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If you want to understand a little more about how to develop the photographic memory function of the right brain, below is an interesting excerpt from a Right Brain Kids’ newsletter explaining how it works.
After-imaging exercises works with the negative images created by the eye. For example:
1. Gaze at the color red. When you look at red for a long period of time, you continually exercise the red cones within the eye.
2. Look at a white board, sheet of paper, or wall. When you look away, and refocus on a clear, white surface,
your red cones rest. They turn off.
3. The negative image comes alive. The color white contains all the colors in the spectrum, you normally use all the cones within the eye to discern it.
So while the red cones are resting, the cones responsible for reproducing blue and yellow do all the work. Together, they create an after-image… green!
It takes time to develop a vivid photographic memory through after-imaging. How long it takes varies from weeks to months to years. It is usually easier for children to develop compared to adults.
The initial intention is to create an after image. The after image will appear as a negative image of the original image. For example, red will appear as green, blue will appear as yellow, etc. The image you will see is similar to the film negatives from the old-style film cameras.
Over time, with practice, you will eventually be able to see the original image in its true colours.
The following is an account from a mother describing her child’s first photographic memory experience for some inspiration:
I heard an excited child cry from the den.
My mother’s instinct told me that the cry was one of excitement, but it certainly made me run to confirm it!
Nine-year-old Justin was already walking toward me with a face full of pride and surprise!
“I did it!” he cried.
“Did what?” I queried, hands on his shoulders to stop his excited body from moving in gleeful gyrations.
“I saw a positive image — not an after-image; the REAL picture!” he explained.
“I was watching TV and during the commercials, I saw an ad with a red coffee can at the end. I heard a sound outside and turned to look out the window. When I turned, the picture I was watching stayed in view. I could see both the red coffee can AND the window!”
Justin had been after-imaging since he was five years old. The idea of seeing the original image seemed like a faraway dream. But now, he had experienced his first “flash” of photographic memory — a relatively long flash, at least for the first time — and he was ecstatic!
From Right Brain Kids.
My initial interest in this subject began with its application in early childhood development. It was only in recent times that I wondered if I might apply it to the Mom Brain as a means of maintaining output without degradation of quality. The general advice for handling the memory loss associated with motherhood is to cut back on activities and to expect less of yourself – kind of hard to do when there isn’t a single thing I want to drop and plenty more things I would like to add to an already overflowing plate.
Sherlock Holmes once told Watson (I believe it was in “A Study in Scarlet“) that the brain is like an attic and it can only store so many things in it therefore he always made it a point to choose carefully what he wanted to keep in his attic and discard whatever else that he considered to be rubbish. To continue the analogy, this effort is, in essence, an attempt to renovate that attic so it becomes larger and capable of storing more.
Before I read “The Brain That Changes Itself“, I would have thought that the only answer to this “motherly” problem was to accept our limitations, forever live with a notebook in hand, and concede the fact that inspite of all my efforts, there will be slip-ups. However, Chapter 3 talks of Michael Merzenich, a scientist that changes brains to sharpen perception and memory, increase speed of thought, and heal learning problems. How he does is it by training specific processing areas of the brain that he refers to as “brain maps”. Through his work in neuroplasticity, he has already helped congenitally deaf children to hear, learning-disabled students to improve their cognition and perception, and improved the cognitive difficulties that Austistic children face. Merzenich believes that
“brain exercises may be as useful as drugs to treat diseases as severe as schizophrenia; that plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave; and that radical improvements in cognitive functioning — how we learn, think, perceive, and remember — are possible even in the elderly.”
Radical claims, but inspiring ones if you think of the significance this has for both our children and ourselves. By changing the structure of our brains, we can increase it’s capacity to learn so that even adults can develop new skills, such as a second language “effortlessly”. The brain is not that empty attic that we fill but a living organism that is continuously learning how to learn and how to perform functions more efficiently.
In one basic experiment they mapped a monkey’s sensory cortex. Then they trained it to touch a spinning disk with its fingertip, with just the right amount of pressure for ten seconds to get a banana-pellet reward. This required the monkey to pay close attention, learning to touch the disk very lightly and judge time accurately. After thousands of trials, Merzenich and Jenkins remapped the monkey’s brain and saw that the area mapping the monkey’s fingertip had enlarged as the monkey had learned how to touch the disk with the right amount of pressure. The experiment showed that when an animal is motivated to learn, the brain responds plastically.
The experiment also showed that as brain maps get bigger, the individual neurons get more efficient in two stages. At first, as the monkey trained, the map for the fingertip grew to take up more space. But after a while individual neurons within the map became more efficient, and eventually fewer neurons were required to perform the task.
In other words, the more we practice a skill, not only do we become more proficient at it, we also require less neurons to perform the skill in question because our neurons become more specialised and more efficient freeing other neurons to add or practice new skills. As neurons are trained, they become more efficient and faster, and the signals they send become clearer. That means with proper brain training, we can increase the speed of our thoughts.
This reminds me of the 10,000 hours of practice rule. Think of a concert pianist who plays music seemingly without thinking, and the professional tennis player who seems to play on instinct. They have honed their specific skills so that the thoughts related to these actions appear to be non-existent, but in reality, they just happen a lot faster than in regular individuals.
I wonder, too, if this is why Right Brain Education Speed Play helps children to remember bulk information more easily. Do the activities in right brain education constitute the kind of brain training Merzenich referred to? Right brain education also helps to sharpen perception and memory and increase the speed of thought in the children who receive it.
The other thing Merzenich discovered was that when we multi-task, we don’t learn effectively. It is only in paying close attention to what we are learning that we create long-term plastic changes to our brains.
In numerous experiments he found that lasting changes occurred only when his monkeys paid close attention. When the animals performed tasks automatically, without paying attention, they changed their brain maps, but the changes did not last. We often praise “the ability to multitask.” While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention doesn’t lead to abiding change in your brain maps.
We know that adults don’t learn well when they multi-task, but can the same be said of young children when their attention is divided? Pamela Hickein from TweedleWink talk about young children’s ability to learn new information even when they appear not to be paying attention. Some time back I read an article that said this was due to the fact that a young child’s mind is like the light from a lantern that disperses its light all around it, whereas adult minds are like a torch that shines only at one point. It is evident that children learn much more easily than adults because their brains are wired differently but what does multi-tasking do to their learning ability? More food for thought.
If our brains can be re-designed so that our perception and memory becomes sharper and our speed of thought faster, how is it done? Well, I haven’t quite gotten to that part yet. More soon. If you can’t wait, just get the book – The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.
For home practice, I have been working with Gavin on the random linking memory activity. He was starting to get a little bored with the activity so I threw in a few dinosaurs and it seems to have renewed his interest. He has been asking me daily for new “dinosaur” stories.
I have noticed a few things about his progress that I wanted to mention. If you are doing linking memory activities at home with your child, I hope you can share your own observations as well.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that Gavin appears to be developing a photographic memory. Although he can remember facts that he has read and exactly where the information can be found, I have noticed that his photographic memory is not complete. He remembers certain things with uncanny accuracy while other things pass him by seemingly unnoticed. What is central to his ability to recall what he has seen is his interest in the subject. Because he is interested in the subject of dinosaurs, he can remember the facts he reads about it. Other subjects that he doesn’t care for, he doesn’t appear to be able to remember as much, if at all.
This reinforces the importance of following your child’s interest. If you want to teach a specific subject to your child, it pays to take the time to ignite his interest so that he will take himself the rest of the way on the learning curve. Which leads me to a few other thoughts I have been pondering over. Because I have never had a photographic memory, I cannot speak of it from my own experience. I can only make suppositions based on what I have observed from Gavin.
Recently, I have been using the linking memory activity as a means of teaching him new material. However, I find that when I put in something unfamiliar, it is much harder for him to recall all the cards. For instance, in a recent linking memory deck, I included a picture of glow worms (as shown below) and he couldn’t remember the card because the picture made no sense to him. I have never taught him about glow worms before either so he said, “I don’t know what that is.”
It is possible that he could see the image in his head but was not able to describe it. Or he might have dismissed it altogether because it made no sense to him. It reminds me of a linking memory session in Heguru when he labelled a card with a different name. I forget exactly what it was but it was some landmark which he was unfamiliar with. The picture looked like a tower so he referred to it as a tower instead of its proper name. This would suggest that he can remember things that he sees, but not necessarily what he hears.
That leads me to the next take-home point – the importance of practicing different activities to develop the memory function as a whole. Linking memory helps to develop visual memory – photographic memory. You need to practice other activities that help to develop auditory memory. The ability of your child to develop one and/or the other may also be affected by whether he is a visual learner or an auditory learner. Obviously the preferred sense will be the type of memory they will develop more easily.
Thirdly, in an earlier post, I posted two linking memory decks – one with pictures and one with words. I thought that the cards with words could also be useful for further developing memory function. In retrospect, I think I should state that words cards should only be used on older subjects. Young children need linking memory cards with pictures or they may become frustrated by the activity (particularly if they have not learned to read). It is important to keep the game fun and entertaining so we should eliminate elements that may complicate it. You can still use the word cards for older children and strong readers.
Have you been practicing linking memory or other memory activities at home with your child? What have you observed about your child’s memory development? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: I am not a neuroscientist nor do I claim to be an expert on neuroscience. The content in this blog post is what I have understood about the workings of the brain based on books that I have read and what I learned in neuroscience during my second year in University. Feel free to correct me if you think I have misinterpreted the text.
I have often been asked about Gavin’s development and what I feel he has gotten out of attending Heguru. Do I feel that the classes benefit him? It has been hard to say because I do a lot of other activities with him at home as well. How do you determine what is contributed by Heguru, by me, or by his playschool? Gavin is not a carefully controlled science experiment. He is a boy I love dearly and whom I am trying to raise to the best of my ability.
At the end of the day, I think what is key to his development is my attention and his exposure. Anything that we do to help stimulate his brain in a positive way is beneficial for him, especially in these early years of neural wiring. It can be doing things that are challenging or repeating things that he already knows for reinforcement. Doing new things that are challenging helps to create new connections between brain cells. Repeating the same things over encourages myelination of the pathways so that the action becomes faster and more automatic.
Think about when you first learned to drive a car… Initially, you had to think about everything and you spent a lot more concentration on the action of driving. After practice, the action of driving becomes more automatic and you can drive without having to consciously think about it. That’s the benefit of repetition. Actions that can be done “automatically” seemingly without requiring any thought are faster and more efficient. So that’s what we’re striving for – not just to create new neural pathways but to create myelinated neural pathways.
When Einstein passed away, scientists were curious to gain a better understanding of his brilliance. They opened his brain to study it. There are two parts to the brain – grey matter (the brain cells) and white matter (the myelinated pathways). They expected Einstein to have more grey matter than the average individual. What they discovered instead was that he had more white matter than the average individual – much, much more. So he didn’t have more brain cells. He had more neural pathways – myelinated pathways.
That has been my aim in the early development of my children – to stimulate the development of myelinated neural pathways through exposure. Based on what I have been observing in the boys recently, I think we are achieving that.
Right brain development philosophy states that specific abilities will begin to emerge in children receiving right brain education. One of these abilities is photographic memory. From what hubby and I have noticed, Gavin’s photographic memory ability appears to be emerging. The following is one of several instances we have observed:
After reading the book “Dinosaur Days” once, Gavin could recite the information he read from it to me. A few days after he read the book, we were looking at some other dinosaurs on the computer when he blurted out, “The duck dinosaur has 2000 teeth.” Surprised, I asked him, “Where did you learn that?” Even though I read the book with him, I confess that I could not remember having read that.
Gavin replied that it was from the book “Dinosaur Days”. Thinking he couldn’t possibly have remembered it, I asked him to show it to me. We took out the book and I started flipping through the pages to find the page on the duck-billed dinosaur. Gavin, who grew impatient, took the book from me and flipped to the exact page it was on and pointed out the words to me.
Recently, Gareth, too, has been demonstrating what he has learned. One morning, when he was playing the iPad, he started saying the word “Dog”. I looked at the iPad and saw the word “Dog” printed in the center without any accompanying pictures. Unfortunately, Gareth hasn’t been forthcoming with his demonstrations. They usually take me by surprise and when I try to probe further, he clams up. Nevertheless, these small windows he opens for me to look through have been a delight for me and further encouragement to continue these activities with him.