BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Sharpen Your Memory:
Memory and identity

Listen to Sharpen Your Memory

Wednesday 26 July 9.00am repeated 9.30pm

Mariella Frostrup

In a new series Mariella Frostrup talks to leading scientists and artists to find out how your memory works.

In the first programme Mariella looks at how your memory defines who you are. Professor Martin Conway from Leeds University will explain the nature of autobiographical memories, and guests including the writer Louise Doughty, psychologist Mark Williams and film director Rupert Murray who will discuss the connection between identity and past experience.

There's also a look at new research which questions why people who cannot remember specific episodes in their life often suffer from depression.

Comments on Programme One

This page is now closed to new comments

Ann Whyte
I agree with David Reilly on the development of our cognitive abilities and how this can transform our life experience and potential capabilities, I also agree that Derren Brown is an inspiring and fascinating example of the powerful possibilities of such self-development. Your program mentioned (Mark Williams) the usefulness of meditation for depressives, what other techniques are currently considered effective as self-help techniques for low level depression? there a link, or some other source of information? Considering Derren Brown, are you going to mention Neuro-Linguistic Programming? I am fascinated by memory and the workings of the brain, I,ve been in two road traffic accidents and know I have 'lost' some memories (my brother's wedding), I also find memorising extremely difficult, but I couldn't definitely say this is because of the possible damage my brain suffered...maybe I'd have been like this anyway? The accident also brought home to me how much your sense of self is tied up with your cognitive abilities. Thankyou for devoting such time to this subject, and considering it in such a broad context.

Tracey Knight
For me this is a very interesting and personal subject. The comments made by Mark Williams in Mariella's newsletter really struck a chord with me, for many years I was stuck in a very depressed cycle where the only memories I could recall were the very negative ones which lead to suicidal tendencies and self-harm which just seemed to make the negative memories more vivid basically the memories and my depression went hand in hand as I became very depressed the memories seemed more and more negative so trapping me in a vicious cycle. I have just done an excellent course run by a fantastic national charity called TOAST, with their help the predominate memories I now have and focus on are positive so breaking the cycle and therefore lifting my mood,I have not lost the negative memories but they are no longer at the forefront of my mind

michele dennis
i live in australia and i have lived here for 3 years. i listen to your shows and others online. It is a shame that the australian cannot listen to your particular series.I am 50 I am a regitered mental health nurse both here and uk. I work in dementia and elderly mental health.I so enjoyed the play the memory of water. I think the shows are great and very informative.Thankyou.

Cynthia Payman Mrs
i experienced at the Maidenhead Adult Dyslexia centre a very interesting experiment. We did the party game I used to hate when I was a child, "Here is a tray of 13 items - see how many you can remember". Well with such a good t eacher and determined to give it a go... She said "try to bunch the items in to metal, paper, etc." And it WORKED !! I remembered all the items.!!

Maureen Mguni
This is an excellent idea and I am glad to hear that there is a number of people who have the same problem as I have. I find that when I am at my lowest I can hardly remember anything, maybe involuntarily not willing to remember. It is true that my memory defines who I am at different stages in my life. We need more programmes like this.

i did well in the memory test although i wasnt good with the scentences but i remembered the smiley face

Em Howard
At age 14 I fell off 1-1/2 story building and though not examined by a doctor suspect I had a concussion. At age 21 I was bucked off a horse and knocked unconscious, another concussion. What I'm curious abut is how I understand things "in the moment", but when I want to pull information back up, it is a struggle and impossible, especially names. Like now, I can tell you the problem but cannot give you specifics. Now I learn I have "water on the brain" and wonder what part this plays. I thought babies were the ones born with hydroenc. (sp?). Is this a condition I've developed from the two head injuries? How do I get a healthy brain and memory and not get Alsheimer's?

Richard Bowell
I do not usually listen to radio 4 but yesterday I wanted to try something new to see if some intelligent input via radio might stop me getting depressed. Anyway, I caught the preview of this Memory programme and remembered to listen to it. It was fascinating - particularly about depression. In my case I do not think that it is a lack of memory that makes me depressed but rather remembering everything. Periodically I get stuck in negative thinking and feelings that I find impossible to get myself out of. I think that I have a much higher proportion of negative memories than positive ones. I actually struggle to remember a positive memory that does not eventually get associated with a negative outcome. The professional on the show today highlighted Cognative Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which I have already heard of but not tried. I think he suggested that CBT might offer a means to navigate oneself out of depression when one gets stuck in negative thinking or generalised thinking. This was a "Wow!" moment for me - to consider that there might be a means to think oneself out of a depressive episode - to be able to think myself out of depression... After hearing the show, and sleeping on it, I began to wonder if my father suffered negative thinking episodes but did not come to realise that he had undiagnosed depressive episodes. Only now, after 4+ years on prozac type drugs, am I considering the link between my depression and my negative thinking episodes. After this programme today I began to wonder if depression in my family explained not only my relationship with my father, but now my own depression. Are negative thinking episodes and depression the same thing? Thank you for this marvellous programme today.

Kelly Connor
Hi Mariella, It might be helpful to your discussion to draw a distinction between habit and memory. The example given in today's program about people 'remembering' how to brush their hair despite extensive memory loss, illustrates a lack of recognition about the difference between the two. I look forward to hearing more of this fascinating subject. Best wishes, kelly Connnor

Any chance of getting this on pod cast?

Super Show!

Steve Godwin
In the memory test I did not press the button when the smiley face came up. However when reading the review I remembered quite clearly that I had to press the had not forgotten the task but had not responded to the stimulus. Why? I was distracted by the other activities so it passed me by. This is an example of filtering information and concentrating on task at hand, not a lapse of memory. The smiley face may not have been of the same form as originally presented either. Can you improve memory or is one simply making use of psychological tools to enhance memory? e.g. a mnenomic or mental schema. Is using a notepad a way of improving memory (external tools ref: film mememto)?

Noëlle Poole
Please could you discuss, controlling baD memories. For example, I have suffered 2 extreme;y traumatic incidents in my life. I have not erased them from my memory, but I have learnt how to block these memories. I believe people can develop strategies for coping with bad memories so that they do not become permanently depressed.

Stephen Tyler
I sustained a serious 'head-injury' in 1976 as a result of being kinocked over at the age of 17. I was in a coma for 13.5 weeks(from early Feb - early May) I have often felt that this makes me a lot more susceptible to acquiring Alzheimers disease! Is this correct? How do I help myself to avoid this illness, if possible. I can remember all 'life events' upto New Years Eve 1975, but nothing from that day until 2 weeks before I came round into consciousness in May 1976.

Quentin Mair
Very interesting to hear about lack of memories linking with depression. When my wife died suddenly, if was as if a veil had been drawn across my memory, and I could remember little of our seventeen years of marriage though could rememeber my life before that. Over the years since then some memories of the marriage years have returned and more can be triggered by looking at photographs. Though not the many memories that I could recall previously.

Maria Dale
I sustained a serious head injury in February, 2000. I had a Crainiotomy and a slither of brain tissue was removed from my right temporal lobe. I have no memory of the incident which caused it, (alledged assault), but fortunately I the rest of my memory was intact. I had suffered Depression before this event and continue to do so now. I can relate to the white/black horse theory. I have always subscribed to the "half-empty" analogy. My first memory is being in a puschair being pushed up a hill. We had collected a kitten from my father's workplace and estimate I was about two and a half years old. I also remember the first "Moon Walk". Aged five years old, my older sister and I, aged 10, sat at the bedroom window looking at the moon!

Alan Coady
I was fascinated by the account of Doug's memory loss in "Unknown White Male." Mariella pointed out that some personal features remained unaffected, such as Doug's impeccable manners, instilled at public school. A product and lifelong employee of state education, I have struggled for years to pintpoint the source of my necessarily appalling manners but now all is clear. Thank you very much.

Hi, I have just listned in to the programme from 09.10 to 09.35 and have to say it is incredibly boring. I'm now listening to a woman who lost a good part of her memory due to herpies. She is obviously is suffering from depression and has problems - but this is just so repetative. Can you not just make your points and get on with explanations and solutions in a more interesting way?

John Coyne
Wednesdays I reach for the radio "off" switch at 9.05 to avoid the normal trivial offering. I am glad I was too late this morning. Can this type of programme be made permanent?
[From John - production team - as much of the Memory content will be permanently available on the listen again page as we have rights to - everything except the dramas and readings.]

diane halasz
I wouldn't say I suffer specifically from depression but it does sadden me when my grown up children talk of various happenings in their childhood of which I have no memory at all. It makes me feel inadequate and uncaring: if it was important to them then why not for me ? Strangely I am excellent at remembering telephone nos but awful with names.

Stuart Baker-Brown
Hi, what about future memory? People have premonitions that come true...Is that a memory from the future? Is it a memory. Can it be explained.

caroline mathers
This is a very interesting subject. As a mildly dyslexic person I suffer from a short term memory problem. It is extremely frustrating when trying to learn new languages or retain academic facts and figures. I find this quite depressing as I have to try so hard to recall information I have just learnt. People who have good memories are also thought of as more inteligent because they can recall information and impress us with the breadth of their knowledge. This makes me depressed sometimes, as I would like to be able to share the things I know I know, but just can't remember! Despite this I have achieved two masters degrees, so I know I have the capacity to remember things long term, but my short term memory needs to work first. I am hoping to learn how to develop this better and therefre become less frustrated in my learning experiences. Thanks.

James Lock
Please release this as a podcast!
[From John - Production Team - You're in luck - it will be available this Friday as the Radio 4 Choice podcast]

David Reilly
I am looking forward to this series very much. I think the ability to control and effectively use our mind and body to their full untapped capabilities and potential is a dying art in our technologically over reliant world which is not elevating our culture or expanding our understanding as ancient societies and people did. We in the ‘developed’ world no longer evolving, we just get a machine to do a difficult task for us. I would say that aboriginal peoples around the world are still using and honing skills we in the modern world have abandoned. One of the few great examples amongst us to have evolved himself to a higher level of ability than is normal in our society is the illusionist Derren Brown. Please have him on a future program to ask how he has taught himself to perform such feats of recall.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy