Articles

Does photographic memory exist?

"Photographic" or eidetic memory is said to occur in some 8% of children, but almost all of these grow out of it. The phenomenon is extremely rare in adults, and indeed the very existence of photographic memory is still somewhat contentious. However, it may be that particular brain abnormalities can lead to ways of processing information that are dramatically different from the normal (see the case of Kim Peek).

Broadly speaking, a concept map is a graphic display that attempts to show how concepts are connected to each other. A concept map is a diagram in which labeled nodes represent concepts, and lines connecting them show the relationships between concepts.

There is one type of concept map you’re probably all aware of — mind maps. Mind maps are a specialized form of concept map popularized very successfully by Tony Buzan.

A mind map has four essential characteristics:

Children learn. It’s what they do. And they build themselves over the years from wide-eyed baby to a person that walks and talks and can maybe fix your computer, so it’s no wonder that we have this idea that learning comes so much more easily to them than it does to us. But is it true?

There are two particular areas where children are said to excel: learning language, and learning skills.

I recently read an interesting article in the Smithsonian about procrastination and why it’s good for you. Frank Partnoy, author of a new book on the subject, pointed out that procrastination only began to be regarded as a bad thing by the Puritans — earlier (among the Greeks and Romans, for example), it was regarded more as a sign of wisdom.

I’ve always been interested in the body’s clocks — and one of the most interesting things is that it is clocks, in the plural. It appears the main clock is located in a part of the brain structure called the hypothalamus (a very important structure in the brain, although not one of much importance to learning and memory). The part of the hypothalamus that regulates time is called the suprachiasmatic nuclei. These cells contain genes that switch on, off, and on again over a 24-hour period, and send electrical pulses and hormones through the body. This is the body’s master clock.

The mediotemporal lobe (MTL) is a concept rather than a defined brain structure. It includes the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the entorhinal and perirhinal cortices - all structures within the medial area of the temporal lobe.The temporal lobe is in general primarily concerned with sensory experience - specifically, with hearing, and with the integration of information from multiple senses. Part of the temporal lobe also plays a role in memory processing. It is situated below the frontal and parietal lobes, and above the hindbrain.

While parents and teachers have always strongly supported small class sizes, their belief has not always been supported by evidence. Part of the problem lies in that word “small” — what constitutes a small class? Different interventions have looked at reducing class sizes from 40 to 30, or 30 to 25. It may well be that such reductions are not sufficient to show clear benefits.

Some comments on the commonalities between the Suzuki approach to learning music and the Montessori approach to education.

My sons have both been in Montessori since they were three (they are now 8 and nearly 11, respectively). My elder son started learning the violin from a Suzuki teacher when he was around five, and now learns the piano (again, from a Suzuki teacher). My younger son has been learning the violin for the last two years. Over the years I have been somewhat intrigued by the number of parents who, like me, are both Montessori and Suzuki parents.

Do experts simply know "more" than others, or is there something qualitatively different about an expert's knowledge compared to the knowledge of a non-expert?

While most of us are not aiming for an expert's knowledge in many of the subjects we study or learn about, it is worthwhile considering the ways in which expert knowledge is different, because it shows us how to learn, and teach, more effectively.