A small electrical zap to the brain could help you retrieve a forgotten memory
By Stuart Wolpert
Posted on the UCLA Newsroom on May 30, 2019
A study by UCLA psychologists provides strong evidence that a certain region of the brain plays a critical role in memory recall. The research, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, also shows for the first time that using an electrical current to stimulate that region, the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, improves people’s ability to retrieve memories.
“We found dramatically improved memory performance when we increased the excitability of this region,” said Jesse Rissman, a UCLA assistant professor of psychology, and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, the study’s senior author.
The left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex is important for high-level thought, including monitoring and integrating information processed in other areas of the brain, Rissman said. This area is located behind the left side of the forehead, between the eyebrow and the hairline.
“We think this brain area is particularly important in accessing knowledge that you formed in the past and in making decisions about it,” said Rissman, who also is a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute.
The psychologists conducted experiments with three groups of people whose average age was 20. Each group contained 13 women and 11 men.
Participants were shown a series of 80 words on a computer screen. For each word, participants were instructed to either imagine either themselves or another person interacting with the word, depending on whether the words “self” or “other” also appeared on the screen. (For example, the combination of “gold” and “other” might prompt them to imagine a friend with a gold necklace.)
The following day, the participants returned to the laboratory for three tests — one of their memory, one of their reasoning ability and one of their visual perception. Each participant wore a device that sent a weak electrical current through an electrode on the scalp to decrease or increase the excitability of neurons in the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex. Increasing their excitability makes neurons more likely to fire, which enhances the connections between neurons, Rissman said.
(The technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, gives most people a warm, mild tingling sensation for the first few minutes, said the study’s lead author, Andrew Westphal, who conducted the study as a UCLA doctoral student and is now a postdoctoral scholar in neurology at UC San Francisco.)
For the first half of the hour-long study, all participants received “sham” stimulation — meaning that the device was turned on just briefly, to give the sensation that something was happening, but then turned off so that no electrical stimulation was applied. This allowed the researchers to measure how well each participant performed the tasks under normal conditions. For the next 30 minutes, one group of participants received an electrical current that increased their neurons’ excitability, the second group received current that suppressed neuron activity and the third group received only the sham stimulation. The researchers analyzed which group had the best recall of the words they saw the previous day.
First, the scientists noted that there were no differences among the three groups during the first half of the study — when no brain stimulation was used — so any differences in the second half of the experiment could be attributed to the stimulation, Westphal said.
Memory scores for the group whose neurons received excitatory stimulation during the second half of the study were 15.4 percentage points higher than their scores when they received the sham stimulation.
Scores for those who received fake stimulation during both sessions increased by only 2.6 percentage points from the first to the second session — a statistically insignificant change that was likely was due to their increased familiarity with the task, according to the paper. And scores for the group whose neuron activity was temporarily suppressed increased by just five percentage points, which the authors also wrote was not statistically significant.
“Our previous neuroimaging studies showed the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex is highly engaged during memory retrieval,” Rissman said. “Now the fact that people do better on this memory task when we excite this region with electrical stimulation provides causal evidence that it contributes to the act of memory retrieval.
“We didn’t expect the application of weak electrical brain stimulation would magically make their memories perfect, but the fact that their performance increased as much as it did is surprising and it’s an encouraging sign that this method could potentially be used to boost people’s memories.”
The study’s reasoning task asked participants to decide in seven seconds whether certain pairs of words were analogies. Half of the trials featured word pairs that were true analogies, such as “‘moat’ is to ‘castle’ as ‘firewall’ is to ‘computer.’” (In both pairs, the first word protects the second from invasion.) The other half had word pairs that were related but not actually analogous.
Researchers found no significant differences in performance among the three groups.
For the final task, focusing on perception, subjects were asked to select which of four words has the most straight lines in its printed form. (One example: Among the words “symbol,” “museum,” “painter” and “energy,” the word “museum” has the most straight lines.) Again, the researchers found no significant differences among the three groups — which Rissman said was expected.
“We expected to find improvement in memory, and we did,” Rissman said. “We also predicted the reasoning task might improve with the increased excitability, and it did not. We didn’t think this brain region would be important for the perception task.”
Why do people forget names and other words? Sometimes it’s because they don’t pay attention when they first hear or see it, so no memory is even formed. In those cases, the electrical stimulation wouldn’t help. But in cases where a memory does form but is difficult to retrieve, the stimulation could help access it.
“The stimulation is helping people to access memories that they might otherwise have reported as forgotten,” Westphal said.
Although tDCS devices are commercially available, Rissman advises against anyone trying it outside of supervised research.
“The science is still in an early stage,” he said. “If you do this at home, you could stimulate your brain in a way that is unsafe, with too much current or for too long.”
Rissman said other areas of the brain also play important roles in retrieving memories. Their future research will aim to better understand the contributions of each region, as well as the effects of brain stimulation on other kinds of memory tasks.
Duncan Palamourdas teaches poker and chess to small classes which always fill up early. He is known for his incredible energy and enthusiasm. We’re very proud that he was featured in the Daily Bruin, and that his book will be out in 2019.
Konstantinos “Duncan” Palamourdas in the OLLI Classroom (Joe Akira/Daily Bruin)Konstantinos “Duncan” Palamourdas uses a “John Wooden approach” when teaching poker strategy.
Palamourdas, a UCLA alumnus, wanted to share his distinct perspective on the game from an analytical and scientific standpoint, using math concepts to approach poker. But Palamourdas also emphasizes the fact that players should be themselves, rather than following a certain gameplay template, just as coach Wooden once did with Bruin basketball players, he said. He does this in his basic and intermediate poker classes at UCLA Extension.
His philosophy will soon be in print: Palamourdas said he is under contract to publish a book detailing his approach with D&B Publishing, which carries titles by some of professional poker’s biggest names, from Phil Hellmuth to Greg Raymer. Palamourdas’ book is in its editing phase and is expected to be released sometime in 2019.
“There’s what I like to call the objective approach, where literally people are trying to do what we call ‘solve the game.’ And by solve the game, we mean find the objectively best move that would work regardless of who you’re playing against,” Palamourdas said. “I’m more interested – believe it or not – in analyzing the game than playing (the game) itself.”
Palamourdas’ initial 2014 email inquiry to the UCLA Extension administration about teaching poker classes was met with stiff resistance, he said. However, he managed to secure a face-to-face meeting with Ric Zappala, current program director at UCLA Extension, with whom he made his case. In addition to the mathematical principles behind poker, Palamourdas said he pointed out professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management have already started a poker class; his would not be the first in a respected university. When Zappala understood that what he was teaching was fundamentally probability theory, he approved the class, Palamourdas said.
In addition to teaching a full quarter at UCLA Extension, Palamourdas teaches a six-week course to senior citizens at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a department of UCLA Extension specifically designed to serve adults 50 years or older. Phyllis Blaunstein, a retired public policy expert, decided to take Palamourdas’ class with some friends and said she appreciates his teaching style.
“He has a gift of turning incredibly complex mathematical concepts into simple and easy-to-understand ideas, and to convey them with humor to engage the class,” Blaunstein said.
Palamourdas describes the beginning of his class as being, for the most part, the same as any math class. Before class, he prepares a lecture on a single topic and uses PowerPoint slides, videos, visual aids and pictures to teach the lesson. After the lecture comes practical application – an hour or more of gameplay between students, with him providing live commentary on student moves within each game.
An issue that often arises with students is bet sizing, Palamourdas said. Students will often bet too little in an attempt to provoke their opponents to fold, but Palamourdas tries to emphasize to the students that they should bet a larger percentage of the money in the pot than they instinctively want to bet. If you don’t bet big, the opponent will never fold, and if they never fold, then you’re taking the skill out of the game, Palamourdas said.
“People are generally risk-averse. They don’t want to risk more than they have to,” Palamourdas said. “The problem is that there is a certain amount they should be risking in order to get the job done.”
Palamourdas characterizes the typical poker player as one of two archetypes: Alice or Bob, both names commonly used as placeholders in cryptology literature. The Bob player values fun over profit, making bets and moves based on intuition or a sense of excitement. Alice, on the other hand, is always playing to win. Alice values profit over fun. Over time, money will flow from Bob to Alice. However, Palamourdas said he reinforces the fact that either playing style is perfectly acceptable.
“One of the things that I stress in the book is that there is nothing wrong with either approach,” Palamourdas said. “It’s a game before anything else.”
John Southworth, a retired lawyer and student of Palamourdas, has been helping with the editing process. Southworth said this book is different from typical poker books in that it isn’t a recollection of “war stories” from tournaments past, nor is it an exemplary account of what to do when faced with particular hands during play. Instead, Southworth claims the book frames poker not as a game that changes based on who your opponent is, but rather as a game that can be won regardless of who you’re facing and what cards you are dealt.
“It’s truly a new approach to the game,” said Southworth. “It’s about beating the game, not other players.”
The popularity of Palamourdas’ classes at UCLA Extension has drawn attention from other parties around campus. Palamourdas said he is in conversation with representatives from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, who have shown serious interest in establishing a business-focused poker class at the school. Palamourdas said his view toward games has always been the same: treating the game like the science that it is, and recognizing that there is no one perfect way to play it.
“There is no such thing as a perfect truth when it comes to science … and that is incredibly important to remember,” Palamourdas said. “If anything, science has taught us humility. As does poker.”
OLLI Instructor Bill Blum will be a panelist this Sunday at LA Trade Tech to address the question: Should Donald Trump, the 45th president, be impeached for what the Constitution terms high crimes and misdemeanors?
This past May, he spoke to this topic at Beyond the Headlines, where he opined that it would be unwise for democrats to purse impeachment. As he wrote in Truthdig.com:
But playing the impeachment card—especially now, ahead of the elections—may not be the best way forward, even with a president as unfit as Trump. If the history of impeachment in America teaches anything, it’s that impeachment can backfire on its proponents. As a remedy for misconduct, it both overpromises and underperforms.
Bill Blum is a former judge and death penalty defense attorney. He is the author of three legal thrillers published by Penguin/Putnam (“Prejudicial Error,” “The Last Appeal” and “The Face of Justice”) and is a contributing writer for California Lawyer magazine, and a columnist with Truthdig.com. His nonfiction work has appeared in such publications as Crawdaddy magazine, In These Times, The Nation, The Progressive, the ABA Journal, the Orange County Register, the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly and Los Angeles magazine.
He will be joined by:
- Kevin Mack, senior partner with Deliver Strategies, and a former campaign manager, fundraiser and Executive Director of the Democratic Legislative Committee (DLCC),
- Sharon Kyle. publisher of the LA Progressive, an online social justice daily magazine, and president of Peoples College of Law .
To register, go here.
Award-winning filmmakers, Susanna Styron and Jacki Ochs, have produced Out of My Head, a feature documentary that dissects the history and mystery of migraine. It is the first comprehensive feature documentary about this neurological disease and its remarkable place in the human condition. The film illuminates many aspects of migraine, including medical research, personal stories, artistic expression, and spiritual experiences. By looking at the fascinating details, and the big questions too – the source and management of illness, the economic cost of human disability, the nature of pain and suffering – Out of My Head shines a light on the frontiers of neuroscience and the exploration of the brain. Director Susanna Styron’s work has been viewed internationally in numerous prestigious film festivals; via broadcast on HBO, PBS, A&E, Lifetime and Netflix among others; and in theaters worldwide.
Andrew Charles, M.D. will join Susanna Styron in discussion after the screening. Dr. Charles is a Professor of Neurology and Director, UCLA Goldberg Migraine ProgramMeyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Migraine and Headache Studies, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Check-in 6:30 PM | Program 7:00 PM
Admission is free but reservations are required.
Parking is available for $12 in Structure 9
For questions email WKelman@mednet.ucla.edu
By Dennis Mangrobang
I was fortunate to be able to present, “Robotics, Automation, and Our Changing Society,” as part of the Beyond the Headlines series at OLLI@UCLA.
Automation is changing our society in several ways. Driverless cars will cause our infrastructure to change (fewer roadway lanes, parking lots, etc.). Social robots will change our social interaction. Manufacturing will re-shore back to the USA, and become more localized worldwide. One of the most important changes occurring now is job loss caused by automation.
The day after the presentation, I asked Mary Ann Wilson, OLLI Program Coordinator, if she had received any feedback. She told me that one member told her that he thought the talk was going to be boring but it wasn’t. It was; however, depressing, just because a lot of people are going to lose their jobs. I appreciated receiving this feedback.
I believe the current trajectory of the impact of automation on employment and inequality is negative. For example, about 3% of all full-time U.S. jobs primarily involve driving (e.g. trucks, buses, taxis). Due to rapid advances in driverless vehicles, those jobs are at risk in the next few years. Just automating driving will create a big employment problem, considering that normal U.S. unemployment rates are around 5%, very high unemployment is around 10%, and the unemployment rate during the Great Depression peaked at around 25%. This is just the tip of the iceberg. However, I am also hopeful that we can steer this along a positive path, and I hope to better communicate this in my future presentations.
Automation will cause job loss. Should this be depressing or encouraging? It depends on how we handle the situation and how an individual values their job as part of their life.
If you or your friend won the lottery or were born into a wealthy family, would you be depressed about this? Probably not, at least not initially. With sufficient wealth, you could continue working in your current job or do something else. I believe most of us would do something else. The long-term outcome of your life would depend on what else you chose to do, but at least you would have more options, such as attending more OLLI courses.
The effect of losing your job because of automation could be like winning the lottery, or being born into a wealthy family.
The key to winning this automation lottery is capital ownership. If you own the robot that took your job, that is a good thing. If somebody else owns that robot, it is a bad thing for you. We should all own automation.
Unfortunately, most of us have limited ownership of automation through our stock market investments in companies that use automation. The majority of capital ownership is now concentrated within a small segment of our society, a situation called wealth inequality. With this current situation, automation is enabling inequality to grow, and at an increasing rate. More automation creates more job loss and more wealth concentration to the owners of capital.
What can be done? The solution that is most frequently proposed is universal basic income (UBI), which would tax the owners of automation, and redistribute this income to everyone. It depresses me that people, politicians in particular, think this is a practical way to address the problem. It could work in theory, but I am skeptical. The owners of capital will fight against this. They are the ones who wield political power and will shape this policy if implemented. If you cannot find a job, how likely is it that a program like this will provide what you need? Universal basic income would be better than doing nothing, but I think we can do better.
A better solution is to solve the root cause of the problem, which is capital ownership. We should transition the ownership of automation to a broader segment of our society. One way to accomplish this is though 100% employee-owned companies that are focused on developing and using automation. Initially, your jobs at such a company would be the same as investor-owned companies, and with similar pay. However, the income derived from the deployment of capital would go to the employee/owners, and not passive investors. Employees could invest capital to join, or they could buy in though sweat equity. Employee ownership could have other significant benefits. Employee/owners would decide what the company policies should be. They could decide to not move the company to another country, not to pollute the ground water in their community, and not to award their CEO excessive compensation for implementing short-term policies that cause long-term harm. And, they could decide to voluntarily share the growing pool of capital with others, and how to wield the political power of their company.
My goal is to create a company like this, and I hope people will want to join or build other companies based on this concept. I encourage you to think about these issues and possible solutions, and take direct action.
Lifelong ownership of automation could be very positive, and enable more lifelong learning for people of all ages. OLLI power!
I have compiled a list of resources related to the presentation. Whether you attended or not, I hope you will find them useful. You may view these at: https://flexwest.com/robotsAndOurChangingSociety.html
I grew up in Kansas City and spent as much time as a could on my grandparents’ farm in central Missouri. There I saw the whole life cycle of bones from birth to butcher to table. I have always enjoyed being outside, and I am not sure whether that stimulated my interest in natural history or vice versa. Either way, my interests led me to major in biology at Rice University, where I gained a deep appreciation for the diversity and adaptations of animal life. During medical school at Vanderbilt University I had the opportunity to further explore the workings and failings of human tissues and was particularly attracted to bone. It appealed to my mechanical, three-dimensional way of thinking.
These inclinations led to an orthopedic surgery residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where I had the opportunity to drill down, both literally and figuratively, on living bone. The residency was interrupted for two years by my military obligation, which I fulfilled as a general medical officer in Turkey. That experience, and the regional travel opportunities it allowed in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe put bones into an entirely new perspective for me—their historic and cultural implications. The ways that the Hittites and ancient Egyptians managed their dead brethren and the ways that various civilizations have used bone as implements, weapons, and ornamentation enhanced my interest in the unique composition and multiple purposes of bone.
After completing a hand surgery fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, I joined the orthopedic surgery faculty at UCLA, where my current title is Clinical Professor. My career in academic medicine has allowed me not only to manage many difficult bone abnormalities in the upper extremity, it has also provided the opportunity to write extensively on these topics. This includes many peer-reviewed journal articles and two books, One Hundred Orthopedic Conditions Every Doctor Should Understand and The Hand Owner’s Manual, A Hand Surgeon’s Thirty Year Collection of Important Information and Fascinating Facts. My interest in writing extends to improving the form and content of the works of others. I have been on the senior editorial board of the Journal of Hand Surgery for most of my career including a five-year term as Editor-in-Chief.
Travel continues to interest me, and visits to all of the inhabited continents and 48 states have provided study opportunities regarding my interest in bone. Museums devoted to natural history, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, maritime history, and even fine art and musical instruments exhibit bones and bone artefacts and vouch for its durability and versatility. I have savoured each visit.
I now want to organize my observations and experiences with bone, and in a systematic way share my passion with others. Starting with a blog, www.aboutbone.com and a five-part lecture series in the 2018 winter quarter at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ UCLA, my plan is to eventually turn the collected information into a book: Bone. Supporting Life, Capturing History.
Students of the OLLI course, The Trump Presidency: the Good, the Bad and the Unknown, were treated to an unexpected guest speaker on October 10: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The attorney general talked on the state of California’s response to the Trump Presidency — which has included filing suit against the federal government. Several notable cases have targeted the adminstration’s actions on immigration policy, including a suit against the proposed border wall; one challenging the rescinding of the DACA program for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors; and another seeking to block Trump’s policy of withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities.”
“Along the way, if someone wants to get in our way,” Becerra said, “I’m not going to pick a fight, but if someone wants to fight, like Donald Trump, we’ll be ready.”
The 6-week course is taught by Bob Stern, who has been an observer and participant in elections for the past 40 years and has worked for Congressional campaigns and public officials, including Henry Waxman and Jerry Brown. He is frequently interviewed by news outlets, including MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, the Los Angeles Times and other papers throughout the country on election and campaign reform subjects.
The class was also given a location upgrade to the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center, along with free parking and refreshments.
The Los Angeles Daily News covered the event, which you can read about here.
You can also hear it on our podcast, which you can find here.
The course runs from September 28 – November 2. Other guest speakers include:
- Chris Carson, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States
- Bill Boyarsky, former Los Angeles Times editor and columnist
- Jim Brulte, Chairman of the California Republican Party and former State Senator
- Derek Shearer, former US Ambassador to Finland and Occidental College professor
I attended the Osher Institutes National Conference in Irving, TX on April 3-5, 2017 at the luxurious Omni Mandalay Hotel. Accompanying me was OLLI’s volunteer, Marlene Zweig, who joined OLLI at UCLA at its inception in 2005, serving as a member of the original OLLI Advisory Council when fewer than 400 persons participated in the program. She continues to serve as a member of the OLLI Advisory Board and Chair of the OLLI Curriculum Committee. It was our first time to attend.
We marveled at how well organized the conference was — every meeting was well-run, informative, and stayed on schedule; and the attention to detail was apparent down to the color-coded name cards at the final dinner. All the participants were given flash drives that included the slides and handouts of each session. But most importantly, the food was plentiful and delicious. All this thanks to Stacey Hart, Manager of Operations, National Resource Center for OLLI.
We learned that of the 120 lifelong learning programs in the country, no program is like another, nor should be. OLLI isn’t a franchise, they said, but more like a network of bakeries, each one featuring home-baked, delicious cookies.
We were impressed by many of these home-baked surprises: a dance program that included not just ballroom and line dancing but a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; an acting course on the history of old-time radio that became an active theater performance of a Jack Benny radio show. Which then evolved into productions requiring auditions for actors over 50, featuring such Broadway musicals as Fiddler on the Roof and Grease. Then there were the OLLI members, who with the help of a master gardener, took over a brownfield remediation site and produced 3,000 pounds of fresh produce in its first year and 17,000+ pounds of fresh produce by its fourth year, all of which were donated to food pantries and soup kitchens.
We heard from Executive Director of the Osher National Resource Center (NRC), Steve Thaxton; President of the Bernard Osher Foundation, Mary Bitterman; Senior Program Director of the Bernard Osher Foundation, David Blazevich; and Founder and Treasurer of the Bernard Osher Foundation: the one and only Bernard Osher, who is one cool dude. We were inspired by notable speakers, we networked with colleagues near and far, and we returned with a greater appreciation for UCLA Extension, which provides an infrastructure of support we had always taken for granted.
At a plenary session on fundraising, one panelist got a round of applause when she said she finally got a development officer. The idea of not having one stunned me.
At a new directors’ workshop, we discussed how and if the following offices assisted our work: parking, development, dining services, facilities, mail services, and marketing. One new director said she had none of these services and asked others to tell her how to get them. OLLI at UCLA has all these.
Another director told me he was only allowed to use a classroom on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have our own space in the new Gayley Center with first dibs on two classrooms, a lounge with three personal computers, a TV, refrigerator, microwave, and free coffee.
So, thank you UCLA Extension, for making us feel at home.
And thank you, Mr. Bernard Osher, for bringing happiness into the lives of 160,125 Osher members in 377 towns and cities across the country.
Mary Ann Wilson Program Coordinator
Shelley Bonus, an instructor with UCLA Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), was recently awarded the 2016 AstronomyOutreach Award for her lifetime of work around the world in public educational outreach in astronomy.
As the Mt. Wilson Observatory Telescope Coordinator, Bonus has been operating telescopes and teaching about cosmology, astronomy, space exploration, and writing at UCLA Extension for more than 25 years. Bonus is an astronomer, writer, lecturer and science translator for stargazers of all ages all over the world. The AstronomyOutreach Network honored her with this lifetime achievement award for her “gift of translating and teaching (often in various languages) some of the most complicated aspects of cosmology and astrophysics … with humor and acute technical accuracy.”
Bonus has received numerous other honors in her career – including, but not limited to, the time the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after her, citing her unique method of translating the most difficult of scientific discoveries to the public. The author of several astronomy texts, including the Solar System Guide for Carl Sagan’s Planetary Society, Bonus wrote the content for Caltech’s Infrared Astronomy website COOLCOSMOS, and continues to write the very popular “Space E! Tracy Planetarium Shows and Lectures.” Bonus is also an archeo-astronomer, linguist, and presentation coach.
“Shelley is one of our most beloved OLLI instructors, and she has a following of students who take her courses quarter after quarter,” said OLLI Program Manager Evan McGinnis. “She is exceptionally dynamic in the classroom, and uses her strong command of the subject matter to create rewarding experiences for everyone she teaches. Many students tell us her courses are the highlight of their time in our program.”