Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy memories... or not?

I have just come back from the BGSE graduation ceremony, at the AXA forum at the other end of town. It was the normal mixture of fun and speeches, saying good-bye to students that I had come to get to know and greeting the parents that produced the interesting, alert, curious boys and girls that we taught. I feel a bit nostalgic about everyone leaving - didn't I just get to know you a few months ago?

But before I get all bleary-eyed, perhaps I should heed a bit of advice that comes out of really interesting research. Ever found yourself moaning silently when some postmodernist quack cr***ed on about how reality is socially constructed? Well, it turns out that there is some truth to that. In Science, there is an incredible bit of research showing that people who can perfectly well remember events change their view if you surround them by people who say something else. The scientists in question used MRI scanners to find out how this happens. Turns out that two parts of the brain, linked to fear and emotion, are involved in us changing our memories -- the hippocampus and the amygdala. Get a computer to tell people they remember wrong, and these parts of the brain do nothing. With people, it's the opposite. So maybe that's the point of ceremonies -- to create salient events that help us recall all that was great about a really great class!

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