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Yay For Catnaps February 21, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Think About It.
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Yawn. Maybe you were up too late playing X-box or perhaps you spent a little too much time chatting on the phone with your friend last night. Or maybe you got enough sleep but were thinking to just relax and take a little catnap anyways. But wait, could that catnap actually give you benefits beyond just feeling a bit refreshed from the sleep?

According to some scientists in Germany, even super short catnaps can be enough to boost your performance in memory tests. Led by Dr Olaf Lahl, researchers at the University of Dusseldorf gathered up a group of students. They showed the students a set of words and then over the next hour, some students got to sleep for six minutes while others had to stay awake. The results? The students who had the nap did the best in recalling the words.

Replacing Old Stuff

Learning and Memory One thing you might find confusing about science is how it’s always changing! You’re not alone. New ideas replace the old and can totally change how we look at a problem. In this case, previous theories about sleep suggested that it took deep sleep – 20 minutes or more after falling asleep for memories to be processed. Yet, this new study showed that a mere six minutes of sleep enhanced memory. Lahl thinks that the moment of falling asleep begins a process in the brain that actually keeps going after a person wakes up. Lahl explains:

To our knowledge, this demonstrates for the first time that an ultra-brief sleep episode provides an effective memory enhancement.

Still, other scientists say that we should be careful before assuming that six minutes is enough time to make a difference in memory. Instead, they say we need more research into the area of sleep and memory. For now though, I just think that catnaps feel so nice and if they help my memory, that’s a big bonus! Zzzzz.

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Imagination Requires Memory January 9, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Tough Stuff.
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As kids and teens, we imagine all sorts of stuff – what we want to be when we grow up or maybe even becoming famous. We hear about kids having vivid imaginations and big dreams for the future. Older adults, on the other hand, can struggle to remember past events and imagine new ones. We obviously know that adults have imaginations too but what makes it different and not always so intense?

Imagination A new study performed at Harvard University has shown that the ability of adults to create imaginary scenarios is linked to their ability to recall detailed memories. The full study results can be viewed in the Psychological Science journal.

Episodic Memory

If you didn’t already know, we have different types of memory. One type is called episodic memory. This kind of memory refers to personal memories of past experiences. It’s what lets you go backwards and forwards in the recollection of an event in time. Basically, episodic memories are connected to a specific time and place. If I asked what you had for dinner last night, you would be using episodic memory to answer. Think of episodic memory as being endless snapshots of different moments in your life.

Getting Back To Imagination

So, how does episodic memory relate to imagination? Simple. In order to create and imagine future events, a person needs to remember a previous event. Then, they need to take out bits and pieces from the specific details of the event before they can piece it all back together to form a new, imagined event. There’s even a name for this process – it’s called constructive episodic simulation.

Testing It Out

Older Adult Psychologists from the university asked young and older participants to respond to various randomly chosen cue words with past and future scenarios. Researchers Donna Rose Addis, Alana Wong and Daniel Schacter then looked at the results, which showed that older adults had a significant reduction in their use of episodic memory to describe past memories and imagined future events. It’s interesting to think about memory being so important in the process of imagination. It just goes to show that all the stuff you do plays a special part in allowing you to imagine new and exciting things, which then creates even more episodic memories.

As for me, I don’t qualify as an older person just yet, I hope. So, I will use my episodic memory to the best of its ability as I imagine what it would be like to finish all of my work this week and take a very long vacation around Europe!

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