In his famous book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes mentions his experiments on learning in mimosa plants. I found this fascinating and always wish he had provided more detail. Now a paper published in Nature points to evidence that plants are capable of associative learning. From the abstract:
Here we show that this type of learning occurs in the garden pea, Pisum sativum. By using a Y-maze task, we show that the position of a neutral cue, predicting the location of a light source, affected the direction of plant growth. This learned behaviour prevailed over innate phototropism. Notably, learning was successful only when it occurred during the subjective day, suggesting that behavioural performance is regulated by metabolic demands. Our results show that associative learning is an essential component of plant behaviour. We conclude that associative learning represents a universal adaptive mechanism shared by both animals and plants.
Methylene blue is a chemical that has been used an antidote for cyanide poisoning. There have been suggestions over the years that it may have an effect on memory. A paper titled “Multimodal Randomized Functional MR Imaging of the Effects of Methylene Blue in the Human Brain,” was recently published in the journal Radiology. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate a copy of the original paper, so I am forced to rely on this account in ScienceDaily:
“A single oral dose of methylene blue results in an increased MRI-based response in brain areas that control short-term memory and attention, according to a new study. Methylene blue was associated with a 7 percent increase in correct responses during memory retrieval.”
Several media outlets report that methylene blue was shown to improve short term memory. This is one of the reasons I need to see the original paper. The phrase “short term memory” is used differently by psychologists than the general public. Indeed, many psychologists have abandoned the phrase altogether and, instead, talk about working-memory. When non-academics talk about short term memory they mean things like forgetting a phone number or someone’s name. In fact, most of these are failures of attention or long term memory, not problems with short term memory. Thus, I worry that reporting on this research may be very misleading.
As a confirmed Indiaphile, I was fascinated by the possibility that Indian born Sri Srinivasan might be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times ran this wonderful story about Sri Srinivasan’s home town, Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram:
“A bare-chested priest sat cross-legged in the temple of this farming village on a recent morning and recited all 1,008 names of Vishnu, the Hindu god, in the hope of soon receiving good news. A junior priest sprinkled the idol, known as Balaji, with shredded tulsi leaves and rose-water. The subject of their prayers was Sri Srinivasan, an Indian-born judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia who is rumored to be a top contender for to nominate to the Supreme Court.”
As we now know Vishnu did not come through. However, the article is still very much worth reading. Some of it is memory relevant:
“Neighbors say Judge Srinivasan’s grandfather, Padmanabhan Iyer, was neither rich nor powerful, but his ability to commit scriptures to memory made him an object of awe: He was capable of chanting mantras for two hours without as much as glancing at a text.”
But the very best part of the article is the correction section. As paper of record the Times did not fail to confess:
“An earlier version of this article misspelled in one instance the name of a village in India where the family of Sri Srinivasan once lived. The village is Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram, not Mela Thiruvenkanathapuram.”
Individual differences are often ignored, but they can have real consequences. It appears that there are individual differences in face recognition ability:
“Research carried out in a number of labs over the last 15 years has revealed that people vary greatly in their ability to recognize faces. These individual differences in face recognition ability have interested researchers for several reasons. First, individual differences provide a means to try to better understand how face recognition is carried out, how it develops and which genes contribute to it (Yovel, Wilmer, & Duchaine, 2014). Second, this substantial variation in face recognition skills from person to person has important implications for a number of critical occupations and for how we interpret eyewitness testimony.”
Quiz kid Ruth Duskin Feldman died last week at the age of 88.
See how you can do against these Quiz kids: