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Medical Temporary Memory Blocks and Facilitating Recall Actively

  1. Oct 18, 2016 #1


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    So I'm wondering if there are good studies of memory blocks and memory recall.

    For example, I will fairly often meet a person that I haven't seen for a while, and have a hard time recalling their name. I often "feel" like there is a mental "block" electically or chemically to recalling their name, and at a later time when I'm not focusing so hard, I'm able to recall their name.

    It happened this past week, when I saw one of our senior VPs who was visiting from Europe. When I first saw him, I was blocked on his name, and then a few minutes later when I wasn't thinking about it, I recalled his name easily.

    It's pretty common in the Fire Service to take a couple moments to recall a term or a name -- is there a name or a term for how blocks occur, and how best to unblock recall?

    Hope that makes sense. I can provide more examples if that helps.
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  3. Oct 19, 2016 #2

    Fervent Freyja

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    This is a common phenomenon. I think that when this happens, we haven't received enough stimulus to fully retrieve what we know on the matter. There aren't ways to unblock recall or prevent unless it is something that is particularly studied in a conscious manner, we don't always have a choice in the way we store information. That we cannot recall all associations connected to a matter is actually protective, we would be too overwhelmed if we retrieved too much at once. There are stimulus thresholds in place (depending upon the manner that the information was stored) that prevent us from revisiting associations. Things like stress, health, or distractions can affect memory retrieval.

    If this happens again, instead of trying to retrieve the name, try to revisit memories of prior experiences with that person, finding the name may follow. Names are really meaningless when being stored, aren't they? Storing knowledge like the location of a persons residence or occupation has priority over a name. It's just a word that has been arbitrarily assigned to a person, it doesn't change who they are, so I think the brain has more difficulty finding ways to store them.

    I have horrible memory for names. Though, can remember faces alright and events surrounding other people (even the location of objects and relations) too well. It is a habit from childhood, to be hyper-aware and observant of the people around me. I can still recall the layout of any building I've been in. It took me longer than a moment to remember my maiden name a few weeks ago... I have no idea if there is an assigned term to the phenomenon. If there isn't, there should be.
  4. Oct 19, 2016 #3


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    It happens to me most commonly when running into people outside the normal/customary haunts; some people are recognizable anywhere, anytime --- they have a "Gestalt" which overwhelms appearance, and others can hide in plain sight without even trying.
  5. Oct 19, 2016 #4


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    Yes, that is a good technique and I do use it, thanks. Taking an indirect route often works better than trying to force the direct route of memory, it seems.

    Another relevant example -- as a HAM radio coordinator, I often need to recall the HAM radio callsigns of folks that I work with in emergency response settings. Sometimes I have trouble recalling their exact callsign, but I can use a trick of remembering what they sound like when they announce their callsign over the air. That helps me a lot, and usually helps me recall their callsign. (Otherwise it's a brute force search at ARRL.org...) :smile:

    Another memory recall trick that I've used in the past is an alphabetical search on the first letter(s) of a name or item that I'm trying to recall. The best example is back in an undergrad Computer Science class that I was doing very well in, and I was taking the final exam at the end of the semester. I was very close to acing the class, but one of the questions on the final had me a bit stumped. I felt that I should be able to remember the answer, but I was having trouble recalling the term that it was asking for. so I decided to do an alphabetical search in my head for the term, and started, "A..." "B..." "C...": and so on, hoping that the sound of the first letter would trigger the memory of the CS term that I was searching for. I eventually got to "I..., In... Inter... Interleaving!" which was the term I was searching for. Great stuff.

    But I guess my main focus for this thread is asking if there are any research papers on the "blocking" feeling that you can get when you try to actively recall something, versus the better recall function that seems to happen if you can clear your mind and just let the recall happen. Maybe with some facilitation via tricks like associations or whatever, but just intuitively for me, there seems to be a fundamental electrical or electro-chemical blocking mechanism that can happen if you just try to force the recall.

    Thanks again for the responses. I'll remember your names... :wink:
  6. Oct 20, 2016 #5

    jim mcnamara

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    Huh? What's your name again?.... o0)

    I think your search term is: serial recall.
    This paper asserts that words with highly specific meanings ( not vacuum packed gab - 'stuff' 'gizmo') facilitate serial recall.

    This is a subset of the more general concept of mnemonic devices:


    Example for me: I have trouble recalling a composer's name - Jean Sibelius. It always got snarled up and came out Edvard Grieg. Anyway after a lot of frustration I bumped into a story about Franz Liszt commenting on Grieg's music describing it as 'tinkle bells and blowing snow'. There is part of a piece - Lemminkainen Suite - that sounds that way to me-> I can always recall it, and the correct composer's name. Eeeehah! So, 'Franz Liszt' facilitates the recall - A tortured example of serial recall.

    I always block on the name for our calendar - Gregorian. It still hangs up. I just had to look it up to be able to write it.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2016
  7. Oct 20, 2016 #6


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    Yeah, I use mnemonics a lot in memorizing things for EE for for medical stuff. I hadn't heard of that "method of Loci" before though. I'll try adding that technique in.

    Thanks for the search term and link. I'll spend some time reading through the materials. :smile:
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