4.0393 Memory (1/78)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 20 Aug 90 18:14:41 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0393. Monday, 20 Aug 1990.

Date: Sat, 18 Aug 90 22:09:37 EDT
From: Frank Dane <FDANE@UGA>
Subject: left-hand faces

The discussion on left-right brain and handedness has taken some
interesting turns while I was away (on vacation, not hiding from
reactions to my earlier blast).

Judy Koren's "wild hypothesis" about a need for naming things
providing an entry in the FAT is probably closest to current
constructions of memory models. Douglas de Lacey's counterargu-
ment concerning third lines of songs is not inconsistent with an
initial premise concerning the "keyness" of names. The name or
other means by which thoughts are stored in memory does not
initiate a memory dump of all stored information concerning the
name. Instead, much like storage on an unoptimized computer
disk, memory seems to operate on a pointer principle. Each chunk
of information may hold a pointer for the next chunk. Third
lines are much more difficult to recall because we also rely
heavily on temporal context for recall, which is a fancy way of
saying ordered recall is easier than random recall. Songs are
particularly sensitive to ordered cues because they, among other
things, are usually learned serially.

With respect to names, sociobiologists (I can locate the refer-
ence if anyone is interested) have recently proposed that our
(humans) seemingly overwhelming concern for names may be related
to kinship selection. Unlike other mammals, humans don't identi-
fy kin through odor (e.g. deer mice), are too mobile to rely on
direct knowledge such as witnessing the birth of one's sibling
(e.g. gorillas, possibly chimps), and learn not to rely on
physical appearance as the sole criterion. Thus, surnames
provide evidence (though obviously not conclusive) about kinship,
which enables us to make kin-related decisions about helping,
hurting, and mating with others.

Concerning Koren's question about abnormalities, I suspect
(though it may be mere prejudice on my part) that different
answers result from different assumptions about human behavior.
A "medical model" behavior scientist would probably say abnormal-
ity is qualitatively different, an all-or-none phenomenon. That
is, one either does or does not have a disease. An "eclectic
model" type (among whom I count myself though I'm not a clini-
cian) would say abnormality is an extreme form of everyday
quirks. We all fail to associate names with faces at times, but
consistent failure is abnormal (prosopagnosia). We all imagine
sounds, even voices, from time to time, but consistent voices is
a symptom of abnormality (schizophrenia).

I confess to being left-handed, and to having trouble remembering
names, though not to being female. The high proportion of women
in areas concerning the study of language seems, to me, accounted
for by higher verbal (including math, by the way) intelligence
among women.

Trouble associating names and faces being more prevalent among
left-handed people is a mystery. Without going into the statis-
tical theory, Koren's report of the argument concerning bi-modal
distribution of doesn't hold up. Also, left-handers include
three different groups: left-side damage, undamaged and left-side
dominant, and undamaged and right-side dominant. The latter are
sometimes called "true" left-handed.

I don't know that it would shed a great deal of light on the
issue, but I would be willing to collect the kind of survey data
suggested by Stephen Clausing. Perhaps there is a greater
prevalence of name-face nonassociation among left-handed people,
perhaps not. HUMANIST subscribers would not be a random sample,
but we would be a beginning. If people cooperate, I'll tabulate
the results and report back.

If you are willing to participate, respond to the following three

1) Are you (a) left-handed (b) ambidextrous (c) right-handed?
2) Do you have trouble associating names and faces
(a) almost always (b) sometimes (c) hardly ever?
3) Are you (a) male (b) female?

Send your responses to fdane@uga.

Frank Dane, Mercer University