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December 5, 2011

Pay Attention! The Relationship Between Memory and Attention

Memory and attention are not always seen as being related, however Johnson and Chun's article, the connections between the two of these processes are looked at in detail. This article would be considered a meta-analysis of several studies on the topic of memory and the different attention states themselves. Both perceptual and reflective attention was studied and reported, showing interesting results about how the brain categorizes and retrieves memories in relation to these types of attention. The majority of the studies that were focused on within the article had been arranged and performed by the authors of the article, giving an interesting perspective.

Neuroimaging was used to determine the areas of the brain most activated by certain stimuli. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was the technique most referred to in this article; fMRI's are used to visualize the neural activity based on the hemodynamic response of glucose release within the brain. With this technique, it was seen that similar areas of the brain are activated when a stimulus is first observed (what the article refers to as perception) and when the same stimulus is being recalled (referred to as reflection). For instance, a cue for a visual memory will cause a higher activity level in the visual cortex in the same way that the visual cortex was originally stimulated when the cue was first observed. Similar responses are seen in both short term and long term memory recollection.

It has also been observed that certain activities that relate to either perceptual attention, like repetition attenuation, or reflective attention, like reactivating and retrieving, activate areas that are generally similar to the areas activated during the experience of remembering. Beyond the areas originally involved, there are other areas involved in the processes of memory and attention. These areas include frontal and parietal areas such as the hippocampus, the anterior cingulate cortex, and other various areas of the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain. The article demonstrates that refreshing perceptual events, using both types of memory also shows similarity in both activity levels and in the sections that are activated. The studies have shown that there can be severe interference if a participant is told to recall multiple objects or situations that were encoded with similar attention states and that are located in similar areas.

This article could have improved if it had looked at multiple sources of stimulus rather than just visual stimulants, as there could be vastly different results from memories of different senses. Furthermore, reviewing their own experimental studies could give rise to a bias in the analysis of the studies. However, this article did bring up some important ideas.

The conclusions drawn from this article could lead to many other topics of research that could help in the understanding of how the ways of memory, attention, and how they are able to work together. Further knowledge of these relationships could provide information on how to improve educational systems and could promote more effective ways of learning.

Chun, M. M., Johnson, M. K. (2011). Memory: Enduring traces of perceptual and reflective attention. Neuron, 72(4), 520-535. Retrieved from
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