How do you remember what happened? As depersonalized facts and happenings? Or detailed sensory scenes and experiences?
In one of the clearest demonstrations studies so far, researchers showed striking differences between how different people told them how they remembered and brain connectivity patterns.
The research is relevant to everyone, of course, whether parents, teachers, or team leaders.
From Science Daily,
“For decades, nearly all research on memory and brain function has treated people as the same, averaging across individuals,” said lead investigator Dr. Signy Sheldon, now an assistant professor of Psychology at McGill University.
“Yet as we know from experience and from comparing our recollection to others, peoples’ memory traits vary. Our study shows that these memory traits correspond to stable differences in brain function, even when we are not asking people to perform memory tasks while in the scanner.”
Are you stronger at episodic or semantic memory?
Episodic Rememberers will tend to answer the following questions with ‘Yes’.
When I remember events, in general I can recall people, what they looked like, or what they were wearing.”
When I remember events, in general I can recall objects in the environment.
On the other hand, Semantic Rememberers will answer the following in the affirmative:
“I can learn and repeat facts easily even if I don’t remember where I learned themf from.”
“After I have met someone once, I easily remember his or her name.”
If you haven’t already guessed, dyslexics as a group seem to have the episodic memory preference which may be why there are so many gifted artists and writers after they have gotten through all the major obstacles of getting their ideas to paper (or canvas). It also explains why it is so frustrating for people who have so many rich sensory details in their head because the problem is not that they don’t have any ideas, it is because they have too many.
We’ve embedded the original research paper below with selected highlights.
Researchers discovered not only that Episodic Rememberers had more connections in their medial temporal lobes, but also that that activation of the default memory network (‘daydreaming’ network) was associated with this type of memory retrieval when test subjects were asked to come up with words following certain prompts.
The paper is validating to people who have this strong memory style, and who in the earlier years of education made be made to suffer the consequences of assignments that favor the quicker (and therefore more superficial) semantic memory style. Both are important for different purposes, tasks, and projects, of course, but the greatest injustices might come when episodic rememberers are made to feel inadequate because they cannot ‘sound bite’ what seems to be impossible to ‘sound bite.’
From the paper: “The reported connectivity patterns support novel hypotheses and models of individual differences in general mnemonic traits or characteristics. Specifically, the link between high SAM episodic scores, endorsing the ability to engage in general episodic remembering, and strong MTL (medial temporal lobe) connectivity to medial and posterior brain regions that support visual perceptual processing, reflects the preferential use of reconstructive and integrative processes associated with visual imagery when thinking about the past…we further predict that endorsing episodic remembering processes that promote the fluent and vivid recollection of perceptual details would hold for any form of specific and selective event simulation. In short, individuals with strong episodic remembering trait have a strong sense of reliving and re-experiencing events in general.”
No wonder dyslexic individuals do so well ‘on the job’ in apprentice learning, and in fields which require field experiences whether in science, customer relations, engineering, or anything in the real world. The task for teachers (and students themselves, if the educational environment is not optimal) is to figure out how to convert information and the learning process so that episodic rememberers can thrive.
If you’d like to hear a great story of someone’s life who has a powerful episodic memory (and who is also dyslexic), check out David Hornik’s video below [warning: mild language : ) ]. David had given a TED talk on the difficulty he’s had remembering names.Autobiographical-Remembering