Memento and Memory Processes Essay

Memento presents the subject of amnesia, which is a very popular Hollywood topic. In this case the main character, Leonardo, suffers from short-term memory loss due to a head injury. Leonardo’s goal is to find his wife’s murderer, but his condition makes it hard for him to do so. Leonardo fights his condition by writing notes to himself or tattooing his body with the information he gathers about people and places. He actually believes that this strategy is even better than remembering because memory is unreliable. According to Leonardo, “Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted.

They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts. ” And according to what we know about forgetting, this view is fundamentally accurate. The movie overall depicts memory and its mechanisms correctly, to a degree. The first aspect that is depicted correctly by the movie is Leonardo’s short-term memory deficit. Leonard’s short-term memory loss is a case of anterograde amnesia. The director successfully depicts many symptoms of anterograde amnesia. Leonard remembers everything before his head injury injury but is unable to form any new episodic or semantic memories.

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Leonardo could spend hours with a person and an hour later he was not able to recognize that person. He experienced intense grief due to the loss of his wife but then he would forget, and then he would remember again and would feel the need to grieve again. He stated that because he can’t feel time he was in constant grief and was not able to heal. Lastly, Leonardo is depicted as aware of his memory problem, which also makes him able to realize that he needs to make all the notes in order to catch his wife’s killer. The most famous evidence from literature that supports these illustrations of short-memory loss comes from the patient H.

M.. After his operation for the removal of his medial temporal lobe he developed the inability to form new episodic and semantic memories. Similarly to Leonardo, “he could spend all morning with a psychologist, take a break for lunch, and an hour later have no recognition of the psychologist (Hanglund ; Collet, 1996) (105). ” Also, similarly to Leonardo, H. M. experienced constant grieving for a little while. When he found out his uncle died, he experienced intense grief but then he forgot. Later, “again and again he asked about the uncle and reacted with surprises and fresh grief (Milner, 1966) (105). ” Lastly, H. M. s aware of his problems and is able to verbalize it and describe it to people the same way that Leonardo did in the movie. Another topic of memory that the movie presents correctly is the concept of implicit learning seen in individuals with amnesia. In the movie, Leonardo narrates the story of Sammy, a man who also could not form short-term memories. Psychologists went to Sammy’s house and conducted an experiment in which every time Sammy touches a specific object he receives a small electric shock. Unfortunately, Sammy is unable to form associations and conditioning does not work for him. However, it works for Leonardo.

He explicitly states that he conditioned himself to look at his “remember Sammy” tattoo to remind him of his condition. He has also conditioned himself to check his pockets and body for notes and information in order to survive. He becomes able to avoid harmful people and situations based on instinct and not memory. Experiments with amnesic patients support this implicit learning theory. Amnesic individuals “can acquire skills relatively normally from one session to the next, even if they show no awareness that they have practiced the skill in the past or have ever seen the task (Cohen, Poldrack, ; Eichenbaum, 1997) (136). Similarly to Sammy, these individuals try to improve and learn the skill during the experiment. However, if they try it again the next day they think it’s the first time they are trying it even though their performance is improved from the last practice session. The most interesting part is that even though individuals with amnesia are explicitly taught how to perform the skill, the learning is still considered implicit. This is because the patients are not aware that they are improving at this skill and do not remember that they have practiced this skill the next time they try it.

Leonardo also uses rehearsal as a mechanism to keep thoughts in working memory for a couple of minutes in many instances throughout the movie. More particularly, in one scene, Leonardo is worried that he might forget the information that he just learned and for this reason he rehearses this information in his mind until he finds a piece of paper on which he can write this information. Internal rehearsal, “much like a ‘loop’ of recording tape that goes around and around, playing the same song over and over (175),” helps maintain auditory memories in the working memory.

If this rehearsal is interrupted phonological storage cannot occur. In fact, “without rehearsal people can hold only about 2 seconds worth of information in their phonological memory (174). ” According to research articulatory suppression can hinder the beneficial mechanism of rehearsal. Psychologists have tested this by asking people to remember lists of items. In one condition, the participants were asked to simply read/learn, and then recall, a list of words after a delay. The second condition was identical except that now the participants were asked to articulate irrelevant phonological codes (e. . Blah blah blah blah) during the delay period. As it was expected verbalization of irrelevant words during the delay blocked the rehearsal process and resulted to the decay of the phonological memory traces. Memento does a good job at portraying many memory processes. It depicts correctly the majority of the characteristics of anterograde amnesia. It illuminates some of the features of conditioning and implicit learning and it makes a correct use of the mechanism of articulatory rehearsal for keeping information in working memory.

There are certainly parts of the movie that are flawed according to the knowledge that neuroscience and cognitive science have given us about memory and its mechanisms, but these errors assist the continuation of the movie. For example, in the last scene Leonardo finds a piece of paper and starts writing “Tattoo Six. ” With his anterograde amnesia Leonardo should not be able to remember what number the next tattoo should be without looking at the rest of the tattoos on his body. Overall, however, the movie does a good job of depicting the memory process we know about.

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