The Friday Interview: Andrew Laughland, University of Hertfordshire

At a recent Quantified Self London meetup, Andrew Laughland from the University of Hertfordshire gave an extremely interesting talk on his personal experiments with memory tracking.

The mind is often forgotten about when discussing digital health, however your mental health is of utmost importance, and keeping a health brain and good memory is vital to this. We caught up with Andrew to find out more.

PH: Why did you start tracking your memory?

AL: I became interested in psychology in recent years (I originally trained as a physicist and had an IT career in healthcare and pharmaceuticals), and more specifically in memory. I am researching other people’s memory so it seems reasonable I track my own.

There are different types of memory: autobiographical refers to one’s own past, retrospective memory refers to facts and information, prospective memory refers to future intentions to execute tasks.

Initially I worked on involuntary autobiographical memories – memory of one’s past that pop into one’s mind usually triggered by cues in the environment or in one’s thoughts.

PH: How many different methods of tracking your memory did you try?

AL: I have tracked with paper diaries, audio recorders and phone apps, both commercial and apps I have development myself.

PH: Why did you settle on the method that you did?

AL: I use an audio recorder to note autobiographical memories when driving (anything else would not be safe). I use a phone app as I nearly always have a smartphone with me. I prefer my own app as it works just the way I want – no logging on, splash screen or any distractions or delays, and it works offline.

PH: What were the key findings from your own research?

AL: Autobiographical memories occur very frequently but are very transient. If not noted quickly they are forgotten. Everyday memory errors, or lapses, such as forgetting names or to do things, such as posting a letter or making a call, are easier to remember later, often because they are annoying.

PH: Did you find memories were perfect, or were many broken, or perhaps completely made up?

AL: Memories vary in their vividness and accuracy. Of course it can be difficult to tell if a memory is accurate or not.

PH: What tips would you give to someone interested in doing the same?

It requires some effort to start with. Like any new habit. I would say don’t worry if you miss some memories, or memory errors – that will happen – but you’ll get better at noticing them and developing the habit of recording them.

PH: How did you feel, overall, at the end? Did it improve your quality of life?

AL: It generally an uplifting exercise, and our research at the university suggests there is a therapeutic benefit to keeping a diary. People keeping a diary of memory errors often report encouragement that their memory is not as bad as they had thought.

Andrew is currently recruiting younger adults (18-50 years old) for an everyday memory errors study. If you fit the bill and would be able to help out, please sign up here.

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