Quantitative Psychological Theory and Musings

Friday, April 16, 2010

Horrible Reporting

audio/visual version
Here is a nice, quick post I can offer.  It's in reference to a report that appeared last month in Science Daily.  The report tries to make novelty out of a conclusion that deliberate and unconscious memory retrieval are facilitated by different pathways in the brain.  Well, how could it be otherwise?

The report goes on to claim that the processes involved in unconsciously retrieving memories and likewise forgetting them are mysteries.  This is simply untrue, except for purely neurophysiological mechanisms, though many of these are known too.  To quote here:

Science still does not fully understand why our brain sometimes automatically supplies us with a memory that we have done nothing to deliberately call to mind, whereas why, on other occasions, we cannot remember things even though we make efforts to recall them.

There are several memory systems in the brain, but the two major ones are the explicit and implicit.  The former is responsible for conscious, deliberate recall and the latter for unconscious recall.  The explicit allows attempts to connect with previously stored predictive contexts for sought (net rewarding)memories.  This is facilitated by the elicitation of incomplete predictive contexts, triggered consciously and unconscously.  There are no memories without contexts, so explicit memories require these partial predictive contexts and then use associational methods, including those involving metacognition, to try to connect with the more complete contexts.  The explicit system is involved to the degree that a context is new, so there is incomplete generalization.  Thus, this process only works some of the time. 

The implicit system involves well-learned habits that require little awareness.  Examples include motor learning, but can occur with any type of behavior strongly generalized across predictive contexts.

Even considering the normally awful media reporting of scientific work, this example stands out.  And this is worse for a publication that solely reports on science.

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