ISSUE 136 - February 2017 - by Phil Chambers
Welcome to a belated February Newsletter, This month I discuss Memory and Emotion.
Time to Read: 4 minutes (Average Reader), less than a minute (Speed Reader) - Word Count: 954.
Image by Ciacho5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mind Map Tip of the Month
Size your lettering appropriately for its level in the hierarchy of a Mind Map. Main branches have larger lettering than second level branches and so on, decreasing as you move out from the centre. You can also use different styles or fonts - bolder near the centre and lighter further out.
Golden Balls - Happy Memories
On my recent flight to Qatar, I was trawling through the list of films on the in-flight entertainment system when I came across their collection of Pixar films. I know Pixar aim their films at kids but there is always enough subtle and clever content to amuse me as an adult. I am a fan, especially, of those produced by John Lasseter, chief creative officer at the studios and the driving force behind ‘Toy Story’.
I chose ‘Inside Out’. I was aware of the film, and knew it had good reviews, but I hadn’t had the time to watch it when it was in general release at cinemas in 2015. If you haven’t seen it, I whole heatedly recommend it. Set in the mind of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, as well as a charming storyline, it has some wonderful analogies for real neurological and psychological concepts.
In the film, memories are represented by spheres which come in from the senses before being stored in the huge vaults of Long Term Memory. The main protagonists of the story are characters representing Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust who try to lead Riley’s actions by managing her emotions.
Joyful memories are golden whereas sad memories are blue. If sadness touches a memory it turns blue, much to Joy’s frustration. All emotional states can colour our memories. They affect both memory formation and efficiency of recall…
If you are fearful or stressed, your ability to recall is significantly impaired. Your mind goes blank. On a physiological level your body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Hormones including adrenalin and cortisol are produced leading to an increase in blood flow to the muscles and thus increased strength and speed in anticipation of fighting or running away. This is a useful survival instinct but not when triggered by non-physical threats like exam papers. The response can be alleviated by relaxation techniques and positive visualisation. Fear is an important emotion as it keeps us safe. However irrational fears (phobias) and, most pernicious of all, the fear of failure hold us back. In the words of Susan Jeffers, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway!”
When you are angry you are in a heightened emotional state. You are thus likely to lay down strong memories. However, your judgement may well be skewed. Satirist Ambrose Bierce said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” It is better to calm down before taking action. Have a short temper but a long memory.
Anything that is unusual is strongly remembered and one way of making things stand out is making them disgusting. Despite this, I would caution against it. Why fill you mind with negativity when you can use beauty or humour as the tool to make memorable associations? The brain’s synergistic nature means that if you feed it disgusting images it will multiply these.
We all have moments of sadness in our lives. The important thing is how you deal with sad memories. It is all a matter of attitude. Don’t dwell on your sad memories and relive them in your imagination. Every time you revisit a memory you strengthen it. If you spend more time thinking about bad memories and less about good memories you are risking your mental health. As I said above, even happy memories can be turned into sad ones when you are in a dark mood.
Being positive, joyful and playful is the best state of mind for learning, memory and life in general. Generally speaking, happiness results from Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins being present in greater concentrations in the brain. These ‘reward’ chemicals have evolved to encourage beneficial behaviour like making relationships or exercising. When you are happy, relaxed and at peace through meditation or listening to appropriate music, your brainwaves slow down and you enter ‘Alpha’ state. When in this flow state you are able to assimilate information more easily. Just like in the movie, joy is the most important emotion and leads to greatest learning. Or as song writer Bobby Mcferrin says, “In every life we have some trouble, When you worry you make it double, Don't worry, be happy”
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That’s it for this month. Look out for the next newsletter later in March.