high intensity training did not impair or diminish cognitive performance. The participants improved the performance in the Stroop “Color Word” test, which has been thought to be a measure of selective attention and the susceptibility to interference from conflicting stimuli, however there was no change in performance on the ‘backward’ or ‘forward’ track of the digit span test. Hence it can be concluded that the intensity of exercise does play that huge of a role in cognitive performance alone.

The study demonstrates that an acute high intensity workout doesn’t lead to diminished cognitive performance, which is contrary to previous popular belief and work. However this study does not take into account how fatigue from the High Intensity Training affects the subjects performance, hence that can be seen as a limitation of the study. Another limitation of the study was that it primarily studied people with a basic amount of physical fitness and in a specific age group, thus in doing so it cannot be said to be representative of the entire population.

I feel this area of research can expand by looking into if daily moderate to high intensity workout has any affects on memory and cognitive performance as opposed to just study acute bouts of exercise and then its subsequent impact.

ARTICLE 3: Exposure to second-hand smoke damages everyday prospective memory
SOURCE: Addiction, Vol 108(2), Feb, 2013. pp. 420-426 Smoking has been a problem that has plagued adolescents for many years and has proven to be harmful to them in many different aspects. Active memory can lead to variety of cognitive impairments, one of these include Prospective memory. Prospective memory is described as the cognitive ability to remember and carry out an activity in some future point in time. While there is a large body of research on the detrimental effects of smoking on various cognitive functions, there is limited research studying the effects of exposure to second hand smoke and its effects on cognitive memory functions. As previous has shown a negative relationship between the two this study goes further to show how Exposure to second-hand smoke damages everyday prospective memory by comparing people who had been exposed to second hand smoke (for around 10-19 hours per week, on 2-5 occasions a week and for 4- 8 years) to people who had never been exposed to second hand smoke and to chain smokers.
After using several exclusion criteria including using an illegal substance, having used alcohol in the last 48 hours etc, and 79 individuals were tested. All participants were either in their first or second year of an undergraduate degree and were educated to A level status. 24 participants (12 female) were in the exposed to Second Hand Smoke (SHS) group, 28 (18 female) were in the non SHS group and 27 (14 female) were in the Chain smoker (CS) group. The prospective memory was tested using the Cambridge Prospective Memory Test (CAMPROMPT) which is a valid and reliable test of prospective memory. In this test there are three time-based PM tasks (e.g. return a set of keys to the researcher when there are 7 minutes remain- ing on the clock) and three event-based PM tasks (e.g. when a cue word is encountered during the filler task, remember to return a book to the researcher) were completed over a 30-minute period, while additionally completing a set of distracter puzzles.
The main results from the CAMPROMPT test were as follows; first, the non-SHS group recalled significantly more time-based items and total items than the SHS and CS groups, with the SHS group recalling significantly more time-based and total items than the CS group. No such trend was observed on the event-based items from the CAMPROMPT.
In conclusion to the study it can be said that exposure to SHS is associated with impaired prospective memory performance when compared to a group of never smokers who have never been exposed to SHS, but is not impaired to the same level as those of chain smokers. Exposure to SHS primarily leads to time based deficits in prospective memory. This can be explained by 3 underlying mechanisms, first is deficits in PM found in this study in SHS and CS groups comes from the notion that the ingestion of smoke interferes with oxygen being carried to the brain. Second possible explanation stems from recent evidence [35] from animal studies suggesting that the toxic mixtures produced by tobacco smoke, such as the tobacco-specific procarcinogen 4-methylnitrosamino-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), leads to damage at the neuronal level in the brain. A third possible explanation of the current findings is with regard to putative cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with exposure to second-hand smoke.
This experiment has several limitations the first being that by using only college undergraduates several age groups of the population are not being represented hence the results cannot be applicable to a wide range of the population. It cannot be applied across the wider population as it only studied the habits of a particular group and different groups have different smoking patterns and habits. Another limitation is that only the CAMPROMT test was used to determine prospective memory, while this test may be a valid indicator it does not represent any real life task that requires prospective memory, hence we are unaware if exposure to SHS smoking affects real life tasks that require prospective memory. And lastly all the participants had self reported their habits and conditions, this always leaves room for errors in conclusion as the information provided by the participants could be false.
For further research in this field of memory, I feel that needs to be more definitive evidence of the correlation between memory impairments and exposure to SHS. This can be achieved by eliminating the limitations stated above.

ARTICLE 4: Timing matters: Temporal dynamics of stress effects on memory retrieval
SOURCE: Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, Vol 14(3), Sep, 2014. pp. 1041-1048

Stress is a common factor that affects humans all across world in a multiplicity of different ways. Stress is said to affect memory retrieval, something that has been attributed to the stress hormone, cortisol, which is releases a few minutes after the stressful encounter. Most studies test memory after 20-30 minutes of a stressor, when the stress-induced cortisol is at its peak. In the study conducted psychologists were trying to determine whether stress effects on retrieval might also be time dependent on how long the retrieval impairment may last after stress since its unclear whether stress does indeed universally impair memory retrieval, irrespective of the timing of the stress exposure, and for how long after stress the retrieval impairment may last.

There are 3 main temporal phases of stress response, each phase having opposite effects on brain areas essential for memory. The first phase starts within seconds of being introduced to the stressor and includes noradrenaline and other neurotransmitters; a second phase sets in after several minutes that includes, in addition to noradrenaline, rapid cortisol actions; and a third phase develops after more than an hour that includes mainly slow, gene-mediated actions of cortisol. Hence the main aim of the experiment was to see the difference between the memory levels at the three phases (0mins, 25mins and 90mins after the stressor) where cortisol levels are different.

Two lists of German nouns each consisting of 30 neutral and 30 negative nouns, were used as stimuli. Participants were tested on consecutive days in two sessions. On day 1 participant’s saw the lists of nouns and completed a free recall test. On day 2 the participants underwent the socially evaluated cold pressor test (SECPT) or a warm water control test, depending on the experimental group. A recognition test took place either immediately after the treatment, 25 min after the treatment, or 90 min after the treatment. Blood pressure and saliva were analyzed to determine stress and cortisol level at intervals. 120 students (60 male, 60 female) of the Ruhr – University Bochum participated in this experiment.

The performance of the participants in the immediate recall test of day 1 was rather moderate. On day two results showed that stress did not hinder memory as long as cortisol levels were not elevated, as seen by the performance when memory was tested immediately after the stressor was introduced. However, if memory was tested 25 min after the treatment, when cortisol levels peak, stress resulted in a (marginally significant) memory impairment. This memory impairment was even more pronounced if memory was assessed 90 min after stressor exposure.

The essential conclusion from this is that stress continues to effect memory retrieval even after cortisol levels return to the base, however there isn’t sufficient research any further to show how long does a particular stressor impair memory retrieval.
I feel that a limitation of this experiment is that it doesn’t use a real life stressor to induce stress; hence this model might not be applicable to all real life stress situations. I feel that looking into the time period for which memory retrieval is impaired after exposure to a stressor can extend the research in this field. Also researchers can look into how different degrees of stress affect memory retrieval.


The first article mainly came to the conclusion that Bilingual benefits are found beyond inhibition in working memory tasks; they include both storage and processing. Children from low SES backgrounds have enhanced working memory due to bilingualism and higher bilingual proficiency is associated with better verbal working memory performance.

The second article brings to light another factor that affects memory. Exercise has become a huge part of everyone’s life especially with the growing awareness about health and fitness. The article predominantly assesses how High Intensity training affects attention selective and short-term memory. While the study shows that there is no significant change in cognitive performance due to HIT, it does highlight the positive relationship between exercise and cognitive performance.

The third article addresses how smoking and exposure to SHS both lead to impairment of prospective memory as shown by the CAMPROMPT results. This research is extremely relevant to current times and college students, as smoking has become extremely widespread and hence so has exposure to SHS. This illustrates that not only smoking has a negative affect of memory, but also exposure to it is equally bad. This research should motivate young adults to actively stop smoking as well as propagate not smoking.
The fourth article goes into the depths of how stress affects memory retrieval over different periods of time (0mins, 25mins, 90mins after introduction to the stressor) corresponding to the different cortisol levels at those time periods. The results highlighted how memory impairment was the highest 90 minutes after the induction of the stressor, even though the stress hormone cortisol is highest 25 minutes after the induction of the stressor. This raises the important question of for how long does stress actually effect memory retrieval, in an academic context this is particularly pressing as retrieval impairments affect the performance of students. Also this model of stress effects on memory retrieval has several clinical implications as abnormal memory processes characterize many mental disorders, and cortisol treatment could help to cure some of these disorders.

All the above articles highlight many factors that are common to most undergraduate students and hence understanding their implications on memory is important as they can have both negative and positive effects on academic performance. These factors go beyond application to just students and apply to the general public, who by keeping the detrimental or positive effects of the different factors in mind can improve their cognitive health and hence their efficiency in daily activities.

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...Chapter 1: Thinking Critically With Psychological Science Textbook: i. The Need for Psychological Science a) Did We Know It All Along? Hindsight Bias i. Hindsight bias = Something has happened makes it seem inevitable ii. Not because common sense is usually wrong, but because common sense more easily describes what has happened than what will happen b) Overconfidence iii. We tend to think we know more than we do c) The Scientific Attitude iv. Curiosity 1. Empirical approach v. Skepticism = persistently asking two questions: What do you mean? How do you know? 2. Scientific attitude: being skeptical but not cynical, open but not gullible vi. Humility = an awareness of our own vulnerability to error and an openness to surprises and new perspectives d) Critical Thinking ii. How Do Psychologists Ask and Answer Questions? e) The Scientific Method vii. A scientific theory explains through an integrated set of principles that organizes observations and predicts behaviour or events. viii. Hypotheses ix. We should be aware that it can bias subjective observations x. Operational functions = a statement of the procedures used to define research variables. For example, human intelligence may be operationally defined as what an intelligence test xi. Replicate – repeat xii. Finally –......

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