A Practical Theory of Memory Reconsolidation

by mr-hire1 min read13th Nov 201915 comments


Memory Reconsolidation

Memory Reconsolidation is one candidate for a scientific of theory of "How to Actually Change Your Mind." In this post, I'll give a few fake frameworks about how memory reconsolidation works, in order to provide intuition pumps for the rest of the sequence.

Schemas as Belief Clusters

For the purposes of this sequence, we'll describe a schema as a particular cluster of felt Aliefs that point towards a goal or set of goals.

I often find it useful to think of beliefs as arranged in a hierarchy of goals, as theorized in Perceptual Control Theory, Connection Theory, and Predictive Processing Theory.

Schemas, or Parts, then represent clusters of these beliefs trying to achieve some specific need.

In this framework, schema's don't represent any sort of natural boundary, and we can expand them and contract them at will based on what we're working on. Schemas themselves can overlap without natural boundaries, and can even contain their own internal conflicts.

3 Steps to Reconsolidate Schemas

In Unlocking the Emotional Brain, the authors state three steps needed for memory re-consolidation:

1. Activate the Old Schema

2. Challenge the Old Schema

3. Learn a Replacement Schema

All of the techniques covered in this sequence implicitly or explicitly cover the three steps. However, step #3 is also augmented later on in the Debugging Process through the "Integration" step.

The Tradeoff Between Activation and Challenge

There's an inherent tradeoff between activating the old schema and challenging it. The stronger and more perceptible the challenge is, the more likely it is to be strong enough to trigger the reconsolidation. However, this strength comes with two downsides:

1. Challenging yourself in a very strong way doesn't feel good. It feels internally violent.

2. The stronger the challenge, the more likely you are to deactivate the schema you're challenging, creating resistance and making reconsolidation impossible.

For this reason, we start with the techniques that provide the weakest challenges, and gradually work our way up to stronger and stronger challenge, waiting till we feel a shift towards a more nuanced and accurate schema.

4 Schema Access Points

In Kaj's Post on Unlocking the Emotional Brain, he points to a paper by Lane et al that give 3 ways to access a schema:

Because I think the names for these 3 methods to access a schema are overly long and technical, I'm going to call them Felt Sense (Emotional Responses), Belief (Semantic Structures) and Evidence (Episodic Memories). Based on my own experience with changework, I'll also add a fourth category, Metaphor (metaphorical representations of a schema).

Felt Sense involves looking at the physiological or indescribable "Feelings" evoked by a schema. An example is the tightness in your throat you get when trying to express yourself.

Belief involves the semantic content of a schema as expressed through language. An example is "If I express myself, then I will be ridiculed."

Evidence represents our internal memories of how we learned the schema. An example is blurting something out in 4th grade and being laughed at.

Metaphor represents some novel/new way of representing the schema, as an object, location, situation, or story. An example is imagining that you're wearing a mask at all times, and if you take it off people will see the silly clown face underneath and laugh at you.