Useful resources about memory

Various articles, videos, podcasts, websites, for those interested in memory and cognition.


About memory

The New York Review of Books has a lovely article by Oliver Sacks about the vagaries of autobiographical and source memory.

Fascinating article in Slate about the ‘reminiscence bump’ — why we remember more events from adolescence and young adulthood than any other period in our lives (and especially the early 20s). The prevailing theory has had to do with novelty — this is the period when we experience so many things for the first time. However, although this seems a very reasonable theory, it seems that it is not particularly supported by research. A new theory puts emphasis on “self-defining episodes” — perhaps we tend to remember events (our version of events!) that reinforce our idea of ourselves.

Here’s a downloadable magazine issue for all of you who want to know more about brain imaging technologies.

New Atlantic has a lengthy article on neurodiversity.

Dana Foundation has a good article on the benefits of bilingualism.

Scientific American has a good article on sleep’s role in memory.

If you’re intrigued by individual differences, and by genius in particular, you’ll probably be interested in an interview with a researcher who has just finished a new analysis of Einstein’s brain. It appears that it is more different from the norm than we thought.

Pacific Standard has an interesting article on what we might call ‘neuro-architecture’ — how neuroscience could help architects design buildings and environments that help cognitive performance.

Always interested in mirror neurons! Scientific American has an article on what’s so special about them.

Mo Costandi in the Guardian talks about how your gut bacteria influence your mind

The emerging field of ‘how the gut microbiome affects our brain and our behavior’ is a fascinating one, and the APA have put up an informative article on the subject.

Scientific American discusses how much energy our brains need and whether it’s really as tiring as it seems to think hard for protracted periods. In light of my most recent blog posts, about expertise and flow, it is interesting to note findings that less skill is associated with greater effort and more energy required, while expertise is associated with less effort and less need for glucose. One researcher also comments that personality differences may be involved in the interaction between task difficulty and energy needs. It’s also suggested that fatigue from sustained mental effort is more likely when the mental effort is perceived as unpleasant.

An interesting article by Jeffrey B. Rubin on the subject of positive psychology and the pursuit of happiness. I applaud him when he says: “Sane living involves giving full credence to negative and positive emotions - sadness and joy, shame and compassion, fear and resilience. We flourish when we cultivate our potential without losing sight of our vulnerability. The two objectives should neither be separated, as they were in the first hundred years of Western psychology, nor pursued one-sidedly, as Seligman, and many of his colleagues, do.”

The Atlantic discusses the intriguing suggestion that synaesthesia might be learnable (you can read the academic paper in the open-access journal PLOS One, and a more restrained comment on Neuroskeptic).

If you’re interested in dreams, you might be interested in Mo Costandi’s report on a brain imaging study of dreams

Mo Costandi talks about the gene variant that enhances memory and increases risk of PTSD

On a different note, if you like reading random facts, here's a list of ones relating to memory, learning, and the brain.

The Guardian recently put up a series of articles on memory.

The memory entry in the Skeptic's Dictionary


Cognitive (attention; perception; thinking; creativity)

There's a somewhat terrifying article in the New Scientist about a prototype head-set that can scan your brain while you work and then adjust or filter what information you get according to what it 'reads' is useful to you.

Nice article in Scientific American from Michael Shermer about how our modular brains lead us to believe contradictory things.

Stephen Ceci (“intelligence” guru) has an interesting article in This View of Life about how motivating context can have such a significant effect on cognitive performance — and in particular, how ignoring motivation and meaning can lead social science researchers to quite erroneous conclusions.

An article in Scientific American about a recent study into the different types of attention you might bring to bear while reading a novel — specifically, the difference between reading for pleasure and reading critically

In Scientific American, R. Douglas Fields reports on a fascinating study into how rhythmic sound brings about synchronization in our brain activity that boosts cognitive processing

Fast Co lists 7 Ways To Stimulate Your Capacity For Creativity

And also from Fast Co, here’s some exercises ‘To Find Your Purpose And Passion For Work’

Nice article on the cocktail effect over on Scientopia: How do we pick the voice from the crowd? Focus, my friend, focus.

Nice critique of the race-IQ debate at The American Conservative

Nice interview with Gary Marcus at Scientific American and if you want to read more about his inspirational story of how he overcame a lifelong musical ineptitude to learn the guitar in one intense year, there's a New York Times article and another in the Guardian

Great 2-part article in Scientific American about the relationship between memory and creativity: Part 1 Part 2

Jonah Lehrer on why daydreaming makes you smarter and more creative

Scientific American article about two types of attention, and how the different nature of attention to the world inside us has implications for our emotional management 

Good article on the Scientific American blogs, on Time on the Brain: How You Are Always Living In the Past, and Other Quirks of Perception

another article on the SA blogs serendipitously relates to what I've been talking about, interference and selectivity

Jonah Lehrer has a nice piece in Wired on the role of emotions in decision-making.

Nice article showing exactly how sketching your ideas can work

Jonah Lehrer explains why brainstorming doesn’t really work

from the Boston Globe, an article on group intelligence

from the New York Times, an article on brainstorming and 'idea entrepreneurs'


Science communication (esp. neuroscience)

Excellent article in the Scientific American blogs discussing how readers can 'tell the good ev psych from the bad' - while it is specifically about evolutionary interpretations, I think much of it is also relevant to psychology in general.

and while we're talking about evolutionary psychology, you might like to have a look at Aeon magazine's lovely article on the evolution of emotion.

The Guardian has an article on the science communication ‘crisis’ (on the increasing retraction rates, the decline in replications, and the manipulation of journals’ ‘impact factor’).

A new public science project! Planet Four is crowdsourcing the identification of images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite, to help scientists learn more about weather conditions on Mars. As with so many fields nowadays, there’s a huge amount of data out there, and the problem is getting it analyzed. Read more about it in this Fast Co article.

Deevybee has a good article on problems in the research (and most particularly its reporting) on genetic variants relating to brain structure and function.

Perspectives on Psychological Science have put out a special issue on the currently burning topic of how well we’re doing psychology — in particular, the problems of research methods and replicability. In acknowledgement of the importance of these issues, and their benefits of attracting widespread interest, they have made the whole issue open access. Here’s the press release discussing it.

A new citizen science project! A huge number of images, taken by a vehicle slowly mapping the seafloor, need classification.

Slate has a discussion of how the phrase ‘correlation does not imply causation’ has become overused and misunderstood.

And Daniel Kahneman has called on psychologists who work on social priming to clean up their act

Scicurious also has a post on a quirky study that’s more important than it sounds: the dead salmon study. The study points to the need for adequate controls in imaging studies.

Guardian article about how news stories about neuroscience typically draw conclusions or make predictions well beyond the focus of the original study

In this Guardian article, David Eagleman (neuroscience) and Raymond Tallis (geriatric medicine) offer their different views on the role of the brain in determining what we are and do

and a nice rumination on 'neurobabble' by a philosophy professor at -- he makes some good points, and do catch the John Cleese video!

Excellent article in Nature about the problem I spoke of in a recent blog post — that of publication bias and the issue of failed replications.

For a very clear, and humorous, demonstration of why we must be wary of correlations, check out

Mo Costandi comments on recent media reports about 'mind-reading' technology


Book excerpts

Fast Co. has a nice little excerpt from Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Amazon link), on the subject of how to listen empathically. This was part of a small series on this issue of improving your listening skills, so you can also read an adapted excerpt from Bernard T. Ferrari's book Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All (Amazon link), on how to be a 'power listener', and an excerpt from Kevin Cashman's The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward (Amazon link) on how to ask 'authentic' questions.

Another book excerpt in Scientific American from Quiroga’s Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain. This one concerns the search for the “Jennifer Aniston neuron” (i.e. a neuron that responds to a very specific stimulus).

Scientific American has a book excerpt from Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? , on the question of whether “constant Googling” makes the Millennials “stupid”.

And a book excerpt from Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

And a lengthy book excerpt from Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning by Benjamin K. Bergen

The Guardian has a book review of Rose & Rose's Genes, Cell and Brains

Excerpt from Quiroga’s pending book “Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain”.

Scientific American has an excerpt from Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations, by Chris Berdik. The excerpt discusses medieval Europe’s ‘dancing plagues’ — mass demonstrations of compulsive dancing that resulted in some people dancing themselves to death — and more modern mass psychogenic illnesses, in the context of a nocebo effect. You can also read an interview with the author.

The Guardian has an excerpt from Ben Goldacre’s book Big Pharma. There’s also a review in the Guardian. It’s all about the appalling practices of the (legal) drug industry. Frightening. Depressing. You can also listen to an extended interview with him about the book

Scientific American has an excerpt from James Flynn’s (the Flynn Effect) new book, Are We Getting Smarter? And the Guardian has an interview with him

Salon has an excerpt from The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning on the ‘three brains’ our brain contains.

Discover magazine provides an excerpt from Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by well-known neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga.

Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi's theory of consciousness is described in this chapter from his book Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul

Scientific American has an excerpt from Eric Kandel's latest book, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, exploring the intersection of neuroscience, psychoanalysis and art

Why our memories are not always our own - Book extract (Charles Fernyhough: Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory)

British psychologist Richard Wiseman discusses how to change how you think and behave in his new book Rip It Up. In this Guardian article, he gives us some high points - older people (or those working with them) might like to take particular note of Ellen Langer's study.

Ideas about how to become engaged in your work in this extract from Timothy Clark's The Employee Engagement Mindset: The Six Drivers for Tapping into the Hidden Potential of Everyone in Your Company.

This excerpt from a leading neuroscientist's book on the brain's connectome appears in Scientific American

Edited extract from The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, by Oliver Burkeman

Scientific American offers an excerpt from The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy and Sane, by Matthew Hutson

The optimism bias: book excerpt; author interview

Good advice in book excerpt on Deciphering Diet and Nutrition Claims has wider generality

Book reviews

Since I have Zunshine’s earlier book, Why we read fiction: Theory of mind and the novel (Amazon affiliate link), I was interested to see a review in American Scientist of her new book, Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Popular Culture (Amazon link).

Mo Costandi’s review of Sebastian Seung's new book, Connectome. The idea of the connectome is perhaps an antidote to the focus on very specific areas of the brain as ‘explaining’ particular behaviors, but as Mo points out, mapping the human connectome is still not likely to explain everything — especially if your connectome is static (I give particular weight to this point, being a great believer in emergent properties that arise from dynamic systems).

Partly a review of a recent book by Chomsky and James McGilvray, The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray, and mainly a criticism of the Chomsky approach to language from someone who works on child language disorders.

Book review of Lawrence Shapiro’s Embodied Cognition (New Problems of Philosophy)

Guardian article discusses the book Embracing the Ordinary: Lessons from the Champions of Everyday Life by Michael Foley, about mindfulness in everyday life.

Review of Deutscher's new book Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages

Article in the Guardian about Roy Baumeister’s new book on willpower



Daniel Kahneman discusses intuition

The Association for Psychological Science (APS) has some videos of extended conversations with various prominent psychologists, including Daniel Kahneman, Gordon Bower, and Michael Gazzaniga.

The Guardian has a list of the top 10 science videos of 2012, for those wishing to expand their horizons

On Edge, Joseph Henrich talks about how culture drove human evolution

3QuarksDaily has up a short video about birdsong and its relation to music & language

On Edge, Rebecca Saxe talks about what neuroscience can teach us about conflict resolution — what drives conflict, what prevents reconciliation, why some interventions work for some people some of the time, and how to make and evaluate better one”

Guardian has a 2-part video series on the nature of consciousness, from a debate at the Royal Institution in London. Two well-known academics — Christof Koch in the first half, and Susan Greenfield in the second.

Have you seen this humorous youtube video? Memory-a spoof by Pam Peterson  For all of us who are getting older.

Video talks that may inspire you at the Do Lectures - "Inspiring talks from people who are changing the world"

Ted talk by the author of Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer, on memory feats anyone can do

Watch the hour-long video of the famous neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran discussing his research

The eminent psychologist Daniel Kahneman has a master class at the Edge on "The Marvels and the Flaws of Intuitive Thinking"

Another Master class by Daniel Kahneman at Edge. This one is entitled “A short course in thinking about thinking”

Another esteemed psychologist, Michael Gazzaniga, has a master class at Edge. This one’s on neuroscience and justice.

TED talk on happiness by Dan Gilber

catchy 11-minute video showing an animation of Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Amazon link). RSA Animate has a number of other animations that look equally interesting.

Nice little video on 29 ways to stay creative

Videos on people with amazing autobiographical memory

Video on the Human Connectome Project (or read the Guardian article on this project to discover how all our billions of neurons are connected)

Watch a brief video showing how a drug-like compound appears to completely wipe out long-term memory in a rat

Watch the frightening mechanics of a concussive blow to the head in Scientific American

the Health Sciences library at the University of Utah has some nice multimedia resources on the health sciences (including some on the brain)

a TED talk by Csikszentmihalyi about flow



I enjoy NPR's TED Radio Hour podcasts - a way to listen to a version of some Ted talks on my walks.

Oxford University has a podcast series on dealing with depression. Three of the six half-hour podcasts discuss mindfulness therapy.

Over at Scientific American, James Flynn (from my own alma mater) chats about the Flynn Effect (IQs have been rising over time)

On Philosophy Bites, Molly Crockett talks about the effects of serotonin on moral decision making.

And Patricia Churchland discusses what neuroscience can teach us about morality.

Discussion with Jonah Lehrer about his new book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Rom Harré on What is Social Science? and Richard Sennett on Co-Operation at the new Social Science Bites podcast

the Brain Science Podcast has interviews with many interesting researchers and writers.

This Week in the History of Psychology is an engaging series of podcasts discussing key events & people in the history of psychology 

Music and the Brain


Personal development

Authentic Happiness is a University of Pennsylvania site where you can learn about Positive Psychology through readings, videos, research, surveys, opportunities and more.

SkilledUp Blog has aggregated over 850 open educational resources (MOOCs, video lectures, and the like) aggregates over 500 open college courses offered by institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, providing a single platform you can search, and also allowing you to keep track of your progress (and share it, if that’s your thing).

A nice article in the New Yorker by Gary Marcus about learning a new skill later in life might inspire you!

If you want to practice the 3-d spatial rotation skills (typically part of IQ tests), then Android apparently has a free smartphone app for that: Rotal

There’s apparently a free smartphone app to help you stay on track with your New Year resolutions (or indeed, any changes in your habits): Lift. For iPhone so far, but apparently Android and web versions are coming.

Inspired, no doubt, by the success of the Khan Academy is Udemy, which has many free courses as well as paid ones. Udemy is a platform designed to make it easy for anyone to create an online course.

Probability is an area that humans aren’t really designed to understand. So I was pleased to find this website on understanding uncertainty, which seems like a very nice user-friendly “site that tries to make sense of chance, risk, luck, uncertainty and probability”. There are articles, videos, animations, and up-to-date relevant examples.

If you're wanting to make a start on another language, is a great website. Thirteen languages are offered, with nice vocabulary lists matching pictures with audio, grammar explanations, and readings (text and audio) for the most developed of the languages.

One of the really great things about today's Web is that you can see exhibits at museums and art galleries around the world without having to go to the trouble and expense of actually visiting them. I'm not suggesting that the experience is as good as seeing them in person! but there are advantages, such as informative podcasts or videos to go along with the exhibits. One such of many is a special exhibition of European masterpieces. The Rijksmuseum also has an astonishing collection of its art works online. MoMA's isn't as big, but still contains more than you're likely to ever see. And if you want to get some background on its offerings, The Art Story is an attractive site that helps visitors learn about modern art. You can look at movements, individual artists, and timelines.

Completely off-topic, but I just really liked this — get a sense of the scale of things at the scale of the universe

So cool! A new “Open Science” project asks people to help decode whale song.

But if your interest in science is more curious than studied, you might like Sixty Symbols, videos about symbols used in physics and astronomy.

The BBC has some resources for people learning English



New York Times has an article on hearing loss and its connection to dementia.

Community workers and volunteers might find this interesting: the Collective Action Toolkit, a free, 72-page booklet designed to help people of all ages and cultural backgrounds to work together to tackle big problems in their communities. It’s specially designed for use in the developing world, but I suspect others might also find it useful. You can read more about it in this Fast Co article.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions how important sleep is for memory and learning. The Healthy Sleep website has been put up by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard and WGBH Educational Foundation to help educate people about sleep and provide practical tips on improving your sleep. It includes a number of short videos.

University of Virginia School of Medicine has developed an online program to help those with disturbed sleep. The Sleep Healthy Using The Internet program (SHUTi) has been found to dramatically reduce insomnia in a small group of cancer survivors (who are particularly prone to developing sleep problems).'s free Typing Lessons are a helpful resource for those looking to learn how to type or those who are hoping to hone in on their typing skills. You can select a skill level, and most excitingly (since I'm a fan), you can select a Dvorak keyboard.

Learn computer basics, aimed at novices, at GCF Learn Free