state dependent memory

State dependent memory

How to use state dependent memory in therapy

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there? Newly published research has shown that moving through a door affects your memory of what you did in the room before you moved out through the door. This is an example of state dependent memory. The things you did or thought in one place are anchored to things in  that place.  When you move away from that place, you leave the anchors behind. So you cannot recall what you thought and felt when the anchors were present. This has been known for a long time. It has been proved with school children. If  you teach them in a classroom and test them on the material, they will have better recall if the exam is held in the room they were taught in, rather than an exam room.

I used to be a diver. It is common among commercial divers for them to realize that they need a certain part to get the job done. But when they come out of the water they just cannot remember what it was they needed. The moment they plunge back in, the memory is there, fresh and clear.

Clients can be fixed in state dependent memory

State dependent memory affects much of what we do, and how we feel. Many of our clients are dominated by state dependent thinking. It is quite common that when you go home and visit your mother say, you change how you talk, how you behave and even how you think. These behaviors are anchored on the place or the person. The associations can be so strong that you will agree to do things that you would never have agreed to normally. But once you get outside you start kicking yourself.

Quite a lot of therapy depends on breaking state dependent memories. Going on holiday for a few weeks is a very good way of forcing the associations to go into extinction. When the triggers are not there, the behavior fades. Doing something completely different, like mountain climbing, or spending a few days on a tall ship does the same thing. This is why delinquent teenagers are sent away on brat camps. Being in completely different environment with different rules, breaks the associations that were triggering their bad behavior.

So sometimes the best thing we can do for a client is to encourage them to get out of the environment they are in. Maybe it applies to you too?

David Mason

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