Sunday, January 12, 2014

Metaphor For Memory

I have noted before that our recording technology seems to strongly influence our own experience of memory. One of my earliest posts considers the emergence of color photography versus black-and-white on our perception of our ancestors and even ourselves.  In the era I grew up in, memory was conceived as a video archive, and it was strongly believed that memories could be unlocked by pushing the proper buttons.  This showed up not only in Psychology 101 textbooks, which regarded brain stimulation as proof of this phenomenon, but such popular psychology as courtroom dramas and murder mysteries, or even religious tracts by Jack Chick, in which you were shown videos of your life at your judgement in heaven.

We now believe memory works differently.  It is disassembled for storage and reassembled for each recollection, more like a computer than a video database. This means that it can and does change over time, subtly shifting.  Because of the photography and video of the last generation, we have evidence of this, as we find solid evidence that we have misremembered things we were absolutely sure we had gotten right.

I wonder if the video metaphor has impaired our ability to treat those with Borderline Personality Disorder.  They are notorious for recasting memories to a narrative they can endure far faster than other people. In fact, it can take place within hours.  In a context of memory conceived as video archive, treating professionals, and certainly line staff, may have refused to believe that the BPD's memory actually changed.  We have probably been far too willing to conclude She is lying...She is denying...He is just being evasive.

It is a natural mistake.  If I watch Krystl lose her temper and treat others insultingly over a five-minute delay in being let of the unit on Tuesday, I am unlikely to be sympathetic to her contention on Wednesday that everyone ignored her or talked down to her, triggering her assaultiveness the day before.  I know what happened, and cannot help but assume that she does too, she's just denying it.Yet it increasingly appears that such changes in memory - which would take us a decade to accomplish when contemplating first husbands or step-sisters - are actually that fast with those who have personality disorders.


james said...

Does it even make sense to ask if this kind of rapid memory reshaping is voluntary? Or was once voluntary (in the sense that they used to make the choice to revamp the narrative, and it is now so automatic they don't notice)?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

We experience it as voluntary, but it probably isn't. Try these
methionine versus valine in memory
and anterior cingulate cortex regulating making memory permanent.

I am out of my depth, but could put my hands on that from what others suggested. In simpler terms, a lot can interfere with memory creation, and intense emotion certainly does. You can even sort of watch it happening. In situations that will likely trigger an intense emotional response, misinterpretation happens immediately, despite attempts at correction.

james said...

(Here I go with computing paradigms...) I know that even with cooperative people it can take years to modify the "mental model" that maps "rebuke => threat" in someone with Aspergers. I hate to think what it must be like when someone isn't cooperative.

I got sidetracked trying to puzzle out how theta waves signal coordination of brain sections. I assume it is some kind of transmission side effect from large numbers of neurons signaling and relaxing more or less together.