Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Multi-tasking is the Wrong Way to Learn

Today's kids are in to multi-tasking. This is the generation hooked on iPods, IM'ing, video games - not to mention TV! According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study last year, school kids in all grades beyond the second grade committed, on average, more than six hours per day to TV or videos, music, video games, and computers. Almost one-third reported that "most of the time" they did their homework while chatting on the phone, surfing the Web, sending instant messages, watching TV, or listening to music.Kids think that this entertainment while studying helps their learning. It probably does make learning less tedious, but it clearly makes learning less efficient and less effective. Multi-tasking violates everything we know about how memory works. Now we have objective scientific evidence that multi-tasking impairs learning. See the summary at my Web site.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Distractability increases with age

Filtering out irrelevant stimuli is done more easily when you are young than when you are old. This has profound implications for age-related decline in memory ability. Read about what you can do to compensate at my Web-site discussion of recent research on this matter.
Click here.

And don't forget to get my book, so you can put all this in context and actually improve your memory - not just compensate for age-related decline.

Monday, November 27, 2006

New Treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome

If you saw the Nov. 26, 2006 edition of "60 Minutes" on TV, you learned about a promising new treatment, and sometimes cure, for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Actually, I discussed many of these ideas in my memory-improvement book and posted an explanation of this specific idea months ago on my Web site, and I have now updated it to report that physicians have actually embraced the findings of memory research and shown that treatment with a common blood-pressure drug, propranolol, can have strikingly beneficial results on PTSD.

See the latest update at my Web site. Locate "Medical Issues" on the Contents page and click on the item involving PTSD.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Social Networks Provide "Protective Reserve" for Alzheimer's Disease

In an earlier posting, I reviewed a study that showed that staying mentally active can help some people to protect against development of symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, even when some brain lesions of the disease are present. The usual explanation is that a lifetime of high mental activity creates a kind of protective reserve. Now another study reveals that close contact with friends, relatives and social networks can offer a similar protective-reserve effect. Check the "Medical Issues" section of my Web site's summaries of memory research. Click here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gene therapy helps memory

A new research report just out shows that gene therapy, targeted against stress hormones, helps memory. As I explain in my book, stress hormones are bad for memory.

Here is the press release:

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

Scientists use gene therapy to improve memory and learning in animals

Stanford University neuroscientists have designed a gene that enhances memory and learning ability in animals under stress. Writing in the Nov. 8 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the Stanford team says that the experimental technique might one day lead to new forms of gene therapy that can reduce the severe neurological side effects of steroids, which are prescribed to millions of patients with arthritis, asthma and other illnesses.

"Steroids can mess up the part of the brain involved in judgment and cognition," said neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, co-author of the study. "In extreme cases it's called steroid dementia. Ideally, if you could deliver this gene safely, it would protect the person from some of these cognitive side effects, while allowing the steroid to do whatever helpful thing it should be doing elsewhere in the body."

Sapolsky, the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences and a professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford, has conducted numerous experiments on the damaging physiological effects of stress and has written extensively on the subject, including a 1995 book, "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers."

Hormonal effects

In the Journal of Neuroscience study, Sapolsky and his colleagues focused on the effect of stress on the hippocampus, a part of the brain that's important for learning and memory. Nerve cells throughout the hippocampus contain numerous receptors that respond to a group of steroid hormone called glucocorticoids, which are secreted from the adrenal glands in male and female rats during times of stress. When high levels of these corticoids bind to the hippocampal receptors, they can trigger a destructive biochemical cascade that damages nerve cells in the hippocampus and ultimately impairs memory and learning.

But not all hormones are bad. Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, enhances memory and can therefore block the negative cognitive effects of the corticoids.

"Estrogen protects memory against stress," said former Stanford postdoctoral fellow Andrea Nicholas, lead author of the study, who was recently named an adjunct professor at St. Mary's College. "In women, there are long-term protective effects of estrogen in the brain. As people age, females often fare better than males cognitively, in part because they have that estrogenic protection."

In a 2004 study, Sapolsky and his co-workers showed that gene therapy could be used to neutralize the deleterious effects of stress in laboratory rats. The idea behind gene therapy is eventually to cure a disease or repair an injury by injecting a beneficial gene into the patient's DNA. For the experiment, Sapolsky and his team created what geneticists call a chimera--an experimental strand of DNA made with two genes stitched together, in this case a glucocorticoid-receptor gene from a rat combined with an estrogen-receptor gene from a human.

When this new chimeric gene was injected into the hippocampus of a rat, the result was dramatic. The gene produced new protein receptors that quickly converted stress-inducing glucocorticoids into beneficial estrogen signals.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Novel Stimuli May Help Memory

In a study on the neurochemical effects of novel stimuli during learning, a group at University College of London found that the brain’s reward-system neurons respond better to novel stimuli than to ordinary stimuli. That is, novel stimuli can have rewarding properties, and thus make us pay more attention to them. In the purely behavioral aspects of their study, subjects viewing a succession of visual images were able to remember more of them if an occasional new image was presented. For a fuller exploration of the implications, go to my posting on this piece of research.

But be careful. Novel stimuli can also be a distraction and have marked interference effects on consolidation. Learn about consolidation and interference in my book.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sleep loss impairs memory BEFORE learning

I just came back from the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. One of the papers presented there reported experiments showing that depriving college students of sleep impaired their ability to remember what they learn the following day. I have the details at my Web site.

Earlier posts at my Web site explain research that sleep loss impairs memory of events that occurred during that same day. Now, this research shows "proactive" impairment. We professors always knew that pulling "all nighters" where students stay up all night to study for an exam made them do dumb things on an exam. Now we know that this sleep loss impairs not only what they learned the day before but also what they are supposed to learn the next day. When will students learn that?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Book of essays on working memory

I just ran across a book by Nelson Cowan on working memory, published in 2005 by Psychology Press. It is available from Amazon for $44.95. It is probably scholarly and not intended for a general audience. I ordered a copy and will let you know what I think about it.

Bill Klemm
"Memory Medic"

Monday, September 18, 2006

Menopause impairs memory

A new study just reported from McGill University in Montreal confirms that female sex hormone is necessary for optimal memory function in women. In this study, the researchers measured memory before and after menopause in25 women. The women, average age of 36 yrs, had tumors of the uterus and their ovary function was deliberately suppressed to the point of menopause by drugs to control the cancer. Significant decreases in memory scores were produced. The women were still mentally functioning at an acceptable level, but the memory decline "was noticeable and documentable."

By the way, this study confirms (without acknowledging) one of the first experiments I ever did on memory, published in 1968. In that study I removed the ovaries from rats and found that they performed poorly in one-trial learning tests, compared to intact rats. Reference: Communications in Behavior Biology, Vol. 1 (1968), p. 109-114.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Humor Makes It Memorable

Ever wonder why so many radio and TV commercials are humorous? It is because psychologists have found that humor makes things more memorable. Steven Schmidt at MIddle Tenessee State U. conducted a study with 38 undergraduates. He had them read sentences such as "There are three ways a man can wear his hair: parted, unparted, and departed." He also had them read two versions of the same point that were not humorus. Students remembered the funny sentences better than the straight ones.

Ron Berk, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins, has even written a book for teachers, entitled "Humor as an Instructional Defibrillator." He cites many examples of how teachers can be more effective if what they teach is presented with humor.

Don't Forget vs. Do Remember

Emotions and attitude make a huge difference in how well you learn and remember things. I present the evidence for and explain this in my book.

Here is a simple example you can apply again and again. How often do you say to yourself or others, "Don't forget to ___________ (you fill in the blank)?" But ths way of saying things creates a negative emotion. The simple preventive is to state the instructions in a positive way: "Remember to ___________."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Disease theory for bad behavior

Scientists and physicians like to attribute bad behaviors to a brain disorder, which they label a disease. Alcoholism was among the first such "diseases." Now, all manner of inappropriate behaviors are labeled as diseases. The latest labelings include "Intermittent explosive disorder," which in less politically correct times referred to people who did not control their temper. Another "disease" recently identified is over eating, although a disease name has not yet been assigned.

Implicit in this labeling approach is that these people have a brain disorder. If you have a disease, you have all the excuse you need for your problem. You are a victim. It is not your fault. How convenient.

Hardly, if ever, do scientists or physicians consider the possibility that the faulty brain wiring that underlies such conditions might have been created by past experience. Often that past experience was under the control of the "victim," who made bad choices in behavior that reinforced the learning of bad behavior. Indeed, there is a school of science that holds that all addictions are learned. I discuss some of this research in my book on improving memory, Thank You Brain for All You Remember. What You Forgot Was My Fault.

Regardless of the degree of complicity that victims have in creating their disorders, the point still remains that people have choices. They can choose new behaviors. They can choose behaviors that will erase old learning and create new learning experiences that will create behaviors that serve them better. No more excuses, please.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

School days - will your kids learn?

Back to school time reminds me to remind you:

If you have kids or grandkids going back to school, find out what they are doing to show kids HOW to learn - as opposed to WHAT to learn. I bet they aren't doing much to show kids how to remember things. If not, tell them about my book. I also give workshops to teachers. See my web site.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Remembering computer passwords

Kiplinger's Magazine recently had a news clip that there were free password-remembering Web sites ( and

Most people should not need such sites. See my "Memory Medic" note on ways to remember passwords.

If you have a huge number of IDs and PWDs, you can also use notepad software to store them, using prompts and hints, rather than the actual PWDs. I really hesitate to store my actual IDs and PWDs on my own computer because of hackers.

I like ClipMate, because it has a file cabinet where you can not only store whatever word clips you want, but it also is saves all your "cut or copy" actions and facilitates pasting them back into new locations.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Memory decline in old age due mostly to distractibility

I just posted a summary of a research paper indicating that a major cause of memory decline in old age is distractibility. This is also another way of saying that the older you get the harder it is to pay attention. Read all about it at my memory research lilnk from my Web site (  And don't forget to buy the book, in case you haven't already.
Bill Klemm
Memory Medic

Everybody wants it

Students want to get it. Workers want to keep it. Seniors want to get it back.

What is it? ... a better memory.

I give an all-day workshop that helps people get, keep, and recover a good memory. The workshop includes a copy of the book I wrote on what science reveals about how to improve everyday memory.

I have given this workshop on a cruise ship (Royal Caribbean), as a continuing education program, and at numerous professional development events for teachers.

See my web site for details.

Dr. Bill, "Memory Medic"

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Memory lies at the heart of the Middle East problems

Individual memory of people who have been taught an Islamofascist view of the Koran has created an international band of brothers in a movement whose end justifies any means. This is why schools, churches/mosques, and the media are so crucial in shaping a culture and the only hope for changing a culture.

Part of this Islamic culture is also steeped in the notion of revenge: an eye for an eye, etc. Those who have been taught this view will never stop being violent. Whatever harm is done to them, even if they instigated the violence, will always require revenge.

I see no solution to the problems in the Middle East. Most of the policies of the "outside world" are well-intended, but naive. Memory is a powerful thing, especially when it is coupled with emotion. Emotions in the Middle East are always raw because of what people there have learned from the past.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Young People Don't Learn As Well as We Think

Some people think that only older people have memory problems. Don't you believe it! Even young people, who are supposed to have super ability to learn, have many more memory deficiencies than they or we are willing to admit.

Let me give you an example. Money Magazine ran a study where high school seniors were given lessons in money management. When these students were tested for their understanding of money management, they scored the same as students who had not had the lessons in money management. Let me give you another example. I am a co-developer of middle school curriculum, and one of the modules that we developed was taught and tested by a master Teacher in a two-week period. We knew exactly what she was teaching and we developed our pre - and post-tests based on that content. So, we expected the post test results to show
that students had learned something. To our utter dismay, the post-test
scores were the same as the great test scores. We couldn't believe it!
So we asked the teacher for her explanation. She wasn't surprised at
all. Her explanation was simply this: well, we only went over it ONCE!
My response was that this doesn't make any sense: if any kid hears a
dirty word, he learns it immediately. Well, the explanation of course
is that people remember what they are motivated to remember.

Here is another example of a young child's problems with memory. I have
a nine-year-old grandson who is learning to read. And when I have him
read something to me and ask what it said, he doesn't have the foggiest
notion of what it said. Here, the explanation is that the the youngster
is so involved in the mechanics of reading that he doesn't get the idea
being expressed by the words. By the way, this problem is not limited
to nine-year-olds. In my more than 40 years of teaching college
students I have run into the hundreds of college students who can read
an assigned reading over and over again and still not know what it said.

What should we make of all of this? First, let us not make assumptions
about how easily children learn things. Secondly, how well people
remember things depends on how motivated they are to remember. Third,
a lot of people don't know how to memorize. They think it just happens auto-
matically. I go into all of these issues in much greater depth in my book, Thank You Brain for All You Remember. What You Forgot Was My Fault.

W. R. (Bill) Klemm, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Professor of Neuroscience

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Workshop for teachers

I give workshops for teachers to help them show students how to remember school lessons. I have one coming up in Corpus Christi, TX on September 26. If you are in the vicinity or know teachers in the vicinity, please have them contact Robin Ford at the Texas Educational Service Center, Region 2.

General information on my workshops can be found at my Web site.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Great book on learning and memory

I am almost through reading a great book on learning and memory, especially as it relates to things teachers could do to make students better performers. The book, written by Dr. Jane Healy, is titled "Endangered Minds. Why Children Don't Think - and What We can Do About It."

While she decries rote memory and standardized testing based on such memory, she is a champion of requiring students to memorize information but to apply it in higher-level thinking processes. See the memory research item I have on my Web site about how brains think.

How I Got Interested in Improving Memory Capability

Well, everybody has at least a casual interest in memory. My interest was a little more than casual, and it all began in high school. Like most kids, I had a lot of interests besides school (girls, sports, clubs, activities, etc.). Yet, I wanted to make good grades, mainly because by then my parents had instilled in me a desire to do well in whatever I was obliged to do. So, to do well in school while still having time and energy to do all the other things I wanted to do – I had to learn to study EFFICIENTLY. That meant learning how to memorize things efficiently, preferably during class so I would not have to study outside of class. After I learned a few memory tricks, I was able to remember most things from class each day and what I did not get, I memorized on the school bus on the way home. My days were filled with sports (I was never any good. In football, for example, I was the lead blocking dummy), with raising my farm animals, with numerous clubs (I was President of about 4 of them and school President for two years). My evenings were filled with dating, "dragging Main Street," and listening to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games. Yet I graduated with the highest four-year average in all of the schools in Memphis, Tennessee and surrounding Shelby County. A biology teacher (that never had me in class) who knew my IQ was an unimpressive 113, spread the word that I would have trouble in college, because my success was just due to being an "overachiever" – as if that were a dirty word! My point? If you have a good memory, you can look smarter than you really are.

The next motivation came from learning about memory tricks from the Dale Carnegie leadership course. My dad was a recruiter for the course managers. He got me into the course, and I learned the memory tricks that were a part of the course. I was pretty good at it, and they decided to make me a showpiece for their memory training at the meetings where they were recruiting enrollees. At the start of the meeting, they would tell the audience: "Here is the latest issue of Life magazine. Billy Klemm is a 16-year-old who has taken the course and he will demonstrate to you the powerful memory techniques that are a part of this course. Thirty minutes from now, Billy will memorize this magazine. He has never seen it. Yet he will be able to tell you what every page is about, in any order. Or, you can tell him what is on a given page, and he will tell you the page number." Sure enough, after 30 minutes, I had memorized the magazine (and I had NOT seem it before). The audience was astonished that I could tell them what was on each page or could tell them the page number of any page that they described to me. That's heady stuff for a 16-year-old. It certainly motivated me to care about memory.

Abut this same time, I developed an interest in becoming a veterinarian. Back then, getting into veterinary school was very competitive. There were only 19 schools in the whole country and they all had smaller classes than they do now. The only veterinary college I could go to without paying out-of-state tuition was Auburn, which had a contract to take only 10 students from each of the states surrounding Alabama. So to get into veterinary school, I had to be in the top 10 from my home state of Tennessee. I relied on my memory skills to be the top one applicant. As an example of how memory skills helped me, I was stumbling in calculus, going into the final exam with an F. My problem was that I was trying to understand calculus. Finally, I gave up on understanding and just decided to memorize all the formulas and the situations to which they applied. Come final exam time, I made 100. The prof said, "Billy, I know you did not cheat. I watched you like a hawk, because I knew you were desperate to salvage that F grade. How in the world did you do it?"

Later, as a veterinary student, I discovered just how difficult that curriculum is. There is SO much to memorize. Veterinary students take all the standard medical courses (anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, pathology, public health, etc.) and in addition take surgery and medicine courses in both large and small animal species. They have to learn about multiple species, each of which has unique biology, diseases and treatments. Well, my memory skills paid off, allowing me to graduate 5th in my class while at the same time being a weekly columnist for our national award-winning university newspaper and being active in campus politics – and enjoying courting my wife-to-be, Doris.

A few years later, I found myself working as a professor, first at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and then at Texas A&M University, first as a professor in the College of Science and then in the College of Veterinary Medicine. I had ample opportunity to observe student performance, good and bad. Not many years had to pass before I realized that the biggest problem that most students had was with poor memory skills. Time and again, students would complain about how hard they worked, without seeing corresponding good results on tests. They taught me many lessons about what NOT to do in studying. At least half of my time as a professor was spent in research, and my area was brain research. Inevitably, some of my research involved memory functions of the brain, ranging from consolidation of short-term memories to what happens to brain electrical activity during memory recall.

The upshot of these experiences motivated me to write a book on what scientific research reveals about how to improve everyday memory. There are over 150 ideas explained in that book that I know can help anyone. See