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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Don't Forget to Remember

Posted August 24, 2013 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

If I don't write something down, it usually doesn't happen. Both my notebook and iPhone are full of memos and reminders of little things I have to do and things that need to be followed up on. Every now and then I can get lucky and remember something small or specific.

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Remembering to remember is more complex than we might think. This type of memory is known as prospective memory and it is essential to our everyday lives. Prospective memory is our ability to remember to take a certain action in response to specific future events.

An article was recently released in Psychological Science that explains how prospective memory is processed in the brain. The study was conducted at Washington University in St. Louis. During the test, participants were asked to press one of two buttons to indicate whether a word on a screen was part of a particular category. They were also asked to press a third button when a trigger word appeared. The difference between the two request showed the two different types of prospective memory.

There are two distinct brain activation patterns that appear when using prospective memory. The top-down brain process, which is supported by the prefrontal cortex, is used when the participants had to remember a syllable like "tor". This means that the participants had to sustain their attention and monitor for the special syllable throughout the entire task. In the real world, this would be reminding myself to bring my gym bag by constantly reminding myself not to forget it.

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The other part of the experiment tested a whole word such as "table". When participants were asked to remember this word, a different set of brain regions were activated and a sustained activation was not identified. Instead of using the top-down brain processes, the word acts as an environmental cue that prompted participants to make the appropriate response. This manifests itself as me leaving the gym bag by the door so I don't forget it. This requires much less brain power than top-down prospective memory.

"These findings suggest that people could make use of several different strategies to accomplish prospective memory tasks," says McDaniel, the psychological scientist heading the study. More research will be done on prospective memory, specifically on how it changes with age. In the meantime, I'm going to stick with my current strategy of writing things down so I don't have to remember.

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#1

Re: Don't Forget to Remember

08/24/2013 1:14 AM

If you tie a second string around your finger, you can remember to look at the first one every once in a while. Etc., etc.,...

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Re: Don't Forget to Remember

08/24/2013 2:21 PM

I can never remember where I put the list, so I just write on the back of my hand.

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Re: Don't Forget to Remember

08/24/2013 4:58 PM

I have so many lists, I can't remember which one I'm supposed to be looking at.

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Re: Don't Forget to Remember

08/24/2013 8:21 PM

I've learned not to try and remember anything. I just listen to what my boss wants next. Doesn't matter if I'm at home or work. I learned long ago not to remind my boss what the previous critical task was. My memory is always faulty.

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Re: Don't Forget to Remember

08/26/2013 9:32 AM

I heard it said one time that "a short pencil is better than a long memory."

There isn't a sure fire way to remember that works for everyone due to personality traits, habits, etc. Find a way that works for you and implement that. The key word here is "implement". Intentions don't mean anything. The only thing that counts is execution of the plan.

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