Mixing Memory

I meant to post this a long time ago, but forgot about it. Here’s the story of a cognitive neuroscientist who, using what he’s learned about cognition in grad school, won $500,000 on the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” From the article:

The first technique I drew upon was priming. The priming of a memory occurs because of the peculiar “connectionist” neural dynamics of our cortex, where memories are distributed across many regions and neurons. If we can recall any fragment of a pattern, our brains tend to automatically fill in the rest. For example, hearing an old Madonna song may launch a cascade of linked memories: your high school prom where it was the theme song, your poorly tailored prom outfit, your forgotten prom date, the stinging embarrassment when you threw up in the limo.

Since the producers allow contestants unlimited time to work out answers (as long as they’re not just stalling), I knew that I could employ the most basic of priming tactics: talking about the question, posing scenarios, throwing out wild speculations, even just babbling–trying to cajole my prefrontal neurons onto any cue that could trigger the buried neocortical circuits holding the key to the answer.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    January 11, 2007

    I think you actually did post this some time ago, (within the last 6 months) because I have read it before. Very interesting look at how to win. If only I could get through the initial screening!

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