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Enhance recollection abilites

Enhance recollection abilites

I hope this is a good way of asking this question.

I am not generally the guy with the best memory out there, so I looked a bit into it and I am concluding my recollection phase is the weakest. It's seems like I can store a lot but recalling it, I would come under average.

It's not like it has stopped me from doing fine in life, but I am curious about how one can enhance that part, any good reads should you recommend from the scientific literature ?

Thanks.

Augmented :

Well I do recall a lot because I can gather a lot from my memory, but then I stumble often in just getting the first starting point from which I would be able to gather all those memories, i.e : I can remember profusely given someone or something helps me with recalling just a part or the beginning of it. So my recalling issue is really in having a sort of catalogue or dictionary like system : once you get the word you get its definition, my trouble is in getting the word (I hope the analogy is clear). Working memory is short-term memory? Can be, what are symptoms for that ?


Practice or forget, that is the rule. If you want to recall more words for your vocabulary then read more and write more texts with less common words. If you want to recall memories look at old photographs of your life and try to recall everything associated with those events.
Memory improves when health improves, so work on that too.


Imagery an effective way to enhance memory, reduce false memories, study finds

Using imagery is an effective way to improve memory and decrease certain types of false memories, according to researchers at Georgia State University.

Their study examined how creating images affected the ability to accurately recall conceptually related word lists as well as rhyming word lists. People who were instructed to create images of the list words in their head were able to recall more words than people who didn't create images, and they didn't recall false memories as often. False memories occur when a person recalls something that didn't happen or remembers something inaccurately.

The findings are published in The Journal of General Psychology.

"Creating images improved participants' memories and helped them commit fewer errors, regardless of what kind of list we gave them," said Merrin Oliver, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in the educational psychology program in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State.

In the study, 102 undergraduate students at Georgia State were shown 10 word lists, one at a time, on a projector and asked to recall the words immediately after each list. Half the lists were related by meaning and half by sound. The participants were divided into two groups, with one group receiving instructions to imagine each word visually and the other group receiving instructions to remember the words.

After the recall tests, participants completed a word search for seven minutes to clear their mind. Then they completed a recognition test, in which they saw some of the words from the previous lists as well as some previously unseen words, and had to indicate which words they studied.

"We aren't good at judging the source of our memories," Oliver said. "These lists usually remind people of a word that they didn't actually study, so they mistakenly recollect studying words similar to those on the list."

For example, after studying a list of conceptually related words (for example, candy, sugar, chocolate, heart, taste, tooth, honey, cake), many people falsely remember the word sweet. When asked to study confusing sound-related lists (for example, doll, bail, balk, wall, fall, bald, pall, bill), the word ball is a common false memory. When a person activates related words in his or her brain, this activation spreads to other related items and leads to memory errors. In this study, imagery helped stop this spreading activation.

Although imagery decreased false memories during immediate recall, the simple imagery procedures in this study were not sufficient to lessen false memories for conceptually related lists during the delayed recognition test. The brain develops strong memory traces for activation of related concepts and doesn't easily forget this type of information.

"Our study suggests more detailed imagery instructions are necessary to help filter out false memories during a recognition test, where false memories are typically very high," Oliver said. "People should create detailed images with unique characteristics to help avoid the endorsement of false memories on recognition-based tests like true/false or multiple-choice assessments, where you are tempted by lures and possible false memories."


How To Improve Eyewitness Testimony

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My latest Head Case column in the WSJ explores a forthcoming Psychological Science paper by Neil Brewer (not online yet) that shows how the flawed memories of eyewitnesses might be improved:

The biggest lie of human memory is that it feels true. Although our recollections seem like literal snapshots of the past, they're actually deeply flawed reconstructions, a set of stories constantly undergoing rewrites.

Consider our collective memories of 9/11. For the last 10 years, researchers led by William Hirst of the New School and Elizabeth Phelps of New York University have been tracking the steady decay of what people recall about that tragic event. They first quizzed people shortly after the attacks, then after one year, and found that 37% of the details had already changed. Although the most recent data have yet to be published, they're expected to reveal that the vast majority of remembered "facts" are now make-believe.

If memory flaws only affected our personal past, that would be bad enough. But the problems created by our mistaken recollections affect all of society. More than 75,000 prosecutions every year are based entirely on the recollections of others. While perjury is a felony, the overwhelming majority of eyewitness errors aren't conscious or intentional. Rather, they're the inevitable side effects of the remembering process.

In recent years, neuroscientists have documented how these mistakes happen. It turns out that the act of summoning the past to the surface actually changes the memory itself. Although we've long imagined our memories as a stable form of information, a data file writ into the circuits of the brain, that persistence is an illusion. In reality, our recollections are always being altered, the details of the past warped by our present feelings and knowledge. The more you remember an event, the less reliable that memory becomes.

And this returns us to the problem of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses are repeatedly asked to recall what they saw, but their answers are inevitably influenced by the questions being asked. The result is more confidence in increasingly less accurate testimony.

Such errors often have tragic consequences. According to the Innocence Project, a legal advocacy group, about 75% of false convictions that are later overturned are based on faulty eyewitness testimony.

Can anything be done to improve the situation? In a new paper by Neil Brewer, a psychologist at Flinders University in Australia, the answer is a resounding yes. Dr. Brewer focused on the police lineup, in which witnesses are asked to pick out a suspect from a collection of similar looking individuals.

Normally, witnesses are encouraged to take their time and carefully consider each possible suspect. But Dr. Brewer knew that strong memory traces are easier to access than weak and mistaken ones, which is why he only gave his witnesses two seconds to make up their minds. He also asked them to estimate how confident they were about the suspects they identified, rather than insisting on a simple yes-no answer.

To test this procedure, Dr. Brewer and his colleagues asked 905 volunteers to watch a series of short films showing such crimes as shoplifting and car theft. The subjects then looked at 12 portraits, only one of which was the actual suspect. According to Dr. Brewer's data, his version of the lineup led to a large boost in accuracy, with improvements in eyewitness performance ranging from 21% to 66%. Even when subjects were quizzed a week later, those who were forced to choose quickly remained far more trustworthy.

The larger lesson is that, when it comes to human memory, more deliberation is often dangerous. Instead of simply assessing our familiarity with a suspect's face, we begin searching for clues and guidance. Sometimes this involves picking the person who looks the most suspicious, even if we've never seen him before, or being swayed by the subtle hints of police officers and lawyers. As a result, we talk ourselves into having a memory that doesn't actually exist.

Simple reforms can help to compensate for our mnemonic failings. Unless we are ruthlessly skeptical of the past, we will continue to confuse fact and fiction, and innocents will be sent to jail.


7 Tricks To Improve Your Memory

I used to have a memory that amazed people, but in the last few years I've had trouble remembering names and movie titles. ("You know, the one about the guy who goes somewhere? It won that award. ") I hope to have many years of sharp thinking ahead of me -- I'm in my mid-40s, nowhere near senior-moments territory -- so I got to wondering: Is there something I should be doing now to counteract the lapses that already seem to be taking place?

There's no way around the fact that memory erodes as we get older. The hippocampus, the area of your brain responsible for building memory, loses 5 percent of its nerve cells with each passing decade. Plus, aging slows production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital to learning and memory. Based on these facts, scientists once believed that a person's mental ability peaked early in adulthood, then went downhill from there. But over the last few decades, research has found that adults' brains are still able to form new, memory-building neural networks in a process known as neuroplasticity. The reassuring latest thinking: With a little effort, anyone can boost their power of recollection.

To test this theory in the real world, I tried an array of research-backed brain-sharpening techniques over one six-week period. Am I now able to list all 44 U.S. presidents? No. But can I more easily summon up where I put my keys? Yes. And I think being able to leave my apartment and lock the door is a more valuable life skill than remembering James K. Polk. Here's what worked for me -- and what fell flat.

Technique #1: Play Brain Games
Puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords may improve memory and delay brain decline, though experts are not yet sure why. "My guess is that playing them activates synapses in the whole brain, including the memory areas," says Marcel Danesi, Ph.D., author of Extreme Brain Workout. Research so far is decidedly mixed: Some studies have found that, while doing crossword puzzles may make you better at remembering the capital of Burkina Faso, there's little evidence they'll boost your performance at more general tasks, like remembering where your car is parked. But a 2011 study showed that participants who played a computer game called Double Decision for six years improved their concentration so much that they had a 50 percent lower rate of car accidents.

So I decided to try an online brain-training program called Lumosity, which neuroscientists from Harvard, Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley have used in their own studies its creators claim that 97 percent of users improve their memory in just 10 hours of playing time. First I answered a series of questions at lumosity.com to identify which of my cognitive processes, including memory, could use a little help. Then I received a personalized training regimen. A 10-minute daily series of games is free, and a more advanced program is available for $12.95 a month. (Being cheap, I stuck with the former.) The games are pure fun -- remembering a pattern of blocks, spotting a bird in a field -- and are based on what research has found to improve concentration and other cognitive skills.

My grade: B-: By the end of a month, my "brain performance index" score rose 6 percent -- not amazing in the Lumosity world, but respectable. The main problem: You have to play the games every day, forever, to keep up the benefits. I've mostly kept up. (Except on weekends. Or if I've had a busy week. OK, I haven't kept up.)

Technique #2: Eat The Right Foods
According to Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Memory Clinic, memory superfoods include antioxidant-rich, colorful fruits and vegetables, which protect your brain from harmful free radicals. He's also enthusiastic about low-glycemic carbs, like oatmeal, and anything with omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, a recent study published in Neurology found that people with low levels of omega-3s had brains that appeared to be a full two years older in MRI scans. That was incentive enough for me to follow the memory-enhancing diet from Small's book The Memory Prescription, which claims it works in just two weeks. Much like the Mediterranean diet, it's heavy on produce, legumes, nuts and fish. It's low on meat, since meat's omega-6 fatty acids may contribute to brain inflammation, a possible underlying mechanism for Alzheimer's. Refined sugars produce a similar effect, so they were also out. (That was the toughest for me.) I ate a farmers market's worth of blueberries, spinach, avocado and beets, and consumed enough fish to sprout gills. I also went beyond Dr. Small's advice and took 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12, the standard recommended daily amount-- since studies show people with low levels perform poorly on memory tests -- and 1,000 international units of vitamin D, discovered by Tufts University researchers to boost cognitive function. (My doctor signed off on the supplements.)

My grade: A: It was difficult to eat meat only once a week, until I noticed how much less physically and mentally sluggish I felt. And my memory became markedly sharper over 14 days. (For instance, I quit using a bookmark because I could remember the page number I'd stopped on the night before.) Planning those meals took a lot of prep, but it paid off tremendously. I still try to use the diet as a guideline: I eat meat once a week, aim for five fruits and vegetables a day and pop omega-3 supplements (since I don't get as much fish as I did on the diet).

Technique #3: Quit Multitasking
"One reason people can't remember where their keys are is they're not paying attention when they put them down," says Mark McDaniel, Ph.D., a psychology professor and memory researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. (His suggestion for always finding them: "When you put them down, stop and say out loud, 'I'm leaving my keys on my dresser,'" or wherever you're placing them.) Studies show that it takes eight seconds to fully commit a piece of information to memory, so concentrating on the task at hand is crucial. I willed myself to stop giving everything "continuous partial attention," a term coined by tech honcho Linda Stone. I put away my gadgets when they weren't absolutely needed. I didn't have 10 websites up all at once. I called a friend, sat on my bed, closed my eyes and actually listened to what she was saying.

My grade: B+: It's amazing how difficult it is to do one thing at a time. Concentration takes work, but I found I could remember appointments better because I paid attention when I made them and repeated the day and time, rather than agreeing to commitments while doing the laundry and returning e-mail messages. My husband, usually my living iCal, was very impressed.

Technique #4: Master A New Skill
A recent Swedish study found that adults who learned a new language showed improved memory for people's names, among other things. Any activity that is practiced diligently, such as knitting or skiing, will likely have this effect, researchers say. I vowed to learn to play the keyboard. On YouTube I found PlayPianoKing, an affable guy who teaches everything from Pachelbel's Canon to "Gangnam Style."

My grade: C-: While I did learn a mean "Gangnam" and felt my concentration improve, I soon gave up: With brain games and a diet overhaul crowding my schedule, the hour-long, every-other-day lesson was making me cranky, even before I saw any noticeable memory gains.

Technique #5: Get More Sleep
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that losing half a night's rest -- three or four hours -- on just one evening can erode memory. And the journal Nature Neuroscience recently reported that one way to slow decline in aging adults is to improve the length and quality of sleep. During a deep sleep of eight hours or more, it's believed that the brain shifts memories from temporary to longer-term storage. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of us get less than seven hours a night -- including me.

So, for more than a month, I implemented a stringent schedule: I would put my preschooler to bed and take a bath. Then I'd hit my own bed with a book, rather than watch TV or movies, which several studies reveal will make you feel too keyed up to wind down. Normally I fall asleep at 11:30 p.m. and wake at 5:45 a.m., but the new routine put me out by 10.

My grade: A+: Nothing had a better effect on my memory than that long stretch of sleep. I was able to semi-credibly measure the difference because I started my other interventions a few weeks before this one. I bounded out of bed fully recharged. My mind became as focused as a laser beam I even remembered every mom's name during the school run (no more "Hey, you!" or just "Hi!").

Technique #6: Use Mnemonic Devices
These are basically memory tools that give meaning and organization to a random group of words or concepts. They could be an acronym (BOG for "Buy oranges and grapes"), an exaggerated visualization (imagining a massive stethoscope to remember a doctor's appointment) or a rhyme (to recall a co-worker's name, I'd remember, "Ted has a giant forehead"). Memory champions also love chunking, or breaking a large amount of information into more manageable nuggets. Say you have to memorize these numbers: 2214457819. It's much easier to do as a phone number: 221-445-7819.

My grade: A+: I found these tactics enormously helpful. I usually forget my poor nephew's birthday, but this year I actually sent a gift, thanks to the unpleasant but memorable NITS ("Nephew is 10 Sunday").

Technique #7: Hit The Gym
Researchers from the University of California at Irvine recently discovered that a little exercise might yield big mental benefits. They had one group of subjects ride stationary bikes for six minutes, while another group cooled their heels. Afterward, the active group performed significantly better on a memory test. Instant results! The researchers believe the boost may be tied to an exercise-induced brain chemical called norepinephrine, which has a strong influence on memory. And Small contends that exercise is the best memory aid of all. "It can increase your brain size," he says -- and the bigger your brain, the greater your capacity to remember. His recommendation: 20 minutes of brisk walking a day. I began doing an hour daily -- more than Small recommends, but also more consistent than the gym workouts a few times a week I used to favor, and, according to many experts, more effective in juicing up memory.

My grade: A-: This moderate, regular activity worked wonders on my stress levels, and it became much easier to concentrate afterward, so I could fix things (like a grocery list) into my memory. I grew addicted to my walks and still take them. In fact, I found that the memory-boosting healthy lifestyle habits -- exercising more, stressing less, eating a better diet -- were the most sustainable over time. And that's a win-win.


Origins and Development of Recollection: Perspectives from Psychology and Neuroscience

The ability to remember unique, personal events is at the core of what we consider to be “memory.” How does the vivid experience of reinstatement of our past emerge? What is the contribution of this experience to our life histories? These questions have intrigued psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers for decades, and are the subject of this volume. In recent years, the science of memory has made extraordinary progress in the conceptualization and assessment of different forms of memory. Instead of thinking of memory as a monolithic construct, memory is now thought of in terms of dis . More

The ability to remember unique, personal events is at the core of what we consider to be “memory.” How does the vivid experience of reinstatement of our past emerge? What is the contribution of this experience to our life histories? These questions have intrigued psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers for decades, and are the subject of this volume. In recent years, the science of memory has made extraordinary progress in the conceptualization and assessment of different forms of memory. Instead of thinking of memory as a monolithic construct, memory is now thought of in terms of dissociable classes of constructs. Within declarative memory, the type of memory that one can consciously access, we make distinctions between the constructs of recollection and episodic memory and the constructs of familiarity and semantic memory (respectively). Chapters in this volume discuss new methods to assess these types of memory in studies that refine our understanding of the functions necessary for conscious and vivid recollection. The work has led to substantial increases in our understanding of the building blocks of recollection and its developmental course. The volume also addresses the exciting new research on the neural basis of recollection. Never before has the connection between brain and function been so close. Chapters review neuroimaging studies of the healthy brain and neuropsychological investigations of patients with brain damage that reveal the specific brain structures involved in the ability to recollect. These brain structures undergo important developmental change during childhood and adolescence, leading to questions—and answers—of how the relationship between brain and function unfolds during the course of infancy, childhood, and adolescence.


10. Eadweard Muybridge

Nineteenth-century pioneer Eadweard Muybridge may conjure up images of the silhouetted horses with which he startled audiences in the 1880s, and which proved how our equine friends gallop. Yet, ironically, those very same quadrupeds may have played a key role in giving up their secrets, for in 1860 a stagecoach accident left Muybridge with serious head injuries.

Studying photography during his five years of recuperation certainly shaped the young man’s future, but experts such as Professor Arthur Shimamura have suggested that Muybridge’s injuries may have boosted his creative ability. The impact of the head trauma was near impossible to discern at the time, and certainly impossible to treat. Without doubt, though, erratic episodes and dark chapters dogged Muybridge throughout his later years, not least his shooting dead the man whom he suspected of fathering his young wife’s child.

Muybridge is often characterized as having had an obsessive drive while excelling in business, but it may have been that one accident that secured his enduring impact on 20th-century modern art and film.


Exploring the neurocognitive basis of episodic recollection in autism

Increasing evidence indicates that the subjective experience of recollection is diminished in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to neurotypical individuals. The neurocognitive basis of this difference in how past events are re-experienced has been debated and various theoretical accounts have been proposed to date. Although each existing theory may capture particular features of memory in ASD, recent research questions whether any of these explanations are alone sufficient or indeed fully supported. This review first briefly considers the cognitive neuroscience of how episodic recollection operates in the neurotypical population, informing predictions about the encoding and retrieval mechanisms that might function atypically in ASD. We then review existing research on recollection in ASD, which has often not distinguished between different theoretical explanations. Recent evidence suggests a distinct difficulty engaging recollective retrieval processes, specifically the ability to consciously reconstruct and monitor a past experience, which is likely underpinned by altered functional interactions between neurocognitive systems rather than brain region-specific or process-specific dysfunction. This integrative approach serves to highlight how memory research in ASD may enhance our understanding of memory processes and networks in the typical brain. We make suggestions for future research that are important for further specifying the neurocognitive basis of episodic recollection in ASD and linking such difficulties to social developmental and educational outcomes.

Keywords: Autism Episodic memory Functional connectivity Long-term memory Recollection.

Figures

Figure adapted from Cooper et…

Figure adapted from Cooper et al. (2017a). ( a ) Fixations made to…

Figure adapted from Cooper et…

Figure adapted from Cooper et al. (2017b). ( a ) Participants with ASD…


Causes of False Memories

False memories can stem from a variety of sources. Following are some of them.

Interference

The distortion of the memory of the original event by the new information can be described as a retroactive interference (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2004).

In other words, the new information interferes with ability to preserve the formerly encoded information. The effect of misinformation, which has been a subject of investigation since the 1970s, demonstrates two significant shortfalls of memory (Saudners & MacLeod, 2002).

Firstly, the weakness of suggestibility reveals how others’ expectations can shape our memory. Secondly, the drawback of misattribution unveils how the memory can misidentify the origin of a recollection.

These findings have raised serious concerns about the reliability and permanence of memory.

Leading Questions

Misleading information is incorrect information given to the witness usually after the event. It can have many sources for example the use of leading questions in police interviews or it can be acquired by post-event discussion with other witnesses or other people (Weiten, 2010).

When the eyewitnesses of an event are questioned immediately following the pertinent incident, the memorial representation of what had just transpired could be significantly altered (Loftus, 1975).

Leading questions are questions which are asked in such a way to suggest an expected answer For example: Did you see the man crossing the road?

The word “the” suggests that there was a man crossing the road. A non-leading question in this case could have been “did you see anybody crossing the road?”

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

It is possible for individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to have memory deficits or poor confidence in their memories (Robinson, 2020).

This disorder, which can stem from the abnormal responses of certain brain regions to serotonin, is a condition characterized by irrational and excessive urges to act in certain ways as well as give into repetitive and unwanted thoughts.

Because individuals with this condition are less likely to have confidence in their own memories, they are more likely to create false memories, which in turn, lead to compulsive and repetitive behaviors.

False Memory Syndrome

False memory syndrome is a condition in which an individual’s identity and relationships are influenced by factually incorrect recollections which are, nonetheless, strongly believed (McHugh, 2008 Schacter, 2002).

This condition may result from the controversial recovered memory therapy which utilizes various interviewing techniques such as hypnosis, sedative-hypnotic drugs and guided imagery to supposedly help patients recover forgotten memories which are purportedly buried in their subconscious minds.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is considered to provide the optimum neurobiological conditions conducive to the consolidation of long-term memories (Diekelmann, Landolt, Lahl, Born & Wagner, 2008).

Moreover, sleep deprivation is known to acutely impair the retrieval of stored recollections.

One study in particular, tested whether false memories could be invented based on a consolidation-related reorganization of new memory representations over post-learning sleep, or as an acute retrieval associated phenomenon induced by sleep deprivation during memory testing.

The results suggested that sleep deprivation at retrieval could enhance false memories. However, the administration of caffeine prior to retrieval was found to offset this effect.

This may imply that adenosinergic mechanisms could help generate false memories which are associated with sleep deprivation.


Enhance recollection abilites - Psychology

If I asked you to sit down and remember a list of phone numbers or a series of facts, how would you go about it? There’s a fair chance that you’d be doing it wrong.

One of the interesting things about the mind is that even though we all have one, we don't have perfect insight into how to get the best from it. This is in part because of flaws in our ability to think about our own thinking, which is called metacognition. Studying this self-reflective thought process reveals that the human species has mental blind spots.

One area where these blind spots are particularly large is learning. We're actually surprisingly bad at having insight into how we learn best.

Researchers Jeffrey Karpicke and Henry Roediger III set out to look at one aspect: how testing can consolidate our memory of facts. In their experiment they asked college students to learn pairs of Swahili and English words. So, for example, they had to learn that if they were given the Swahili word 'mashua' the correct response was 'boat'. They could have used the sort of facts you might get on a high-school quiz (e.g. "Who wrote the first computer programs?"/"Ada Lovelace"), but the use of Swahili meant that there was little chance their participants could use any background knowledge to help them learn. After the pairs had all been learnt, there would be a final test a week later.

Now if many of us were revising this list we might study the list, test ourselves and then repeat this cycle, dropping items we got right. This makes studying (and testing) quicker and allows us to focus our effort on the things we haven't yet learnt. It’s a plan that seems to make perfect sense, but it’s a plan that is disastrous if we really want to learn properly.

Karpicke and Roediger asked students to prepare for a test in various ways, and compared their success – for example, one group kept testing themselves on all items without dropping what they were getting right, while another group stopped testing themselves on their correct answers.

On the final exam differences between the groups were dramatic. While dropping items from study didn’t have much of an effect, the people who dropped items from testing performed relatively poorly: they could only remember about 35% of the word pairs, compared to 80% for people who kept testing items after they had learnt them.

It seems the effective way to learn is to practice retrieving items from memory, not trying to cement them in there by further study. Moreover, dropping items entirely from your revision, which is the advice given by many study guides, is wrong. You can stop studying them if you've learnt them, but you should keep testing what you've learnt if you want to remember them at the time of the final exam.

Finally, the researchers had the neat idea of asking their participants how well they would remember what they had learnt. All groups guessed at about 50%. This was a large overestimate for those who dropped items from test (and an underestimate from those who kept testing learnt items).

So it seems that we have a metacognitive blind spot for which revision strategies will work best. Making this a situation where we need to be guided by the evidence, and not our instinct. But the evidence has a moral for teachers as well: there's more to testing than finding out what students know – tests can also help us remember.

If you have an everyday psychological phenomenon you'd like to see written about in these columns please get in touch @tomstafford or [email protected].

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Drawing Ability Has Psychological Basis In Perception And Memory, Researchers Say

Since the dawn of human art-making, the divide has been clear: There are people who can effortlessly sketch an object's likeness, and people who struggle for hours just to get the angles and proportions right (by which point the picture is scarred by eraser marks, anyway). What separates the drawers from the drawer-nots?

Ongoing research is revealing the answer to this longstanding question. It seems that realistic drawing ability hinges on three factors: how a person perceives reality, how well he or she remembers visual information from one moment to the next, and which elements of an object he or she selects to actually draw.

If you're stuck on stick figures, the good news, according to researchers at the University College London, is that people can improve at all these mental processes with practice.

First, people who can't draw well aren't seeing the world as it really is. When we look at an object, our visual systems automatically misjudge such attributes as size, shape and color research over the past three years shows at least some of these misperceptions translate into drawing errors. Paradoxically, in other circumstances the misperceptions help us make sense of the world. For example, objects appear larger when they are closer than when they are far away. Even so, the visual system practices "size constancy" by perceiving the object as being approximately one size no matter how far away it is. The visual system, "knowing" a distant object is really bigger than it appears, sends false information to the brain about what the eyeball is seeing.

People who have the most trouble judging apparent size, shape, color and brightness may also be the worst at drawing, recent research by Justin Ostrofsky and his colleagues at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York suggests. Those who draw well are better able to override these visual misperceptions and perceive what their own eyeballs are really seeing. [Red-Green & Blue-Yellow: The Stunning Colors You Can't See]

However, inaccurately perceiving the image is only part of the story, said Rebecca Chamberlain, a psychologist at University College London. Chamberlain and her colleagues recently conducted experiments investigating the role of visual memory in the drawing process. They believe that drawing skill results in part from an ability to remember simple relationships in an object ? such as an angle between two lines ? from the moment the angle is perceived to the moment it is drawn. Additionally, "drawing seems to involve focusing on both holistic proportional relationships as well as focus on detail isolated from the whole. Perhaps it is the ability to switch between these two modes of seeing that underpins successful drawing," Chamberlain told Life's Little Mysteries.

Furthermore, as detailed in December in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Ostrofsky and his colleagues found significant evidence that skilled artists are better at selecting which elements of an object need to be included to convey the object's form. And once the artists have selected an important element, they are better at focusing their attention on it and ignoring extraneous details nearby.

The devil is in the details, and the researchers are still working out the interplay between all the factors that affect drawing accuracy. However, they can all be learned. "There is no doubt that practice is an important component of being able to draw," Chamberlain said. While some may be predisposed to be better at perceptual accuracy and visual memory than others, "the rest of us use tricks to emulate this." [6 Fun Ways to Sharpen Your Memory]

In research presented at a recent symposium at Columbia University and soon to be published by Columbia University Press, Chamberlain and her colleagues found practicing drawing significantly improved people's abilities over time, as rated by other people who participated in the study.

Based on their research, the psychologists recommended the following techniques for getting better at drawing: Focus on scaling a drawing to fit the size of the paper anchor an object in its surroundings by showing how it sits in space focus on the distance between elements of the object and on their relative sizes and focus on the size and shape of "negative space," or the empty space between parts of the object. Lastly, they recommend thinking of "lines" as what they really are -- boundaries between light and dark areas.

As Chris McManus, a member of the research team, noted, "There are few human skills which don't improve with practice."

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries and join us on Facebook.


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