Get smarter by ignoring the irrelevant

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While I was walking the dogs before work this morning, all kinds of strange things kept popping into my head: My old roommate's name (wonder what Guy's doing these days?), the theme song to "Bewitched," the taste of breadfruit, how scary "Fatal Attraction" was when it first came out—you get the drift. My mind is an endless stream of irrelevant trivia. Which doesn't bode well for my IQ, according to this article.


Basically, it says that researchers at the University of Oregon did some brain-measuring to figure out what makes people score high on visual working memory tests (those with good visual working memories also tend to score high on cognitive tests, it says). Turns out that they aren't just stuffing more info into their heads; instead, they have the ability to ignore the irrelevant.


    The findings turn upside down the popular concept that a person's memory capacity, which is strongly related to intelligence, is solely dependent upon the amount of information you can cram into your head at one time. These results have broad implications and may lead to developing more effective ways to optimize memory as well as improved diagnosis and treatment of cognitive deficits associated with attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia...


    "People differed systematically, and dramatically, in their ability to keep irrelevant items out of awareness," Vogel said. "This doesn't mean people with low capacity are cognitively impaired. There may be advantages to having a lot of seemingly irrelevant information coming to mind. Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people."



So I guess there's some hope for people like me after all. Now, can someone get the jingle for Foxwoods out of my head?


Update: According to the New Scientist, maybe all I need to improve my memory is more coffee.

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