Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Amnesia and computer passwords

This one's a bit rambly and possibly slightly daft :)

I'm still using a variant of the password that I first received in 1992/3 when the Institute of Psychiatry (where I studied neuroscience) distributed randomly-generated passwords to staff and students so they could log on and use the network. I thought it was probably a better password than one I could think up myself and periodically I swap a couple of letters around. More recently I started work at UCL and was blessed with two alphanumeric strings, for my main UCL account and one for the Computer Science network.

Personally I find these passwords very easy to remember - obviously I have to attend to them a bit as they don't exactly roll off the tongue - but no harder than a phone number that I want to make note of. I also know off by heart all sorts of bank and NI numbers and other administrivia codes. I don't generally carry these around in my head (well, obviously I do but...) though whenever prodded by a blank form or a blinking cursor - out they come.

My fingers, on a keyboard, will type out a password and it seems sometimes to be almost unconscious - which I suppose is the same for everyone. ?

This made me wonder what happens in the case of someone who has amnesia. Probably I should have paid better attention in those neuroscience classes.

Actually, what I'm interested in isn't so much the processes of forgetting memories (retrograde amnesia) or the inability to create new ones (anterograde amnesia), but the ways in which someone with (retrograde) amnesia might be 'managed', as in 'given opportunities to remember things'. What questions are asked of them and what situations are they put in to test different types of memory?

In films people who've had a bump on the head are usually asked for the current president / prime minister, or what year it is. I've no idea if hospitals around the UK are asking these questions or if there are much better questions to ask.

What I'm really wondering is... are people who've had a traumatic brain injury and exhibit memory loss (or those who are 'found wandering') placed in front of a computer with a screen showing all the social media and email things (twitter, facebook, gmail) that one can log in to?

It might be utter guff but I'm intrigued by the idea that I might forget my name and gibber uselessly when you ask for it, but plonk me in front of the Twitter login and... ping... there we are ;)


  1. This post has made me start to think harder too, I had similar concepts personally

  2. I'm glad someone else thought of this too. It would be a cool test if someone gets amnesia and they see if he can log into his mail acct.

  3. Thanks Anonymous and Bill for commenting - you've reminded me that I forgot to add a little bit to this. After posting, I sent the link to a friend who clearly did pay attention in his neuroscience classes (he's on Twitter as @mocost) and he said "@JoBrodie Amnesia usually affects autobiographical or semantic memory, and rarely occurs because of a bump on the head".

    That link resolves to a blog post he wrote pointing out the daft ways in which films portray amnesia ;)


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