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Matthew Barrett: Human memory is not a recording device

Matthew Barrett

Matthew Bar­rett

What excites you the most about your job?
As a Pro­fes­sor and the founder of Brain Train­ers Men­tal Fit­ness LLC, I love see­ing how the right infor­ma­tion can have a life-chang­ing effect on peo­ple.

Please tell us about your inter­est in applied brain sci­ence. What areas are you most inter­est­ed in? What moti­vat­ed you to pur­sue work in your field?
I’m an edu­ca­tor first and fore­most: I like to see peo­ple empow­ered with clear, accu­rate, and use­ful infor­ma­tion about their brains. Just under­stand­ing more about diet, exer­cise and sleep could rev­o­lu­tion­ize our soci­ety. Beyond edu­ca­tion, I’m espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in biofeed­back, neu­ro­feed­back, mind­ful­ness, men­tal ath­let­ics, and lucid dream­ing.

What are 1–2 key things you’d like every per­son to under­stand regard­ing his/ her own brain and mind, that you think is com­mon­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed or not addressed in the pop­u­lar media?

Peo­ple just expect too much of human mem­o­ry. It’s not a record­ing device. I can’t count the num­ber of times some­one has come to me think­ing there was some­thing “wrong” with their mem­o­ry, only to describe lim­i­ta­tions that are per­fect­ly nor­mal. I’m con­sid­er­ing putting this on my tomb­stone: “There is noth­ing wrong with you!”

Where do you see clear “low-hang­ing fruit” to enhance behav­ioral and brain health based on neu­ro­science and inno­va­tion?
I may be biased, but I believe that edu­ca­tion is the best low-hang­ing fruit around. If peo­ple don’t know about the typ­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of our brain, they can’t set rea­son­able expec­ta­tions, nor can they devel­op workaround strate­gies to improve per­for­mance. There is clear, accu­rate, and use­ful infor­ma­tion avail­able. We just need to dis­sem­i­nate it.

What sur­prised you the most at the 2013 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit?
I was most sur­prised by the oth­er participants–I’ve often felt alone in my career, espe­cial­ly when I would hear about some­one else “in the indus­try” only to dis­cov­er they are ped­dling bad sci­ence. Dur­ing the water­cool­er chats, every­one was so knowl­edge­able and pas­sion­ate. I’ve looked up many since then, and haven’t seen one I would­n’t endorse.

What is one impor­tant thing you are work­ing on now, and where can peo­ple learn more about it? 
I’m work­ing on a sim­ple approach for mem­o­ry train­ing that would work for stu­dents, seniors and men­tal ath­letes of any age. I will have more infor­ma­tion to share next year.

Final­ly, what do YOU do to stay sharp?
So much! Every type of puz­zle; lean pro­tein, com­plex carbs and veg­gies; track sleep cycles and record dreams; avoid caf­feine, nico­tine and alco­hol; take EVERY oppor­tu­ni­ty for nov­el­ty and mind­ful­ness. Late­ly my wife and I start­ed ball­room danc­ing, which is a good aer­o­bic and men­tal work­out. As the Sharp­Brains Guide empha­sizes, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, and what’s good for the brain is good for the heart!

2013 SharpBrains Summit

—This con­ver­sa­tion is part of the inter­view series with Speak­ers and Par­tic­i­pants in the 2013 Sharp­Brains Vir­tual Sum­mit (Sep­tem­ber 19–20th). Pre­vi­ous inter­views include:

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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