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Sunday, May 27, 2018

IQ Changes in Teenagers

Common wisdom asserts that your IQ is fixed. Of course, the various “multiple intelligences” change with personal life experiences and growth, but we usually consider the standard IQ score to be inherent and unchangeable. But even the standard IQ measure changes during different life stages. Clearly, the IQ of young children changes as they mature. Several studies even show that working-memory training can raise the IQ of elementary-school children. More than one analyst claims that a rigorous PhD program can raise IQ in adults. Most obvious is the decline of IQ in those elderly who do not age well because of disease.

A neglected segment along the age spectrum is the teenage years. Now, evidence indicates that this age group experiences IQ changes ranging from a decline to an increase. A study of this issue shows that both verbal and non-verbal IQ scores in teenagers relate closely to the developmental changes that occur in brain structure during the teenage years. Longitudinal brain-imaging studies in the same individuals reveal that either increases or decreases in IQ occur coincident with structural changes in cerebral grey matter that occur in teenagers.

The study conducted MRI brain scans and IQ tests on 33 normal adolescents in early teenage years and then again in late teenage years.  A wide range of IQs were noted, 77 to 135 in the early group and 87 to 143 in the late group. For any given individual, the change in IQ score changed from -20 to +23 for verbal IQ and -28- to +17 for non-verbal IQ. Correlation analysis revealed that increases in IQ were associated with increased in cortical density and volume for brain regions involved in verbal and movement functions.

The implications are profound, especially as they relate to the local environment of a given teenager. What happens during the teenager years apparently changes brain structure and mental ability. Many influences likely damage the brain, such as drug abuse, or social stress, or poor education and intellectual stimulation. Conversely, the data indicate that positive benefits to both brain structure and mental capability can result from a mentally healthy environment and rich educational experience.
The data suggest that all the emphasis on pre-school and “Head Start” initiatives may diminish our attention to the key role played by middle school and early high school. This confirms what many of us always suspected, namely that our society tends to insufficiently nurture “late bloomers.” Maybe the early high achievers who fail to live up to their promise do so, because we wrongly assume they can manage without much help. Parents, educators, and education policy makers need to take notice.
Few books can change a person's future. One of them could be my book, Better Grades, Less Effort, which explains the learning tips and tricks that I used to become valedictorian, when a high school teacher said my modest IQ did not justify the high grades I was making. Teachers predicted I "would have trouble with college." Really? I went on to be an Honors student in three universities -- including graduating early with a D.V.M. degree and securing a PhD in two-and-a-half years. My IQ documented that I was not so smart. I believe that poor learning skills are what hold back most students from superior achievement. This book can change a person's life, as my own experiences with learning how to learn have changed my life. I suspect it helped my brain development as well.


Ramsden, Sue et al. (2011). Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain. Nature. May 17. Doi:10:1038/nature10514.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The “Production Effect” Aids Memory

The hardest memory task I ever had was to give an 18-minute TED talk from memory. I remember struggling with remembering my core ideas and their sequence. To solve this problem, my first task was to create some slides, which the TED format allows. The directors even show the slides on a monitor at the foot of the stage that only the speaker can see. Looking at each slide as it advanced helped provide cues in the proper order, but to be effective, slides must not have much text, and in no case can a given slide reveal on its own the associated content. I still had a memorization problem. Then I remembered the “production effect,” which basically is a way to strengthen memory by actually forcing the recall in the appropriate setting. In other words, I needed to rehearse by actually giving the speech, vocalizations, mannerisms, and all, in front of a mirror.

The usual thing we think of about improving memory is the need for rehearsal, especially the kind of rehearsal where you force recall at spaced intervals after the initial learning. But another factor in improving memory is to strengthen the initial encoding at the time of learning. Actually, this is common sense. We all have experienced the case where we remember an intense experience primarily because it is intense. In other words, the intensity strengthened the encoding.

A well-known technique is to use the “production effect.” Basically, this means that encoding is strengthened by generating what you are learning at the time of learning by speaking it, singing it, drawing it, or deploying it in some way (as in “hands on”). Handwriting or typing the information strengthens encoding, and studies have shown that handwriting is more effective than typing. Any of these approaches is much more effective than silent reading, viewing, or listening.

Many such studies confirm the effect. For example, in one study, saying each word in a word list to be memorized, improves recall more than 15% more than silent reading. The same degree of improvement occurs with such mouthing the words.

Why this works to improve memory probably relates to the fact that more attentiveness and processing is required in production than in just silent reading or listening. One common explanation is that production makes each item more distinctive. That is, by saying it, drawing it, or whatever, the item acquires more features and becomes more distinctive.

As far as I know, the production effect has been studied only with respect to rote memory tasks. I should think that it would be even more powerful if applied when using mnemonics. For example, if you are using the “memory palace,” as you place an item to be memorized on a room object in your mind’s eye, you might actually describe out loud what you are imagining.

The production effect should also be useful during forced retrieval rehearsals as well, as I did in learning my TED talk. I am not aware of experiments that test use of production in rehearsal. Anytime you retrieve a memory item, it is an opportunity to re-learn it in a sense, and the information gets re-consolidated. So, if you speak, draw, or use another production effect during forced recall, you further strengthen the encoding and subsequent consolidation.

Whether you are a student seeking better grades, a professional trying to stay at the top of your game, or a senior hoping to stave off mental decline, my book Memory Power 101 is your key to developing and maintaining a sharper mind. The book shares Memory Medic's  decades of professional experience in education and neuroscience. 


Bodner, Glen E. and MacLeod, Colin M. (2016). The benefits of studying by production … and of studying production: Introduction to the Special Issue on the Production Effect in Memory. Canadian Journal of Psychology. 70(2),89-92.

MacLeod, Colin M., and Bodner, Glen E. (2017) The production effect in memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 26(4), 390-395.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Take the Stress out of School

Got kids or grandkids in school? Are you in school or college? This blog is for you. I don’t have to tell you that school is stressful, what with hard courses, tough teachers, and high-stakes tests. The stress is understandable, but also counterproductive. Anxiety and other negative emotions interfere with learning, remembering, and test taking. So why don’t schools put more emphasis on helping students cope?

Good teachers do help students cope by making their explanations as simple and clear as possible. But unless they lower their standards, which benefits nobody, school will still be stressful. Research has shown some things that teachers and students could do to reduce stress and improve academic performance.

The most obvious is to understand the principles for efficient and effective learning, as I have tried to outline in my latest book, The Learning Skills Cycle. My two other books focus specifically on improving memorization skills.

The American Psychological Associations 2013 report reminded us of the study, which I posted a blog on, that a student’s test anxiety will be reduced by writing about the anxiety before the test; and the test score will be higher. Another study showed that a student’s attitude toward their anxiety can reverse the negative effect. When taught to re-interpret the symptoms, such as sweaty palms and racing pulse, as signs of excitement and being “up” for the test rather than fear, they perform better on the test.

Mindfulness meditation can also relieve stress, but it has to be done diligently, which many younger students can’t do well. Sometimes, teachers say that just having students take a few slow, deep breaths will help them do better on tests. The neurons that mediate slow breathing also impinge on the cortex and moderate excessive activity. A more systematic approach to teach children how to meditate has been developed by James Butler in the Austin, Texas, school district. He has developed a 36 week curriculum to teach teachers effective ways to teach mindfulness to students.

The usual excuse schools make for not promoting mindfulness meditation is that it violates separation of church and state. This kind of meditation is not religious. It encompasses sound neurophysiology and is not kooky.


Klemm, W. R. (2017). The Learning Skills Cycle. A Way to Rethink Education Reform. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

Klemm, W. R. (2016). Better Grades, Less Effort. (e-book)

Klemm, W. R. (2012) Memory Power 101. New York: Skyhorse

Monday, April 02, 2018

Where We Stand in Understanding Consciousness

Many scientists, even physical scientists, assert that the Holy Grail of science is to understand human consciousness. This human state is even hard to define, but is characterized by a state in which we know what we believe, know, and imagine, know what we decide and plan, and feel what we feel. That explains nothing.

The problem in understanding is not only that the mechanisms must surely be complicated, but also that we don’t have good non-invasive experimental tools. There are only two useful tools, a metabolic proxy of neural electrical activity (functional fMRI) and scalp monitoring of electrical activity (the electroencephalogram {EEG), or its magnetic field counterpart. Among the problems with fMRI are that it is only an indirect measure of the actual signaling within the brain that generates thought and feeling and enables consciousness. Its time resolution is about one-second or more, whereas signaling in the brain occurs on a millisecond scale. Although the EEG monitors activity on the appropriate time scale, it has very poor spatial resolution, inasmuch as voltage fields over various regions of cortex overlap, because the voltage extends in progressively diminished amplitude throughout the conductive medium of brain from its source of generation to other source generators. Although the EEG does monitor the appropriate target (electrical activity), that activity is an envelope of the algebraically summed signals from heterogeneous neuronal ensembles, which are nerve impulses and their associated postsynaptic potentials nearest the sensing electrodes.

                                             By Davidboyashi - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nonetheless, we do know many useful things about brain function that are surely involved in conscious functioning. Neuroscientists have discovered much of this in lower animals from invasive procedures that are not permissible in humans. In summary, we can list the following brain functions that are relevant to consciousness:

  • The brain is a network of richly inter-connected networks.
  • Functions are modular. Different networks have different and shifting primary functions, and some may be selectively recruited when their function is needed.
  •  Some networks can perform multiple functions, depending on which other networks have recruited them into action.
  • Some aspects of functional connectivity of different networks differ in unconscious and conscious states.
  • Wakefulness and consciousness are not the same. Wakefulness is necessary but not sufficient for consciousness.
  •  A great deal has been learned about the neural mechanisms causing wakefulness but that has not helped much in understanding consciousness.
  • The messaging signals of brain are nerve impulses and their neurotransmitter postsynaptic effects.
  • The summed voltages of the messaging have electrostatic effects that alter the excitability of the neurons within the voltage field.
  • The frequency of bursts of impulses and their EEG envelope impose important effects on gating and throughput of information as it propagates and is modified throughout the global workspace of networks.
  • There are multiple neural correlates of consciousness, but we have not identified with certainty which ones are necessary and sufficient for consciousness.

Oscillatory electrical activity is thought to have a key role in selective routing of information in the brain. Oscillations seem to modulate excitability, depending on phase relationships of linked neuronal ensembles. Two prominent hypotheses have been advanced as crucial for consciousness, and they are not mutually exclusive:

  • Phase-locked activity in two or more ensembles (coherence)
  • Inhibitory gating that directs pathways for propagation within networks.

The key to discovering mechanisms of consciousness is to identify all the neural correlates and then winnow the list to those that are both necessary and sufficient for consciousness. Sometimes, important discoveries occur when you study the opposite of what you want to study. This principle is manifest in studies on brain function during various states of unconsciousness (like anesthesia, coma, or non-dream sleep). A recent review of research compared the neural correlates of unconsciousness with those of consciousness. The evaluation showed disrupted connectivity in the brain and greater modularity during unconscious state, which inhibited the efficient integration of information required during consciousness. Additionally, the review made the key point that the neural correlates of consciousness that matter are the ones that occur in consciousness but not in unconscious states. Of particular relevance are the correlates related to functional connectivity among networks, because multiple lines of evidence reveal that this connectivity degrades during unconscious states and returns when consciousness resumes.

In rodents, multi-array recordings in visual cortex indicate that connectivity patterns are the same during anesthesia as in wakefulness. Perhaps this indicates that rodents do not have the needed network architecture to enable consciousness. They can be awake but not conscious. Being awake is clearly necessary for consciousness, but not sufficient. In addition (if you don’t believe me, see the classical U-tube basketball-game video on inattentional blindness). At any given instant, we are only consciously aware of the specific cognitive targets to which we attend.

 Statistical co-variation of activity in linked networks is a measure of functional connectivity. The activity in linked networks may randomly jitter or be in phase or locked at certain time lags. Operationally, the connectivity may enable one group of neurons to mediate or modulate activity in another for past, present, or future operations. The temporal dynamics of these processes differ depending on the state of consciousness.

A very popular view on consciousness among neuroscientists these days is that higher-order thinking, especially conscious thinking, is mediated by extracellular voltage fields that oscillate in the range of 12 to 60  or more waves per second. Changes in oscillatory frequency and coherent coupling of the oscillations among various pools of neurons are thought to reflect the nature and intensity of thought.

The issue arises as to how these voltages, commonly called field potentials, can influence the underlying nerve impulse activity that causes the oscillation in the first place. The messages of thought are carried in patterns of nerve impulses flowing in neural networks. Field potentials are not signaling, at least  not directly. They may well indirectly influence messaging by electrostatically biasing networks to be more or less able to generate and propagate nerve impulse traffic.

Neuroscientists attach much importance to the temporal dynamics of EEG voltage frequencies. For example, at one time neuroscientists believed that 40/sec synchrony was critical to consciousness, but later studies revealed that this synchrony can be maintained and even enhanced during anesthesia. Later, investigators thought they had found a crucial role for higher frequency gamma synchrony, but that too is now called into question. This gamma synchrony can be present or even enhanced during unconsciousness. However, the spatial extent of synchrony may be the meaningful correlate of consciousness. Widespread synchrony breaks down during unconsciousness, while more localized synchrony remains intact or even enhanced.

Numerous studies show a breakdown of functional connectivity during various states of unconsciousness. For example, fMRIs reveal cortico-cortical and thalamocortical disconnections during sleep, general anesthesia, and pathological states. EEG analysis shows similar connectivity breakdowns. Additionally, the repertoire of possible connectivity configurations that can be accessed diminishes during unconscious states and is restored as consciousness resumes. This obviously limits the robustness of information processing that can occur in unconsciousness. Conscious selective attentiveness likely requires a different repertoire of connectivity than inattentive consciousness.

Neuroscientists are also discovering the importance not only of multi-area coherence at a given frequency band, but also that the phase synchrony to two different frequencies can also modulate network communication. Cross-frequency coupling of the alpha and beta oscillations with higher frequency gamma oscillations can amplify, inhibit, or gate the flow of nerve impulses throughout circuitry.

Future advancements will surely include more emphasis on monitoring functional connectivity as the brain shifts into and out of various states of consciousness and unconsciousness. I think, however, that we will not make definitive progress in consciousness research until we make progress in one area of theory and another of tactical methodology.

The theory deficiency lies in models of neural networks. Computer models of man-made networks yield interesting results, but they are probably  not relevant. Brains do not work with the same principles that computers do. Moreover, brain networks have intrinsic plasticity that cannot yet be duplicated by computers.

The method deficiency is that we have no non-invasive way to monitor the actually signaling in even a significant fraction of all the neurons in all the networks. Moreover, even if we had a way to monitor individual neurons noninvasively, it would likely be necessary to selectively monitor neurons in defined circuits. Ultimately, we may confirm that some things are just not knowable. Surely, however, we can learn more than we do now.


Bonnefond, Mathilde et al. (2017). Communication between brain areas base on nested oscillators. eNeuro. 10 March. 4(2) ENEURO.0153-16.2017. doi:

Mashour, George A., and Hudetz, Anthony G. (2018). Neural correlates of unconsciousness in large-scale brain networks. Trends in Neurosciences. 41(3), 150-160.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Aerobic Exercise Makes You Smarter

On several occasions, I have written about the anti-aging beneficial effects of exercise. New studies, confirm earlier findings of exercise benefit. Now, a new study shows that exercise reduces levels of the major inflammatory chemical, interleukin-6, and an associated enhancement of neural activity in the brain circuitry used to encode information and form memories.
In response to earlier studies by others showing that exercise improves mental function, a team from mostly German universities studied the effects of exercise on 32 subjects aged 52 to 71 years old. They were particularly interested in memory because prior studies by others made it clear that age usually impairs memories of names and faces, situations and events, which are categorized as episodic memory. Tests of recall of episodic memory show marked age decrements in many subjects, even if they are given reminder cues.
Other researchers had shown that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, reduces decline of episodic memory. This group of researchers wanted to explore why this benefit occurs. They examined two possibilities for the benefit of exercise:

1. Reduction of inflammatory chemicals (interleukin-6), which is known to occur with aerobic exercise in younger people, and
2. Strengthened connection among neurons that encode and form episodic memories (in the hippocampus, thalamus, and medial prefrontal cortex).

In the experiment on day one, subjects completed a survey that revealed each person's level of physical activity over the past week and gave a blood sample for measuring the baseline level of interleukin-6. Each subject then took several standardized tests of episodic memory. Then each subject had their brains scanned with fMRI while they were asked to memorize a series of faces and their association with a profession (pilot, electrician, bus driver, etc.). After the scan, they were tested for recall. The purpose of the scan was to assess functional connectivity, that is, how strongly the activation correlated in the brain areas that participate in encoding and memory formation.
The exercise survey allowed subjects to be grouped on the basis of aerobic and non-aerobic exercise during the prior week. The aerobic group remembered more items on the episodic memory task. The aerobic group also revealed stronger functional connectivity among several areas in the memory network. Additionally, there was a correlation with levels of the inflammatory chemical: subjects showing strong functional connectivity had the lowest levels of interleukin-6.
Limitations of the study include a failure to distinguish the intensity of exercise. For example, one can jog three hours a week at high speed or rather leisurely. Also, actual fitness of each subject was not measured, just a log of their exercise activities during the prior week. Another factor is that only one inflammatory chemical was studied. Interleukin-6 is one of a large family of such chemicals known as cytokines, and there are other inflammatory chemicals as well. Moreover, the significance of interleukin was not evaluated. When brain is damaged (by stress, metabolic production of free radicals, or whatever), interleukin-6 is released as a defense mechanism.
Nonetheless, a strong correlation, consistent with prior studies, was demonstrated between aerobic exercise, inflammation, and mental function. The authors did not speculate on why these effects occurred. I will.
Two contributing factors are obvious. One obvious factor is that aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular function and likely improves blood flow through the brain. The other obvious factor is that aerobic exercise releases the "feel-good" endorphins. Endorphins alleviate stress. Stress, more specifically the cortisol released during stress, shrinks the synaptic connections between neurons, which of course can be expected to diminish functional connectivity and information processing efficiency. Stress increases the level of inflammatory chemicals like interleukin-6. The low level of interleukin-6 in the aerobic group indicates that these brains were somewhat protected from the ravages of stress and free radicals.
Bottom line: aerobic exercise is good for older people. In addition to the well-known cardiovascular benefits, aerobic exercise makes people more sharp mentally. How one gets the needed aerobic exercise probably doesn't matter, as long as the exercise is sufficiently intense and sustained. Jogging, bike riding, swimming, and fast-moving sports should all prove beneficial.

Readers of this column will be interested in "Memory Medic's" e-book, Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine (available in all formats from The book, devoted exclusively to memory issues in seniors, includes review of many of the ideas in these columns over the last five years.


Thielen, Jan-Willem et al. (2016. Aerobic activity in the healthy elderly is associated with larger plasticity in memory related brain structures and lower system inflammation. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 26 December. doi.: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00319

Erta, M., Quintana, A., and Hidalgo, J. (2012) Interleukin-6, a Major Cytokine in the Central Nervous System. Int. J. Biol. Sci. 8(9):1254-1266. doi:10.7150/ijbs.4679. Available from

Monday, March 05, 2018

Lifestyle Effects on Working Memory Ability

On multiple occasions, readers of my learning and memory blog posts asked me what they could do to improve their working memory. This is an important and very practical question. Working memory affects all aspects of life success: personal, educational, and professional. I usually tell them to practice attentiveness and concentration. But I probably should tell them to adapt a healthier lifestyle.

For over a decade a variety of studies have implicated lifestyle in memory function. A rigorous new study confirms these results. An Israeli research team studied 823 participants, aged 22-37 years, using brain scans taken during a difficult memory task, post-scan memory tests, and numerous measures of health and lifestyle. The brain scans identified the brain areas that particularly engage in working memory tasks, most important of which were the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex. These then served as a frame of reference to check for correlations with health and lifestyle.

The key finding was a strong correlation between activity in working-memory brain areas and health and lifestyle. With all behavior/health variables considered together, the highest positive correlation occurred, in order, with fluid intelligence, reading, spatial orientation, picture vocabulary, several memory tests, and attentiveness.  

They observed an opposite correlation for such specific life-style indicators as large body mass index and a variety of unwise lifestyles such as binge drinking, and regular smoking. Health variables that correlated negatively with working-memory brain areas included high body-mass index, high blood pressure, poor glucose regulation.

The healthy lifestyle variables also correlated with other cognitive functions, such as fluid intelligence, reading/language skills, visuospatial orientation, sustained attention, mental flexibility and emotional intelligence, and physical endurance. Thus, the working memory benefit from healthy lifestyles seems to reflect a general improvement of brain function that good health confers.
The principle confirmed here supports the underlying theme of my recent e-book for seniors, which explained how memory serves a function like a canary in the coal mine. Memory decline is a warning signal of a damaged brain. That book explains the healthy life styles that people should be using as they age in order to keep the brain healthy and prevent memory deterioration. Changing lifestyle after the damage has already occurred may be too late. The point is that young people with healthy lifestyles have better brain function, and those lifestyles will help both body and brain to age well.
I recently published a book, “To Tell the Truth: Save Us from Concealment, Half-truths, Misrepresentation, Spin, and Fake News.” It is an inexpensive ($3.99), e-book now available at Amazon. At you can choose among several e-book formats, including pdf.


Klemm, W. R. (2014). Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine.

Moser, D. A. et al. (2017). An integrated brain-behavior model for working memory. Molecular Psychiatry. Doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.247

Monday, February 05, 2018

To Remember, Make It Weird

Memories that stick with us for a lifetime are those that fit other things we remember—but have a slightly weird twist. The most effective memory strategy is to relate new information with something you already know, but do it with a weird twist. This is the basic principle of well-known mnemonic strategies, like acrostics or "Memory Palace." The idea of acrostics is to construct a sentence in which the first letter of each word reminds you of what you are trying to remember, as in the names of the 12 cranial nerves:

"On Old Olympus Towering Tops A Finn and A German Viewed Some Hops"
(olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, auditory, glossopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory, hypoglossal).

Acrostics and all other mnemonic aids work best if you create mental-image representations—the weirder the better. It is the  weirdness that makes things especially memorable. There are three basic techniques:

1.      Subject-Verb-Object. This linguistic sequence comes naturally to us. It is the way we speak. The mnemonic application is to create images for what you want to remember in a subject-verb-object form. For example, if you want to remember to pick up some corn, milk and sausage at the grocery store, you might mentally see yourself pushing a grocery cart in the store, throwing in a package of your favorite sausage, pouring milk on it as if you were watering a plant, and corn stalks sprout up as you approach the cashier. Weird, yes. Easy to remember, yes. If you wanted to remember the capital of Arkansas, one of the first things that might come to mind is Bill Clinton, who was governor there. Given his scandals, you might want to throw a rock at him. Visualize throwing a "little rock" at a picture of Clinton.

2.      Story Chains. With this more sophisticated method, you use the mental-image representations to create a story. You could, for example, try to memorize the order of planets around our sun by rote repetition: of mercury, venus, earth, mars, jupiter, saturn, uranus, and neptune. But the weird, more effective way would be to create a mental image story wherein you visualize the winged warrior of mercury, who is attracted to the statue of venus; they go to the NASA image of earth to get married; they go on honeymoon taking a suitcase of mars candy bars; they divorce and go to wail at the Jewish (jupiter) wailing wall;  they die and you sit on a cremated urn (saturn) of their remains; you dump the remains on the ground and it rains on you (uranus), which  washes the ashes out past the pitchfork sign of jupiter, who reigns over the sea.

3.      Memory Palace. This is one of several “peg” systems in which memory becomes easier when you attach your image representations to known objects, such as furniture in your home “palace.” This is how I memorize the names of students. I may attach mental image representations  of their names to objects in my yard and then move mentally into various rooms in my house until I complete the class enrollment. For example, for the names Bott, Carino, Castillo, Dillawn, Eckerdt, Flores, Garrett, Grantham, and Hans, I might see the following in my mind’s eye:

As I leave my back door, I see a robot (Bott) trying to hold the door shut as I turn the knob. Then as I push the button to raise the garage door, I see the button jump off the wall to my car (Carino).  As the door rises, I see my lawn, covered not in grass but in pickles (Dillawn).  Then, going left to right, the next thing I see is my my shed, which magically has morphed into Eckerd’s drug store (Eckert). Next I see my big cedar tree which is growing out of a wood floor instead of the ground (Flores). Then I see my little raised garden bed where I see Ulyssses Grant (Grantham) leading toy soldiers in battle. Then I see my flower bush, which instead of sprouting flowers has hands (Hans) hanging from all its branches. And so on. Students are amazed I can do call the roll in order from memory. They would be even more astonished if they knew I could do it backwards or in any order. The link anchors in my “palace” are already memorized and when I see them in my mind’s eye, the images I am trying to memorize pop into mind automatically.

 I discuss these techniques and other memory principles in great detail in my memory books (students will love my 5-star e-book at See reviews of my books at the author tab of

Per Sederberg, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University says that "If we want to be able to retrieve a memory later, you want to build a rich web. It should connect to other memories in multiple ways, so there are many ways for our mind to get back to it. A memory of a lifetime is like a big city, with many roads that lead there. We forget memories that are desert towns, with only one road in. "You want to have a lot of different ways to get to any individual memory."

Once you have organized new information in a novel, weird way, rehearse it right away without distraction or interruption. New memories net time to set up, like wet concrete. The process is called consolidation, and without protection from distraction, a new memory may get erased or corrupted.


Memory Power 101 (New York: Skyhorse)

Better Grades, Less Effort (;

Ohio State University. (2017, June 19). Why the 'peculiar' stands out in our memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 20, 2017 from

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Scoring Wisdom

Most everybody believes that one becomes wiser with age and experience. People obviously vary across a wide spectrum of foolish to wise. We all have opinions about our own degree of wisdom compared to others, but is there an objective way to measure wisdom?
A group of researchers at U.C. San Diego believes that wisdom can be objectively measured. They tested their ideas on 524 adults, aged 25-104 years, selected from an on-going longitudinal investigation called the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) study. The study population involved near equal numbers of males and females, with more than three-fourths claiming to be non-Latino white. A majority had some college education. The study was funded by three grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Veterans Administration, and the Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
The researchers developed a series of questions that focused on physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects of successful aging across the adult lifespan. Collectively, the answers provide a numerical index of wisdom that can be used to compare and judge people on the basis of presumed wisdom. Participants rated a set of statements by agreeing or disagreeing with on a scale of one to five. The statements presumably tested the degree of wisdom, covering six specific domains: 1) prosocial attitudes and behaviors such as empathy, altruism and social cooperation, 2) social decision-making/pragmatic knowledge of life, 3) emotional regulation, 4) reflection/self-understanding, 5) tolerance of diverse values, 6) and ability to effectively deal with uncertainty and ambiguity in life.
Factor analysis revealed that the scale reliably measured wisdom as defined by the questions. Thus, their questionnaire makes effective distinctions between individuals’ differing degrees of wisdom.
Limitations of the study are that responses were self-reported, not measured empirically by others. Also, the demographic was narrow (Caucasians with some higher education). Some of the assumptions could be questioned. For example, is a sense of well-being always a reliable indicator of wisdom? A person could feel good because of lucky circumstance or because of delusion. Is it always wise to be tolerant of diverse values, especially if it leads to political correctness run amuck or acceptance of an evil that needs to be overcome? How wise is it to accept ambiguity if it means avoiding the hard work of solving important problems? 
That brings us to the definition of wisdom, which is hard to define. However, we think we know it when we see it. Certainly we should seek to be wise, but not without a lot of hard thought on what that means.
The potential value of wisdom-scoring questionnaires is that they can have a teaching function of helping to show people what wisdom is by identifying its specific domains in a tangible way that could guide the striving for wisdom. Another value could be clinical evaluation of mental deterioration with age. Finally, such questionnaires could be used in screening people for suitability for admission into prestigious universities, hiring in industries requiring emotional and cognitive maturity, or acceptance into certain social groups. However, the judgmental use of such questionnaires opens the door to manipulation by the people taking the test and discrimination by those using the test results for personal judgment.
The researchers promote their "San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE)" as a new way to judge people. Society already has multiple ways to judge people: IQ scores, SAT scores, "likes" and "followers" on social media—and now on wisdom! Such indices have some valid uses, but the possibilities for abuse are enormous. Why are we always looking for ways to judge people? When people must be judged, why not emphasize what they actually do, not what their test score is?
Get the most out of life as you age. Get my e-book, "Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine." I present research evidence to show that doing the things that help your memory will also help your brain's general functions. You can delay and may even prevent age-induced mental decline. Authoritative, well researched and documented, this book provides in-depth explanations on topics such as brain aging, relationships of memory with other brain functions, how to reduce absent-mindedness, the diseases of aging, and diet and supplements that do and do not help memory. 

Thomas, M. L. (2017). A new scale for assessing wisdom based on common domains and a neurobiological model: The San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-Wise). J. Psychiatric Res. Sep 8. DOI: