Science Tuesday: Memory Games

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer
@sanahfaroke

Before I went to school and before I had any friends, my mom was my best friend. We used to play Mario Kart and Street Fighter, which I would always win (probably because she just pressed a bunch of buttons and hoped she wouldn’t spin out on a banana peel or get knocked out).

When it came to games like Monopoly, I’d lose. Unless I use a calculator, I’m not playing. Scrabble? I probably shouldn’t use a dictionary, right? And then there was the Memory game. It was one of my favorites, but I’ve learned (and this is still a problem), my memory sucks.

I could never remember where the other picture of the dumb boy sticking his tongue out at me was. It was like he was taunting me and I’d panic and blank out. If I lost — which happened more than I’d like to admit — I’d cry, like the big baby I was. Then my mom would take pity on me, flip some cards over and we’d play again.

A study published earlier this month in the Journal of Neuroscience explains that our loss of memory is actually our memories getting rewritten.

Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, conducted a study where 17 volunteers played a memory game. They had to remember where an object was placed on a computer screen with different backgrounds. Once the original background was changed, and participants had to place where the object was, they continuously got it wrong. When they were asked to locate the object in the original place after seeing it in different places on three different backgrounds, they would get that wrong too. The results of the study makes me feel a little better about my childhood.

The good news is, when researchers instructed for volunteers to put the object in a different location that was not the original spot, for some reason the subjects could then remember the original location of the object.

So what this study can infer is that the hippocampus (the area of the brain that deals with our memories) can decide what is important and can build upon that original memory or change it. It makes total sense. I say that I have selective memory just because I can remember in vivid detail in kindergarten when a bully (I won’t name any names) stole my Purell hand sanitizer and then filled it with soap and water and put it in my lunch box. Yup, never letting that go. But there are (multiple) times when I meet a group of people and instantaneously, I forget their names. Yeah, yeah, sue me.

But there are also times when this selective memory can benefit us.

Thanks to the hippocampus, our memory of the past can be altered subconsciously. Think of your ex-boyfriend. Don’t you kind of hate him? Well good. He was a jerk anyway. But if our memory actually remembered all the good things that happened, you’d probably never be able to get over the guy who played you. We tend to focus on the bad instead of that first kiss under a shooting star. Because we focus on the bad, our memory alters toward that, which helps us move on. Can I get an amen?

So although we can remember something from our past, and think we remember it exactly how it went down, it’s possible that we’ve altered our memories. Maybe that bully in kindergarten gave me dirty looks all through grade school because I told on her… or maybe she just had the sun in her eyes? Come to think of it, she made the same face indoors. #hatersgonnahate

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