Your Memory is like the Telephone Game: Northwestern University News

old telephoneNewest studies on memory.  How sure are you of your memories?  Could you actually be remembering later events?

Your Memory is like the Telephone Game: Northwestern University News



Each time you recall an event, your brain distorts it

September 19, 2012 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO — Remember the telephone game where people take turns whispering a message into the ear of the next person in line? By the time the last person speaks it out loud, the message has radically changed. It’s been altered with each retelling.

Turns out your memory is a lot like the telephone game, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. Thus, the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event but what you remembered the previous time. The Northwestern study is the first to show this.

“A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event — it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” said Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the paper on the study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience. “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”

Bridge did the research while she was a doctoral student in lab of Ken Paller, a professor of psychology at Northwestern in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The findings have implications for witnesses giving testimony in criminal trials, Bridge noted.

“Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren’t that distorted,” she said. “After that it keeps going downhill.”

The published study reports on Bridge’s work with 12 participants, but she has run several variations of the study with a total of 70 people. “Every single person has shown this effect,” she said. “It’s really huge.”

“When someone tells me they are sure they remember exactly the way something happened, I just laugh,” Bridge said.

The reason for the distortion, Bridge said, is the fact that human memories are always adapting.

“Memories aren’t static,” she noted. “If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.”

For the study, people were asked to recall the location of objects on a grid in three sessions over three consecutive days. On the first day during a two-hour session, participants learned a series of 180 unique object-location associations on a computer screen. The next day in session two, participants were given a recall test in which they viewed a subset of those objects individually in a central location on the grid and were asked to move them to their original location. Then the following day in session three, participants returned for a final recall test.

The results showed improved recall accuracy on the final test for objects that were tested on day two compared to those not tested on day two. However, people never recalled exactly the right location. Most importantly, in session three they tended to place the object closer to the incorrect location they recalled during day two rather than the correct location from day one.

“Our findings show that incorrect recollection of the object’s location on day two influenced how people remembered the object’s location on day three,” Bridge explained. “Retrieving the memory didn’t simply reinforce the original association. Rather, it altered memory storage to reinforce the location that was recalled at session two.”

Bridge’s findings also were supported when she measured participants’ neural signals –the electrical activity of the brain — during session two. She wanted to see if the neural signals during session two predicted anything about how people remembered the object’s location during session three.

The results revealed a particular electrical signal when people were recalling an object location during session two. This signal was greater when — the next day — the object was placed close to that location recalled during session two. When the electrical signal was weaker, recall of the object location was likely to be less distorted.

“The strong signal seems to indicate that a new memory was being laid down,” Bridge said, “and the new memory caused a bias to make the same mistake again.”

“This study shows how memories normally change over time, sometimes becoming distorted,” Paller noted. “When you think back to an event that happened to you long ago — say your first day at school — you actually may be recalling information you retrieved about that event at some later time, not the original event.”

– See more at:

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant BCS1025697 and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health grant T32 NS047987.

More Breast Cancer Treatments Hinted in Study –

cancer treatment doctorSO many treatment advances have been made since my diagnosis of breast cancer in 2002.  We are going in the right direction in terms of finding a cure.  Please consider donating your time and/or resources to cancer research.

Here is an article published in the New York Times outlining current treatment strategies:

Published: September 23, 2012

In findings that are fundamentally reshaping the scientific understanding of breast cancer, researchers have identified four genetically distinct types of the cancer. And within those types, they found hallmark genetic changes that are driving many cancers.  These discoveries, published online on Sunday in the journal Nature, are expected to lead to new treatments with drugs already approved for cancers in other parts of the body and new ideas for more precise treatments aimed at genetic aberrations that now have no known treatment.

The study is the first comprehensive genetic analysis of breast cancer, which kills more than 35,000 women a year in the United States. The new paper, and several smaller recent studies, are electrifying the field.

“This is the road map for how we might cure breast cancer in the future,” said Dr. Matthew Ellis of Washington University, a researcher for the study.

Researchers and patient advocates caution that it will still take years to translate the new insights into transformative new treatments. Even within the four major types of breast cancer, individual tumors appear to be driven by their own sets of genetic changes. A wide variety of drugs will most likely need to be developed to tailor medicines to individual tumors.

“There are a lot of steps that turn basic science into clinically meaningful results,” said Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, an advocacy group. “It is the ‘stay tuned’ story.”

The study is part of a large federal project, the Cancer Genome Atlas, to build maps of genetic changes in common cancers. Reports on similar studies of lung and colon cancer have been published recently. The breast cancer study was based on an analysis of tumors from 825 patients.

“There has never been a breast cancer genomics project on this scale,” said the atlas’s program director, Brad Ozenberger of the National Institutes of Health.

The investigators identified at least 40 genetic alterations that might be attacked by drugs. Many of them are already being developed for other types of cancer that have the same mutations. “We now have a good view of what goes wrong in breast cancer,” said Joe Gray, a genetic expert at Oregon Health & Science University, who was not involved in the study. “We haven’t had that before.”

The study focused on the most common types of breast cancer that are thought to arise in the milk duct. It concentrated on early breast cancers that had not yet spread to other parts of the body in order to find genetic changes that could be attacked, stopping a cancer before it metastasized.

The study’s biggest surprise involved a particularly deadly breast cancer whose tumor cells resemble basal cells of the skin and sweat glands, which are in the deepest layer of the skin. These breast cells form a scaffolding for milk duct cells. This type of cancer is often called triple negative and accounts for a small percentage of breast cancer.

But researchers found that this cancer was entirely different from the other types of breast cancer and much more resembles ovarian cancer and a type of lung cancer.

“It’s incredible,” said Dr. James Ingle of the Mayo Clinic, one of the study’s 348 authors, of the ovarian cancer connection. “It raises the possibility that there may be a common cause.”

There are immediate therapeutic implications. The study gives a biologic reason to try some routine treatments for ovarian cancer instead of a common class of drugs used in breast cancer known as anthracyclines. Anthracyclines, Dr. Ellis said, “are the drugs most breast cancer patients dread because they are associated with heart damage and leukemia.”

A new type of drug, PARP inhibitors, that seems to help squelch ovarian cancers, should also be tried in basal-like breast cancer, Dr. Ellis said.

Basal-like cancers are most prevalent in younger women, in African-Americans and in women with breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Two other types of breast cancer, accounting for most cases of the disease, arise from the luminal cells that line milk ducts. These cancers have proteins on their surfaces that grab estrogen, fueling their growth. Just about everyone with estrogen-fueled cancer gets the same treatment. Some do well. Others do not.

The genetic analysis divided these cancers into two distinct types. Patients with luminal A cancer had good prognoses while those with luminal B did not, suggesting that perhaps patients with the first kind of tumor might do well with just hormonal therapy to block estrogen from spurring their cancers while those with the second kind might do better with chemotherapy in addition to hormonal therapy.

In some cases, genetic aberrations were so strongly associated with one or the other luminal subtype that they appeared to be the actual cause of the cancer, said Dr. Charles Perou of the University of North Carolina, who is the lead author of the study. And he called that “a stunning finding.”

“We are really getting at the roots of these cancers,” he said.

After basal-like cancers, and luminal A and B cancers, the fourth type of breast cancer is what the researchers called HER2-enriched. Breast cancers often have extra copies of a gene, HER2, that drives their growth. A drug, Herceptin, can block the gene and has changed the prognosis for these patients from one of the worst in breast cancer to one of the best.

Yet although Herceptin is approved for every breast cancer patient whose tumor makes too much HER2, the new analysis finds that not all of these tumors are alike. The HER2-enriched should respond readily to Herceptin; the other type might not.

The only way to know is to do a clinical trial, and one is already being planned. Herceptin is expensive and can occasionally damage the heart. “We absolutely only want to give it to patients who can benefit,” Dr. Perou said.

For now, despite the tantalizing possibilities, patients will have to wait for clinical trials to see whether drugs that block the genetic aberrations can stop the cancers. And it could be a vast undertaking to get all the drug testing done. Because there are so many different ways a breast cancer cell can go awry, there may have to be dozens of drug studies, each focusing on a different genetic change.

One of Dr. Ellis’s patients, Elizabeth Stark, 48, has a basal-type breast cancer. She has gone through three rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation over the past four years. Her disease is stable now and Dr. Stark, a biochemist at Pfizer, says she knows it will take time for the explosion of genetic data to produce new treatments that might help her.

“In 10 years it will be different,” she said, adding emphatically, “I know I will be here in 10 years.” News Room: 2012 Family Dinners Report

grandmother, father, daughter, son, motherHere’s a summary of the relationship between family dinners and teen drug abuse from CASAColumbia.  Some pretty powerful findings.



Teens who have frequent family dinners (5 to 7 per week) are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their parents, according to The Importance of Family Dinners VIII, a new white paper released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia™).

The CASAColumbia white paper revealed that compared to teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than 3 per week), teens who have frequent family dinners are almost 1 ½ times likelier to say they have an excellent relationship with their mother and 1 ½ times likelier to say they have an excellent relationship with their father.

Relationships Between Parents and Teens are Important
Teens who have excellent relationships with their Mom and Dad are less likely to use drugs, drink or smoke. Compared to teens who say they have an excellent relationship with Dad, teens who have a less than very good relationship with their father are almost 4 times likelier to have used marijuana; twice as likely to have used alcohol; and 2½ times as likely to have used tobacco. And compared to teens who say they have an excellent relationship with Mom, teens who have a less than very good relationship with their mother are almost 3 times likelier to have used marijuana; 2 ½ times as likely to have used alcohol; and 2 ½ times likelier to have used tobacco.

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would make sure that every child in America had dinner with his or her parents at least five times a week. Dinner serves as an ideal time to strengthen the quality of family relationships and helps kids grow up healthy and drug free,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Founder and Chairman Emeritus of CASAColumbia and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Family Dinners and Teen Substance Use
The CASAColumbia white paper found that compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have infrequent family dinners are:

  • Almost 3 times likelier to say, “it’s okay for teens my age to use marijuana”
  • 3 ½ times likelier to say, “it’s okay for teens my age to get drunk”
  • Twice as likely to say that they expect to try drugs (including marijuana and prescription drugs without a prescription to get high) in the future

Family Dinners and Teen Stress Levels
Nearly half of teens surveyed report high levels of stress in their lives (6 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10). The white paper finds that compared to teens who have infrequent family dinners, teens who have dinner with their parents at least 5 times per week are less likely to report high levels of stress in their lives. Compared to teens who report low stress in their lives, those who report high stress are:

  • Nearly 3 times likelier to have used marijuana
  • Twice as likely to have used alcohol
  • Almost twice as likely to have used tobacco

“Family dinners are an excellent forum for parents to share their beliefs on substance use with their children, but dinner certainly isn’t the only time parents can engage with their children,” said Kathleen Manning, who manages the CASAColumbia Family Day initiative and is theCASAColumbia Director of Marketing. “Whenever the conversations occur, it is important for parents to talk to their teens about what is going on in their teen’s life and what is expected of them with respect to alcohol and drugs.”

Frequency of the Family Dinner
57% of teens surveyed report having family dinners with their families at least 5 times a week. The proportion of teens that have frequent dinner with their families has remained constant over the past decade.

“Teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to say that their parents know a lot about what’s really going on in their lives, and such parental knowledge is associated with decreased incidence of teen substance use,” said Emily Feinstein, Senior Policy Analyst atCASAColumbia. “Family dinners are the perfect opportunity when kids can talk to their parents and their parents can listen and learn.”

Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™
Family Day is a national movement launched by CASAColumbia in 2001 to remind parents that frequent family dinners make a difference. Celebrated on the fourth Monday in September—the 24th in 2012—promotes parental engagement as a simple and effective way to reduce children’s risk of smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs. What began as a small grassroots initiative has grown to become a nationwide celebration, which is expected to once again be proclaimed and supported by the president, all 50 U.S. governors and the mayors and executives of more than 1,000 cities and counties. This year the first spouses in 33 states are serving as Honorary Chairs of Family Day. The Coca-Cola Company is once again serving as Family Day’s Presenting Sponsor. Fourteen Major League Baseball teams are celebrating and promoting Family Day as well as The World Famous Harlem Globetrotters. The Empire State Building, Niagara Falls, the Wrigley Building in Chicago, the Cira Centre and One Liberty Place in Philadelphia, the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, and the governor’s residences in Nevada and New Jersey are lighting up in red and blue in support of Family Day. For more information about Family Day or find Family Day on Facebook or Twitter.

The findings in this report come from The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens, released on August 22, 2012. QEV Analytics conducted the survey from April 18 to May 17, 2012. The firm interviewed at home by telephone a national random sample of 1,003 12- to 17-year olds (493 boys, 510 girls). Sampling error is +/- 3.1%.

CASAColumbia is a science-based, multidisciplinary organization focused on transforming society’s understanding of and response to the disease of addiction. Founded in 1992 by Former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASAColumbiaassembles the professional skills needed to research, prevent, treat and eliminate this disease.CASAColumbia conducts its own research and also utilizes the scientific findings of others to inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance use and addiction in all sectors of society and its impact on their lives. CASAColumbia aims to reduce the stigma attached to this disease and replace shame with hope. For more information visit