Nov 2, 2012

Baby brain (or possibly, Leah Ashton brain)

By Leah Ashton

As you may have noticed, this post is rather late! That would be because about 3am this morning I woke up suddenly - and realised that this Friday was my turn to blog at LoveCats.

Whoops. So it is now my lunch break at my day job, and here is my post (finally!).

Currently I have the best excuse ever for such an oversight: baby brain. But, to be honest, I suspect that wouldn't be entirely accurate (on a side note, I have quite enthusiastically embraced the "craving" excuse to eat many more naughty things than I would normally...).

I tend to be really good at remembering some things (particularly work related things) and absolutely dreadful at remember other things. I've begun to think that maybe there is finite space in my brain, and consequently stuff is starting to "fall out".

In a highly unscientific bit of research, I googled this. According to some sources, our brain can fit the equivalent of 1 terabyte of data. In contrast, my fancy new laptop has 128GB of storage space, so in theory my brain can hold about ten times as much information.

That is a LOT of stuff.

So - maybe the answer isn't that my brain has run out of space (interestingly, my googling also uncovered the theory that the brain can't run out of space - ever - it just creates new pathways etc and therefore storage is infinite). So instead, I started researching why people forget things.

Now, *this* is really interesting! It turns out that sometimes it isn't so much about whether we've remembered something, it's about whether we can recall/access it.

Here's a really interesting experiment I read about:

...researchers asked subjects to try to remember 3,000 pictures of common objects—including items such as backpacks, remote controls and toasters—that were presented one at a time for just a few seconds each. At the end of this viewing phase, the researchers tested subjects’ memory for each object by showing them two objects and asking which one they had seen before. Not surprisingly, subjects were exceptionally good (more than 90 percent correct) even though there were thousands of objects to remember. This high success rate attests to the massive storage ability of long-term memory. What was most surprising, however, was the amazing level of detail that the subjects had for all of these memories. The subjects were just as good at telling the difference between two pictures of the same object even when the objects differed in an extremely subtle manner, such as a pair of toasters with slightly different slices of bread.

This also explains why once you are shown an object, you know for sure if you have/haven't seen it before, but you may not be able to remember/describe it until then. The whole "I'll know it when I see it!" thing :) When you see the object, it challenges your brain to locate the memory - and there you are!

So that's cool, but if we retain so much information, how come we still forget things? Well, it's possible that we never really remembered it in the first place. Turns out this is where short term memory comes in:

With so-called "working," or short-term, memory -- e.g., where you placed your wallet when you got home after work -- your brain generally focuses on the information that it deems most important. This is particularly the case if there's a lot going on around you. Your brain doesn't want to be overloaded, so if you place your wallet on a dresser while having an important conversation with your husband or wife, it's likely that your brain never retained that information at all. The brain also has a tendency to remove or update memories. For example, you're more likely to remember where you put your wallet today but not last week, in part because your brain has deemed that previous memory unimportant. (Jacob Silverman)

Not to say that my LoveCats post is not important! But I thought about how I work "at work" versus in my writing/home life. At work, I have a "To Do List" going constantly. It's in a proper Daily Planner notepad with checkboxes and everything. If I need to remember something, I put it there. But to be honest - I don't refer to it all that often. And just knowing it is in the list, means it gets done.

Thinking about the research I've read, this kind of make sense. By identifying a task as important and adding it to my list (whether or not I refer to it again) I've marked it as something worth retaining.

In contrast, I get my reminder about my LoveCats blog post via email. I generally see it amongst many other emails, when I'm at home and in "relax" mode (or making dinner mode, or chatting to my husband mode). I clearly didn't completely forget about it (hence my 3am realisation!) but I needed to access the memory, rather than it being more front of mind, like my work tasks.

In addition, I think I am still subconsciously classifying "writing life" stuff as less important than my day job. This does make sense - the day job pays the mortgage etc! So this also adds to the risk of not retaining important writing-related information. I need to work on that :)

Do you have a good memory? When have you forgotten something important?

PS I'm starting a To Do List at home :)


  1. I remember stuff that I'm worried about. The reminders in my brain keep tapping away until it's done. But, yeah, when something is put in my mental to-be-done-later folder, it more than likely will slip through the cracks.
    Also, there are things I don't want to remember - like how on earth to be an expert on the four remote controls that run the TV, cable, DVD, whatever else, in the house. I just hand them to my dh or 10 year old daughter. Their memories for that kind of stuff is waaayy better than mine :)

  2. Ha, I like the idea of choosing not to remember things! I suspect I may do that for a few things, too :)

  3. I have a great memory ... for some things :) And it seems that those are not always the things I need to remember!! :)

  4. You really do start forgetting things as you get older or maybe I just don't think things are as important as I once thought lol. A big joke between my husband and me is when one of us starts to say, "remind me..." we just both burst out laughing now.

  5. Jemi - me too! It bothers me how much random rubbish I know about celebrities etc - takes up far too much space in my brain. But something useful (like all the ingredients for a recipe I've left at home when I'm shopping) is just out of grasp :)

    Catslady - Maybe that's it! I'm my thirties now, so I guess that's a good enough reason to be more forgetful :)

  6. Leah, I find I remember the things I don't really need to, or like Robyn, the things that are terribly important. The in between stuff is the sort of thing I'm likely to forget - and suddenly wake up, remembering. That's why I tend to write lists. So long as I remember where I put them....!

  7. Leah,I NEVER used to have to do lists, even at work, but as I'm aging and work is busier and a bit more stressful, I find I rely on them more and more. I've been told the trick to remember IS to write it down, as you said you've now deemed it as important. So different from my college & early working years, where I could flip through things in my mind, the same way others would flip through scrapbooks! Oh for those days again!
    As I age though, there's always that suspicion that maybe it's something more. I'm in my 50's, with memories of a father who lost a lot of memories due to a form of Alzheimers before his death in 2010, so that's always on my mind.
    Best wishes on the baby and don't worry about the baby brain. Some of my best friends & coworkers had it and they are just fine now.