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Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory

Summary: Researchers reveal a helpful strategy to help those with cognitive problems to improve their memory.

Source: Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care.

The next time you hear about the possibility of rain on the weather forecast, try imagining the umbrella tip being lodged in your home’s door lock, blocking you from locking it. This mental exercise could prevent you from leaving home without an umbrella.

Imagining an action between two objects (the umbrella being lodged in the door lock) and a potential consequence (not being able to lock the door) may help people improve their memory for relationships with other objects, according to a recent Baycrest Health Sciences study published in the Memory & Cognition journal.

This finding is part of an in-depth study into a natural memory strategy — termed “unitization” — that was used by an individual with amnesia, D.A., who was able to create new memories despite his condition.

Better understanding of this strategy could allow it to be used in personalized memory rehabilitation to help older adults and those with amnesia bypass gaps in their abilities, says Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.

“Previous research has shown that imagining two objects fusing into one will help people work around these memory deficits; but our work demonstrated that understanding the relationship between the two items is also important,” says Dr. Ryan, who is also a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto. “We know that cognitive function is impaired during aging and this strategy could be one workaround for minor memory problems, depending on what you need to achieve.”

Image shows a finger with a bow tied on it.

Imagining an action between two objects (the umbrella being lodged in the door lock) and a potential consequence (not being able to lock the door) may help people improve their memory for relationships with other objects, according to a recent Baycrest Health Sciences study published in the Memory & Cognition journal. NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care news release.

The study evaluated the performance of 80 healthy older adults (between the ages of 61 to 88) on a memory task. The group was first trained and tested on the task to gather initial results. They were then either taught one of the three individual features of unitization (fusion, motion, action/consequence) or the overall unitization strategy. After learning these new approaches, participants were tested again to see if this helped their performance.

Older adults trained to improve their memory using only the action/consequence feature of unitization saw the greatest memory improvements.

“We are trying to understand what’s important to unitization and what people need to learn in order to benefit,” says Dr. Ryan. “There is no single strategy that will fix your memory, but one method may be more be suitable than another.”

Next steps for the research will be to explore how the brain’s systems support different memory strategies. With additional funding, researchers could explore incorporating this memory strategy with a personalized brain rehabilitation program for older adults.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and the Canada Research Chairs Program.

Source: Jonathan MacIndoe – Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Breaking down unitization: Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?” by Maria C. D’Angelo, Alix Noly-Gandon, Arber Kacollja, Morgan D. Barense, and Jennifer D. Ryan in Memory and Cognition. Published online July 18 2017 doi:10.3758/s13421-017-0736-x

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care “Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 11 August 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory/>.
Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care (2017, August 11). Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved August 11, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory/
Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care “Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory.” http://neurosciencenews.com/Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

Abstract

Breaking down unitization: Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?

Memory impairments are often observed in aging. Specifically, older adults have difficulty binding together disparate elements (relational memory). We have recently shown that a cognitive strategy known as unitization can mitigate impaired relational learning in the transverse patterning task (TP) in both amnesia and healthy aging. This strategy allows items to be fused together through an interaction such that one item acts upon another. In the context of TP, unitization is comprised of three component processes: (1) fusion, (2) motion, and (3) semantic comprehension of action/consequence sequences. Here, we examine which of these components are sufficient to mitigate age-related impairments. Four groups of older adults were given either the full unitization strategy or one of the three component strategies. Each group of older adults showed impairments in memory for the relations among items under standard training instructions relative to a threshold that marks learning of a winner-take-all rule (elemental threshold). However, participants who were given either the full unitization strategy or the action/consequence-only strategy showed improved performance, which was maintained following the 1-hour delay. Therefore, semantically rich action/consequence interactions are sufficient to mitigate age-related relational memory impairments.

“Breaking down unitization: Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?” by Maria C. D’Angelo, Alix Noly-Gandon, Arber Kacollja, Morgan D. Barense, and Jennifer D. Ryan in Memory and Cognition. Published online July 18 2017 doi:10.3758/s13421-017-0736-x

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