In my last post, I talked about the relationship between the mind and the brain in very general and abstract terms. This discussion was spawned by considerations upon the complex relationship between the size of the hippocampus (a brain region typically associated with memory ability) and episodic memory. On the one hand, especially if you are a materialist, you might expect that the bigger the hippocampus (within non-pathological boundaries), the better the memory should be. On the other hand, the relationship between size and function is much more complex than that, particularly in older adults.
I have recently published two articles that touch upon this topic. One is in press with Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, and will soon be published as an open access paper. The other has just come out in Neuropsychologia, and is accessible from here for free for 50 days.
One of the arguments that I make is that, in the neurosciences, although we are becoming better and better at obtaining information about the brain, we often do not make full use of the lessons learned from cognitive psychology. Specifically, we sometimes rely on behavioural and cognitive tests that are limited in scope and sensitivity, thus only examining cognitive functions superficially. As a response to that, in these articles, my colleagues and I have broken down recall performance by serial position, and looked at whether primacy words were preferentially linked with the size of the hippocampus.
Indeed, they seem to be, which suggests that, perhaps, some of the complexity in the relationship between memory performance and hippocampal size might be reduced by using more sensitive memory tests and/or by examining memory in more detail. This is one area of research I am focusing on at the moment.