Tag Archives: Memory

I wish, I wish…

I’d love to be reading and writing about fascinating and largely unexplored topics in neuroscience and psychology such as superagers, super-visualisers and aphantasia, but Christmas and all the associated this and that, and the everyday business of parenting in the summer holidays and housekeeping takes up my time.

Interesting to read that aphantasia was apparently first identified by Sir Francis Galton in 1880, even though it has only recently been given the name aphantasia and come to the attention of contemporary researchers. Galton was also one of the earliest researchers to describe various varieties of synaesthesia, before they were all named as such. Galton was one hell of a scientist, back in the days when a man of means could spend his days exploring vast unknown territories of psychology. Is research so different these days? Science is now a bit more open to women researchers, and there’s still much to explore.





Zeman, A., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. Lives without imagery–Congenital aphantasia. Cortex, 3.


Memory is fallible, but then again, there’s super-recognizers

It appears that super-recognizers (people with very good face recognition ability) are mentioned in the new book The Memory Illusion by Dr Julia Shaw, but I cannot find a preview of that bit of text. I’d be interested in reading what Shaw wrote about supers, because I believe that we are very good evidence against the argument that this book, and some other pop psychology books have offered, that human memory is unreliable and open to interference. I’ve noticed that writing by researchers and authors who offer arguments against the reliability of human memory and also those who offer arguments against the idea of natural or inborn talent tend to ignore or gloss over the many things that science already knows about face recognition, face memory and super-recognizers.

I’m happy to admit that people who perform amazing feats of semantic memory such as remembering huge lists of random facts or meaningless digits using new or ancient memory techniques have trained their own memories with many hours of practice, but super-recognizers are very different to those people. We do not knowingly or deliberately train ourselves and we do not consciously use tricks or techniques. Maybe we self-train and invent strategies in an implicit manner, but it is also true that super-recognition does seem to run in families, so there seems to be an important genetic contribution to the elite ability or talent, just as there is clearly a genetic component to developmental prospagnosia (very poor face recognition ability).

Face memory researchers have been investigating the phenomenon of super-recognition since it was first described in 2009, and there seems to be ample evidence that supers have very long-lasting, adaptable, and reliable memory of the faces of other humans. We can remember faces across many decades and across changes in facial appearance by forces such as ageing. I believe I am very good at spotting facial family resemblance and facial phenotypes across gender and age. Super-recognizers can also display very accurate face recognition after being briefly shown images of only faces (no hair etc) of a large group of faces of same gender and similar age, some of them very degraded images. This accuracy requires being able to avoid false positives and false negatives. There’s no denying that supers are bloody good at faces. There’s also no denying that some other people are very poor at face memory, so authors of these pop psychology books that denigrate human memory are able to state with a vague air of truth that human memory for faces is fallible. But such a statement ignores what we know about supers, and this is why I have issues with the common practice of psychology researchers of roputinely discarding data from outliers in their studies. If any of that discarded data is from outlier study participants that did incredible well in tests of face recognition or memory, then those participants could be supers and their data tells an important story about human memory and human face recognition.

I think supers are interesting examples of a type of human memory that stands out from other types of human memory as reliable, long-lasting, easily or unconsciously enmcoded and accurate, so one should wonder, why is the face memory of supers so great? My bet is that this niche example of human memory has two characteristics that give it special power: it is disributed across a broad network of neurons throughout the brain (and this is why it might be found along-side synaesthesia), and it is also a type of visual memory, which I can only assume is a very ancient and well-evolved type of human memory that predates stuff like writing and language, that happens in areas of the brain that work amazingly and unconsciously because they evloved well before there ever were humans. I cannot imagine how genuine face memory could ever be interfered with by suggestion or manipulation, because the tricks that some memory researchers have used to fool around with the memories of study participants work on a conscious level communicated by verbal means. Genuine face memory is implicit and visual. It is safe from such nonsense.

The Memory Illusion by Dr Julia Shaw:



Is there any particular feeling that follows synaesthesia?

Nope. The train of thought and life in general continues on, just as before. Synaesthesia is just another kind of thought, or a fleeting memory, in fact, I’ve argued here that synaesthesia is an exotic variety of memory or learning (I’ve got to learn the difference between the two, or remember the difference between the two). I experience some types of synaesthesia that are so much a part of my normal train of thought and so brief that I mostly don’t notice that they ever happen. I’ve only really figured out that they are a thing when I systematically set out to make written records of them on any available bit of paper, just after they happened, during my everyday activities.

Australian super-recognizer suffers from social embarrassment after misidentifying stranger as an acquaintance

The amazing thing is that I had earlier seen the acquaitance at the same event, and I hadn’t noticed a difference in hair colour (different hue, same degree of darkness) between the two, possibly because I focus on faces and voices more than hair.

How did this error happen? Well, the stranger was a sibling of the acquaintance, of the same gender, build, age and hairstyle as the acquaintance, and both were attending the same event, and both have quite distinctive faces with a strong family resemblance in the entire face, not just in a couple of features. The family resemblance brings the siblings’ faces closer in similarity of appearance, while the shared distinctiveness of their faces pushes them away from resembling the faces of any randomly-chosen face of an unrelated person of the same race, age and gender. I would even argue that my misidentification was in fact a correct identification of pretty much the same face that happens to be shared by two people rather than the one individual, as is normally the case with faces, rather like the situation in which you meet by chance the twin of a person you know when you weren’t aware that the person you know has a twin. No, the siblings both now known to me are not twins. Yes, other people have made the same mistake in identification.

Is there anything to be learned from this mistake? I guess it shows that at least in my case, super-recognition is not about having a photographic memory or a memory for every single visual detail, but is more to do with detecting similarity, not just in one or a few visible features, but in an entire pattern made up of features, which as a whole can be distinctive, memorable and identifiable. Is super-recognition a superiority in memory for visual patterns?

Interesting research on synapses and the neurobiology of forgetting supports model of dementia that appears to compete with mine

The role of GluA2-containing AMPA receptors in sustaining long-term memories and in natural forgetting has been studied by an international team of researchers. They and other researchers have speculated that this process could be involved in the development of dementia. I think they are wrong. I believe that there is a distinction between normal, adaptive forgetting and the forgetfulness of dementia that results from the destruction of the brain. I have previously in this blog outlined my original ideas about the immune system, complement, synaptic pruning and a type of dementia that goes by the names of PCa or Benson’s syndrome. My money is still on high levels of complement as the prime suspect for dementia of the rear parts of the brain. Regarding Alzheimer’s, I still favour the “Prion Hypothesis” but I also understand that obesity and diabetes 2 can damage the brain. Nevertheless, I still find this recently-published piece of research interesting because it seems to shows that forgetting isn’t just the failure of some process, it is a process in itself. I also find it interesting that real memory researchers don’t write about or make sweeping statements about memory in general, they study and write about specific types of memory.

Paddock, Catharine Brain study yields clues about ‘natural forgetting of long-term memories’ http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308549.php

Paola Virginia Migues, Lidong Liu, Georgina E. B. Archbold, Einar Ö. Einarsson, Jacinda Wong, Kyra BonasiaSeung Hyun Ko, Yu Tian Wang, and Oliver Hardt Blocking Synaptic Removal of GluA2-Containing AMPA Receptors Prevents the Natural Forgetting of Long-Term Memories. Journal of Neuroscience.  23 March 2016, 36(12):34813494; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3333-15.2016



If synaesthesia is caused by low levels of complement, does that mean it is the opposite of schizophrenia?

The idea that schizophrenia is caused by brain dysfunction resulting from excessive synaptic pruning during the teenage years is certainly nothing new, I’ve been aware of it for many years and I think it is a winner, but the idea that this excessive pruning is triggered by higher than normal levels of complement appears to be new, although quite predictable in light of my immune hypothesis of synaesthesia which I published at this blog way back in 2012, even though, to be fair, at the time I was contrasting a variety of dementia (PCA or Benson’s syndrome) with synaesthesia, not schizophrenia. It is possibly worth noting though that schizophrenia was originally known as “dementia praecox” and might not be an entirely different thing to Bensons dementia in reality. I’ve written it before and I’ll repreat it again; I believe that Benson’s syndrome could be caused by excessive levels of complement, specifically C3 but I could be wrong in that specific suggestion. Regardless of the importance of the differences between Benson’s and schizophrenia, I’d still argue that this exciting theory about schizophrenia and high complement and over-pruning that is apparently supported by evidence is such a mirror-image of my theory about synaesthesia and low complement and under-pruning from 2012 that my theory could have been an influence on the schizophrenia researchers whose work has just been published in Nature, but I doubt that I got any credit.

It is exciting that progress is possibly being made into understanding and maybe even preventing schizophrenia, and it is about bloody time, (and how hard could it be to hinder the action of C4 or get rid of some of it, for heaven’s sake, to save some poor wretch’s brain and mind?) but now I’m left wondering what, if any, is the relationship between Benson’s syndrome and schizophrenia? My limited knowledge of Benson’s identifies only memory problems as a common feature of the two brain disorders, (and isn’t it interesting that I and more conventional synaesthesia researchers have linked synaesthesia with superiority in memory?) but I’m wondering if there is more in common between Sz and Benson’s than memory issues. I guess if I was really interested I’d turn to Google and PubMed to check whether someone has done a study of the immune system genetics of people who have Benson’s, but I have so many other less interesting things to do today. If no one has done such a study, then maybe they should, and then thank me for the tip.


Wilson, Clare Overactive brain pruning in teens could cause schizophrenia. New Scientist. January 27th 2016.



Aswin Sekar, Allison R. Bialas, Heather de Rivera, Avery Davis, Timothy R. Hammond et al. Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4. Nature. January 27th 2016.



C. Wright Is synaesthesia caused by low levels of complement? Is Benson’s syndrome (PCA) caused by too much complement C3? Could synesthesia and posterior cortical atrophy be considered in some way opposites? Am I a super=recognizer? June 7, 2012.



Large twin study using the CFMT reportedly finds face recognition is heritable but largely independent of general intelligence and object recognition ability



I wish I had the full scientific background to fully interpret this interesting new study, because the results have HUGE implications in psychology, but as far as I know are not particularly surprising or at odds with related research. The genetic and phenotypic independence of face recognition ability would smash to smithereens the long-debated idea of “g”, or one (mysterious) factor largely determining general mental ability. Face recognition or face memory appears to defy “g”, but all the same, I can’t help clinging to the idea that there’s a link between top ability in face recognition and at least some other cognitive gifts. Based on personal experience I find it hard to leave behind the idea of a link between elite reading and writing ability, synaesthesia and superior face recognition.

Placing the heritability of face recognition ability at 61%, as this study has done, kicks sand in the face of the long and bitterly debated idea that giftedness or talent is the result of long hours of focused training rather than innate ability, but I can think of one researcher who has championed the “trained not innate” position on talent or expertise for many years, who seems to lack an awareness of the entire body of face recognition research, instead focusing his attentions on elite performers in sport, music, memory and chess. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

I am a super-recognizer, and I have no memory of ever training my ability in recognizing or memorizing faces, and no one has coached, pressured nor trained me to this specific task. I defy those who argue that intelligence is “environment” not genetics to explain me and faces. Up until a few years ago I had no idea I was even above average with faces, so don’t ask me.

All those years of neuroimaging research on the brains of synaesthetes has found nothing of substance?

Hupé J and Dojat M (2015) A critical review of the neuroimaging literature on synesthesia. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 9:103.


“Our critical review therefore casts some doubts on whether any neural correlate of the synesthetic experience has been established yet”

That is a bit of a shock to read. This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten a big shock after reading a paper in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. There was that little matter of some of my most amazing neuroscientific ideas published at this blog being ripped-off and used as the guts of an “opinion article” in that journal in 2013. I haven’t forgotten that episode. Who would have thought so much excitement is there to be found inside a science journal? I should make it clear that the researchers who did that thing in 2013 are NOT the authors of the above paper, but at the same time, I’ve got to wonder where Hupé and Dojat got this idea from

“…synesthesia could be reconsidered as a special kind of childhood memory, …”

Sure, they could have thought of that under their own steam, but I still want to point out that the central, seminal idea of this blog, right from the very first post in 2010, has been the idea that synaesthesia is linked in some meaningful way with face memory, in my case with super-recognizer ability in face memory, and there are many articles in this blog that show and hint that the heart of synaesthesia is memories created in childhood and many different types of synaesthesia operate in ways that are so much like memory that the differences are only quantitative. There was even one article published in 2013 at this blog in which I stated that

“…the Proust phenomenon is considered to be a type of memory and many of my observations at this blog have demonstrated that synaesthesia can involve memory, is an element of the “method of loci” memory technique and I would argue operates like memory. Yes, Yes, Yes, the Proust Phenomenon is a close relative of synaesthesia.”

Some ideas that I’d like to (explicitly) lay claim to (right now) in 2014

Damn, it’s behind a paywall

I was wondering whether this interesting-sounding paper might mention face memory ability, because other research has shown that ability in this area peaks much later than many other cognitive abilities, in the third decade of life, as I recall, and no one knows why, and it is one of those fascinating mysteries in psychological science that I love to ponder. It is certainly nice to know that there is even one cognitive ability that peaks as late as the seventh decade of life, considering how long it has been since I saw my 30th birthday. I also noticed that one of the authors of the paper (Laura Germine) is one who has done face memory research in the past, and some of the data used in the study was gathered using a website that has a history of offering free to the internet public access to world-class face memory and face perception tests (testmybrain.org). But the paper is behind a paywall, so I’m left wondering.






Radio show about Glenda Parkin living with dementia in suburb of Perth, Western Australia

Below are the details of a recent and very interesting radio interview on Perth public radio with Glenda and Bronte Parkin and Alzheimers WA CEO Rhonda Parker, focusing on Glenda’s experiences as a person who has a form of dementia that goes by a number of names including Benson’s syndrome, posterior cortical atrophy and PCA. This is not the first time that Glenda has shared her story with the media; she previously shared her story with Perth’s daily newspaper, the West Australian, in 2011 and she has recently been interviewed for the Community Newspaper Group.

I have unusual reasons to be grateful that Glenda has shared her story with the mass media. I happened upon her story in a copy of the West while I was enjoying coffee and one of those wonderfully greasy Sausage and Egg McMuffins in a McDonald’s restaurant in 2011, after dropping someone off to a selective school that offers students places based on high ability in the area of literacy and languages. I became intrigued by the fact that the particular type of dementia described in the article appeared to be a mirror-image of the pattern of intellectual gifts that appear to run in our family, associated with synaesthesia, a harmless, genetic, developmental and memory-enhancing condition that is caused by increased connectivity in the structure of the white matter of the brain. I wondered whether there could be an undiscovered developmental basis of Benson’s syndrome that works like the opposite of synesthesia, or could it be caused by some mature-age dysregulation of some chemical that regulates growth in the parts of the brain that seem to be hyper-developed in our family, and attacked, over-pruned or somehow damaged in Benson’s. I wrote about my ideas in this blog soon after. In 2012 my thinking on this theme took an important and exciting leap ahead when I happened across a brief article in New Scientist about research by Dr Beth Stevens on microglia, complement, synaptic pruning and elements of the immune system playing a central role in the development of the brain. I figured that one or maybe more of the complement chemicals could be the chemical that regulates growth or pruning in the parts of the brain that I had written about and attempted to identify in my 2011 blog post. I wrote a brief outline of these ideas at this blog in 2012 in an article that was archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine in 2012. In lat 2013 I got a big surprise when I saw my idea linking the immune system with synaesthesia as the main idea of a research paper published in a peer-reviewed neuroscience journal, and all without my permission! That’s another story….

I am sure that many people listening to this radio interview would be fascinated with or even skeptical of Glenda’s account of being able to see but not perceive letters on the cover of a book. Her eyesight is not the problem, the problem lies in the visual processing areas of her brain and because of this a lady who in her impressive career has been an author of books can no longer read text or interpret symbols. Seeing is as much done in the brain as it is done in the eye and optic nerves, and a person who has no apparent problem with their eyes can lose visual perception as the result of dementia or injury or stroke.

“Simple things can be very frustrating” – Glenda and Bronte Parkin on dementia. Mornings with Geoff Hutchison. 720 ABC Perth.

Jarvis, Lucy Still making a contribution: retired educators share experience of living with dementia. Community Newspapers. 2015

Hiatt, Bethany Penrhos principal’s hardest battle.  West Australian. January 3, 2011. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/mp/8588194/glenda-parkin/

Postscript March 10th 2015

The West Weekend liftout of the West Australian of February 14-15 2015 has a feature story about West Australians livng with dementia on pages 10-13. he story of Glenda and Bronte Parkin is included in that article and the content makes it clear that although Glenda Parkin has a diagnosis of Benson’s syndrome which has had a negative impact on her ability to recognize symbols, writing and objects, she can still somehow navigate her way in her neighbourhood. I find this interesting as some people who have prosopagnosia, which is an impairment in face memory, also have a similar impairment in visual memory of scenes or landscapes, and thus have serious problems with navigating their way through streets and neighbourhoods. I had thought that Benson’s syndrome, a type of dementia, and prosopagnosia, a developmental disability and also sometimes acquired from brain injury, must be in many ways similar in their manifestations, as they both feature disability in face recognition, but it appears that it is not safe to make assumptions and maybe each case of these two conditions should be considered unique. I do not recall reading about Glenda Parkin’s ability to recognize faces, so maybe I should assume it is still normal, along with her ability to recognize street-scapes and scenes.

Yeoman, William Open minds. West Weekend. p. 10-13 West Australian. February 14-15 2015.