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UC researchers look into how the brain remembers

UC researchers look into how the brain remembers

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University of Canterbury (UC) research has shown that search and rescue workers could suffer cognitive overload if their rescue involves high risk climbing.

Psychology lecturer Professor Deak Helton and honours student Kathryn Darling have been working on research looking at how we communicate and what we remember when rock climbing.

The findings, which will appear in the journal Experimental Brain Research, looks at dual-task interference between climbing and simulated communication tasks and builds on other research being undertaken by Professor Helton and colleagues to help emergency responders and others who need to work under extreme conditions.

“Disasters and emergencies are not convenient, they can occur at sea, on the side of a mountain, pretty much anywhere,” Professor Helton says.

Emergency response personnel who have to perform physically demanding tasks while communicating with team members could have problems remembering information later.

“Climbing is an extreme sport that is fun and physically demanding but the loss of half the information you recall after climbing demonstrates just how cognitively demanding climbing is,” Professor Helton says.

Climbers taking part in the study were asked to recall as many words they heard and words they replied to during the climb after finishing. The research team assessed how quickly the climbers made free association responses and how quickly and efficiently the climbers were able to climb.

“Comparing the number of words recalled in a similar free association task while not climbing enabled the team to assess memory impairment. The climbers could only recall about half as many words after climbing as they could when not climbing.”

These findings replicate the memory loss seen in similar previous research by Professor Helton.

“The research improved on the earlier findings by ensuring the climbers really heard the words and by allowing the team to measure more aspects of performance during the climbing task.

“Our brains have the tendency to fill gaps and make coherent, even inaccurate memories. The technology to capture and replace information is getting better and better. Properly designed technological aides could provide climbers or rescue workers with accurate external memory aids.”


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