Researchers Find Sense of Purpose Associated with Better Memory

Bill Wellock wrote . . . . . . . . .

Add an improved memory to the list of the many benefits that accompany having a sense of purpose in life.

A new study led by Florida State University researchers showed a link between an individual’s sense of purpose and their ability to recall vivid details. The researchers found that while both a sense of purpose and cognitive function made memories easier to recall, only a sense of purpose bestowed the benefits of vividness and coherence.

The study, which focused on memories related to the COVID-19 pandemic, was published in the journal Memory.

“Personal memories serve really important functions in everyday life,” said Angelina Sutin, a professor in the College of Medicine and the paper’s lead author. “They help us to set goals, control emotions and build intimacy with others. We also know people with a greater sense of purpose perform better on objective memory tests, like remembering a list of words. We were interested in whether purpose was also associated with the quality of memories of important personal experiences because such qualities may be one reason why purpose is associated with better mental and physical health.”

Nearly 800 study participants reported on their sense of purpose and completed tasks that measured their cognitive processing speed in January and February 2020, before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. Researchers then measured participants’ ability to retrieve and describe personal memories about the pandemic in July 2020, several months into the public health crisis.

Participants with a stronger sense of purpose in life reported that their memories were more accessible, coherent and vivid than participants with less purpose. Those with a higher sense of purpose also reported many sensory details, spoke about their memories more from a first-person perspective and reported more positive feeling and less negative feeling when asked to retrieve a memory.

The researchers also found that depressive symptoms had little effect on the ability to recall vivid details in memories, suggesting that the connection between life purpose and memory recall is not due to the fewer depressive symptoms among individuals higher in purpose.

Purpose in life has been consistently associated with better episodic memory, such as the number of words retrieved correctly on a memory task. This latest research expands on those connections to memory by showing a correlation between purpose and the richness of personal memory.

“We chose to measure the ability to recall memories associated with the COVID-19 pandemic because the pandemic is an event that touched everyone, but there has been a wide range of experiences and reactions to it that should be apparent in memories,” said co-author Martina Luchetti, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine.

Along with the association with better memory, previous research has found other numerous benefits connected with having a sense of purpose, from a lower risk of death to better physical and mental health.

“Memories help people to sustain their well-being, social connections and cognitive health,” said co-author Antonio Terracciano, a professor in the College of Medicine. “This research gives us more insight into the connections between a sense of purpose and the richness of personal memories. The vividness of those memories and how they fit into a coherent narrative may be one pathway through which purpose leads to these better outcomes.”

Source: Florida State University

High Blood Pressure While Pregnant Linked to Poorer Memory Years Later

High blood pressure and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy may follow women through the years, causing lower scores on tests of memory and thinking skills, a Dutch study suggests.

The study of nearly 600 pregnant women included 481 with normal blood pressure and 115 who developed high blood pressure during their pregnancies.

Of those 115 women, 70% had gestational hypertension, which is high blood pressure that starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women who previously had normal readings. The other 30% had pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure and elevated protein levels in the urine that develop after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“Women with high blood pressure that starts in pregnancy, as well as women with pre-eclampsia, should be monitored closely after their pregnancy, and they and their physicians should consider lifestyle changes and other treatments that may help reduce their risk of decline in their thinking and memory skills later in life,” said study author Dr. Maria Adank. She is with the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Adank’s team tested the study participants after 15 years, asking them to recall a list of 15 words, first right away and then again after 20 minutes.

On the immediate recall test, which was given three times, women who had no high blood pressure problems 15 years earlier scored an average 28 points out of a possible 45. The women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy posted an average score of 25.

After adjusting for other factors that could affect thinking skills, such as a woman’s weight before pregnancy, her education and ethnicity, the researchers found that women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy performed worse on the immediate and delayed recall task.

The investigators found no differences between the two groups on tests of fine motor skills, verbal fluency, processing speed and visual-spatial ability.

The women were not given memory or thinking tests before or during their pregnancies, the authors noted in the report published online Dec. 30 in the journal Neurology.

Adank said the study does not show a cause-and-effect relationship between high blood pressure and test scores, only an association.

“It’s important to consider gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia as risk factors for cognitive impairment that are specific to women,” Adank said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology. “Many women may think of this as a temporary issue during pregnancy and not realize that it could potentially have long-lasting effects.”

More study is needed to learn whether early treatment can prevent thinking and memory problems in women with a history of high blood pressure in pregnancy, she added.

Source: HealthDay

Sport and Memory Go Hand in Hand

Very often, right after a sporting exercise – especially endurance such as running or cycling – one feels physical and psychological well-being. This feeling is due to endocannabinoids, small molecules produced by the body during physical exertion. «They circulate in the blood and easily cross the blood-brain barrier. They then bind to specialise cellular receptors and trigger this feeling of euphoria. In addition, these same molecules bind to receptors in the hippocampus, the main brain structure for memory processing,» says Kinga Igloi, lecturer in the laboratory of Professor Sophie Schwartz, at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Basic Neurosciences, who led this work. «But what is the link between sport and memory? This is what we wanted to understand,» she continues.

Intense effort is more effective

To test the effect of sport on motor learning, scientists asked a group of 15 young and healthy men, who were not athletes, to take a memory test under three conditions of physical exercise: after 30 minutes of moderate cycling, after 15 minutes of intensive cycling (defined as 80% of their maximum heart rate), or after a period of rest. «The exercise was as follows: a screen showed four points placed next to each other. Each time one of the dots briefly changed into a star, the participant had to press the corresponding button as quickly as possible», explains Blanca Marin Bosch, researcher in the same laboratory. «It followed a predefined and repeated sequence in order to precisely evaluate how movements were learnt. This is very similar to what we do when, for example, we learn to type on a keyboard as quickly as possible. After an intensive sports session, the performance was much better.”

In addition to the results of the memory tests, the scientists observed changes in the activation of brain structures with functional MRI and performed blood tests to measure endocannabinoid levels. The different analyses concur: the faster individuals are, the more they activate their hippocampus (the brain area of memory) and the caudate nucleus (a brain structure involved in motor processes). Moreover, their endocannabinoid levels follow the same curve: the higher the level after intense physical effort, the more the brain is activated and the better the brain’s performance. «These molecules are involved in synaptic plasticity, i.e. the way in which neurons are connected to each other, and thus may act on long-term potentiation, the mechanism for optimal consolidation of memory,» says Blanca Marin Bosch.

Improving school learning or preventing Alzheimer’s disease

In a previous study, the research team had already shown the positive effect of sport on another type of memory, associative memory. However, contrary to what is shown here, they had observed that a sport session of moderate intensity produced better results. It therefore shows that, as not all forms of memory use the same brain mechanisms, not all sports intensities have the same effects. It should be noted that in all cases, physical exercise improves memory more than inaction.

By providing precise neuroscientific data, these studies make it possible to envisage new strategies for improving or preserving memory. «Sports activity can be an easy to implement, minimally invasive and inexpensive intervention. For example, would it be useful to schedule a sports activity at the end of a school morning to consolidate memory and improve learning?”

Improving academic learning or preventing Alzheimer’s disease

In a previous study, the research team had already shown the positive effect of sport on another type of memory, associative memory. But, contrary to what is shown here, they had observed that a sport session of moderate intensity, not high intensity, produced better results. Thus, just as not all forms of memory use the same brain mechanisms, not all sports intensities have the same effects. It should be noted that in all cases, physical exercise improves memory more than inaction.

By providing precise neuroscientific data, these studies make it possible to envisage new strategies for improving or preserving memory. «Sports activity can be an easy to implement, minimally invasive and inexpensive intervention. Would it be useful, for example, to plan a moment of sport at the end of a school morning to consolidate school learning,» Kinga Igloi wonders, who, with her colleagues at Sophie Schwartz’s laboratory, aims to achieve such practical objectives.

Neuroscientists are currently pursuing their work by studying memory disorders, and in particular by studying populations at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. «Some people as young as 25 years of age may experience subtle memory deficits characterised by overactivation of the hippocampus. We want to evaluate the extent to which sports practice could help compensate for these early deficits that are precursors to Alzheimer’s disease.», conclude the authors.

Source: University of Geneva

Couldn’t Socially Distance? Blame Your Working Memory

Iqbal Pittalwala wrote . . . . . . . . .

Whether you decided to engage in social distancing in the early stages of COVID-19 depended on how much information your working memory could hold.

This is the crucial finding of a research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences coauthored by Weiwei Zhang, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. The study offers potential strategies to mitigate social distancing noncompliance in a public health crisis.

The researchers found individuals with higher working memory capacity have an increased awareness of benefits over costs of social distancing and, subsequently, show more compliance with recommended social distancing guidelines during the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Working memory is the psychological process of holding information in the mind for a brief period of time – typically, just seconds. The amount of information working memory can hold briefly — its capacity — is predictive of many mental abilities such as intelligence, comprehension, and learning.

“The higher the working memory capacity, the more likely that social distancing behaviors will follow,” said Zhang, the paper’s senior author. “Interestingly, this relationship holds even after we statistically control for relevant psychological and socioeconomic factors such as depressed and anxious moods, personality traits, education, intelligence, and income.”

In the United States, where social distancing is mostly voluntary, widespread noncompliance persists, and was especially high during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Zhang, one reason for this is concerns about the inherent socioeconomic costs associated with social distancing. But what constitutes an individual’s cognitive ability to come to a decision regarding compliance with social distancing guidelines remains largely unclear.

“Our findings reveal a novel cognitive root of social distancing compliance during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zhang said. “We found social distancing compliance may rely on an effortful decision process of evaluating the costs versus benefits of these behaviors in working memory — instead of, say, mere habit. This decisional process can be less effortful for people with larger working memory capacity, potentially leading to more social distancing behaviors.”

The study included the participation of 850 U.S. residents from March 13 to March 25, 2020 — the first two weeks following the U.S. presidential declaration of a national emergency about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants first filled out a demographic survey. Then they completed a set of questionnaires that captured individual differences in social distancing compliance, depressed mood, and anxious feelings. Personality variables, intelligence, and participants’ understanding about the costs and benefits of social distancing practice were measured also.

“Individual differences in working memory capacity can predict social distancing compliance just as well as some social factors such as personality traits,” Zhang said. “This suggests policy makers will need to consider individuals’ general cognitive abilities when promoting compliance behaviors such as wearing a mask or engaging in physical distancing.”

Zhang and his colleagues recommend media materials for promoting norm compliance behaviors to avoid information overload.

“The message in such materials should be succinct, concise, and brief,” Zhang said. “Make the decision process easy for people.”

The study’s findings also suggest learning social distancing as a new norm requires an effortful decision process that relies on working memory.

“The bottom line is we should not rely on habitual behaviors since social distancing is not yet adequately established in U.S. society,” Zhang said. “Before social distancing becomes a habit and a well-adopted social norm, the decision to follow social distancing and wearing masks would be mentally effortful. Consequently, we will have to deliberately make the effort to overcome our tendency to avoid effortful decisions, such as to not practice social distancing.”

Zhang expects the contribution of working memory will decline as new social norms, such as wearing a mask or socially distancing, are acquired by society over time.

“Eventually social distancing and wearing face masks will become a habitual behavior and their relationship with working memory will diminish,” he said.

Next, the team will analyze data it collected across the United States, China, and South Korea to identify protective social and mental factors that help people cope with the pandemic.

The researchers have also been collecting data assessing how working memory is related to racial discrimination during the pandemic.

Source: UC Riverside

Early-life Education Improves Memory in Old Age — Especially for Women

Education appears to protect older adults, especially women, against memory loss, according to a study by investigators at Georgetown University Medical Center, published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.

The results suggest that children — especially girls — who attend school for longer will have better memory abilities in old age. This may have implications for memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The study tested declarative memory in 704 older adults (58-98 years of age). Declarative memory refers to our ability to remember events, facts and words, such as where you put your keys or the name of that new neighbor.

Participants were shown drawings of objects, and then were tested several minutes later on their memory of these objects. The investigators found that their memory performance became progressively worse with aging. However, more years of early-life education countered these losses, especially in women.

In men, the memory gains associated with each year of education were two times larger than the losses experienced during each year of aging. However, in women, the gains were five times larger.

For example, the declarative memory abilities of an 80-year-old woman with a bachelor’s degree would be as good as those of a 60-year-old woman with a high school education. So, four extra years of education make up for the memory losses from 20 years of aging.

“Simply said, learning begets learning,” says the study’s senior investigator, Michael Ullman, PhD, a professor in Georgetown’s Department of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Language Lab. Ullman’s research on the relationship between language, memory and the brain has been a cornerstone in the fields of language and cognitive neuroscience.

“Since learning new information in declarative memory is easier if it is related to knowledge we already have, more knowledge from more education should result in better memory abilities, even years later,” adds the study’s lead author, Jana Reifegerste, PhD, a member of the scientific staff at the University of Potsdam, Germany, who worked on this study as a postdoctoral researcher in Ullman’s lab.

“Evidence suggests that girls often have better declarative memory than boys, so education may lead to greater knowledge gains in girls,” says Ullman. “Education may thus particularly benefit memory abilities in women, even years later in old age.”

The study tested individuals in a non-Western (Taiwanese) population. Participants varied in the number of years of education, from none at all to graduate studies. Future research is needed to test whether the findings generalize to other populations, Ullman says.

“These findings may be important, especially considering the rapidly aging population globally,” Reifegerste says. “The results argue for further efforts to increase access to education.”

“Education has also been found to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” Ullman says. “We believe that our findings may shed light on why this occurs.”

Source: Georgetown University Medical Center


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