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The Unforgettable Amnesiac 120

Posted by kdawson
from the every-20-seconds-a-new-day dept.
jamie found an account in the NYTimes of the life and death of one of the most important figures in modern neuroscience, Henry Gustav Molaison — a man who could not form memories. Molaison became an amnesiac after a brain operation in 1953. Known worldwide as H.M., Molaison was studied intensively for 55 years. Dr. Brenda Milner, a psychologist from Montreal, was the first researcher to visit Molaison. In 1962 she authored a landmark study demonstrating that a part of Molaison's memory was fully intact. "The implications were enormous. Scientists saw that there were at least two systems in the brain for creating new memories. One, known as declarative memory, records names, faces and new experiences and stores them until they are consciously retrieved. ... Another system, commonly known as motor learning, is subconscious and depends on other brain systems. This explains why people can jump on a bike after years away from one and take the thing for a ride, or why they can pick up a guitar that they have not played in years and still remember how to strum it. Soon 'everyone wanted an amnesic to study,' Dr. Milner said..."
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The Unforgettable Amnesiac

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  • by stephanruby (542433) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @07:55AM (#26019291)

    From that account, she (an amnesiac) didn't want to shake Dr. C's hand but didn't know the reason why.

    Without disputing the Doctor's main conclusion, which goes well with the current mainstream understanding in psychology, and without having read the primary source of his study (the google sholar link only showed a summarized secondary source), I'd like to dispute the Doctor's particular line of thinking in this example (at least, the reasoning that I could glean from the secondary source, perhaps his actual study already addresses my concern).

    The second time the Doctor extended his hand to the amnesic patient (the second time he was about to prick her), he must have been even more apprehensive that he was going to be discovered/remembered this second time around.

    Fear only begets fear. Did he try to prick her the exact same way that second time? I doubt it.

    People usually look at their hand when they fear getting bitten/burned. People also try to avoid making eye contact when they're apprehensive, also they'll wait until the last possible moment to act, and then when they do try to act -- they'll do it when the other person is slightly off balance -- and they'll try do it as quickly as possible (thus unintentionally compounding the surprise and the fear in the other person, and thus compounding their own fear even more since both people's fear would only reinforce each others).

    Just imagine a pet that wants to petted by you, but that is already afraid of you. Would you pet such a dog? I doubt it. You would be afraid, right? Then the dog would even be more afraid of you because of your fear. It wouldn't have to be a previous bad memory with that exact same dog that triggers your fear. It's only the body language and the apprehensive vibe that the dog is giving off, and perhaps it could even be the result of a previous childhood memory with a different fearful animal, that is reminding you not to touch this particular fearful dog (although, that last postulation is just an hypothesis, I don't even know if this is what's true in this particular case).

    No, this experiment of pricking this amnesiac should be repeated with an actual good dog trainer, an experienced horse trainer, or a professional poker player, not just a Doctor. And even then, this kind of experiment still wouldn't even be perfect. Its results would have to be interpreted very-very carefully still.

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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