Bullet in the brain
Why does the brain mainly remember negative memories as you age ?
In the short story “Bullet in the Brain” written by Tobias wolff we get the story of an old miserable critic “Anders” a man with a really bad temper and an extreme dislike for anyone who is not him. Anders intellectual pride would eventually be his downfall as one day while at a bank, the robbers enter the bank and hold everyone hostage. Aer. the robber proceed to shoot Aders directly in the head. As the bullet enters his head Anders cynicism and intellectual pride fades away as we are taken to a memory straight out of his youth. Keep in mind this was Ander’s final memory, he did not remember any memories from his adult life, instead only one. Ander’s recalled the memory of him as a child going to play baseball where his cousin would go on to say the two words that really pleased anders “they is” . Anders recalled this memory because it was the last time he was truly happy and contempt with life, in his adulthood anders would've surely made fun of his cousin for the mispronunciation but as a kid hearing those two words changed his whole perspective about language
There have been many studies as to why it is easier for the brain to remember negative things. This begs the question as to why Anders was miserable as an old man and why he could only recall his last happy memory when he was youthful, he did not remember any of his adulthood memories, not marrying, not having a daughter, all he remembered was the last time he was truly happy. The brain is an interesting tool, it tells our body how to function mentally and physically and without it it would be impossible to live. Now you think it being your brain it would want to remember what's best for you and block out the negative things in life, with Anders however as time went by he could only recall the bad things in life they outweigh any good memories he had he was a miserable critic. This is evident by “ he did not remember deliberately crashing his father’s car into a tree” (bullet in the brain, pg 3) this clearly was a suicide attempt as by this time Anders was already misrable. “ He did not remember when he began to regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread, or when he grew angry at writers for writing them. He did not remember when everything began to remind him of something else. “ (Pg 4) clear signs that Anders had no recollection of his more positive memories, the bad memories outweigh the good ones.
Do we remember negative memories more vividly than positive ones? A question researchers have been meaning to answer According to many different studies it is easier to remember the bad memories over the good ones. In an issue in the “Current Directions in Psychological Science” Elizabeth Kensinger (Professor of Psychology, Boston College) publishes an article on why emotion is likely to reduce our memory inconsistencies. According to her research if an event is “pleasurable” or “unpleasant” is a big determinant in the way the event is remembered. Elizabeth’s study showed that negative events were easier to recall.
Furthermore, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging(fMRI) a procedure that uses MR imaging measure metabolic changes in a part of the brain. In Elizabeth's study this was used to determine that there is more activity in Emotional-Processing when it comes to handling negative Experiences. Amygdala, a part of gray matter in the brain that deals with experiencing emotions and another emotion related part of the brain, the Orbitofrontal Cortex was taken into consideration in this study. For example if you have an unpleasant event happened such as some threatening you, then the more activity there will be in these 2 areas of the brain which will make you recall details intrinsically linked to that event.
To continue, we have to consider some of the factors that make people remember negative events such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) PTSD is a mental condition that is caused by a traumatic event. PTSD is very common as about 8 million have PTSD in a given year (ptsd.va.gov) About 8 out of 100 people or 8% of the population will at some point in their life suffer from this mental illness (ptsd.va.gov) PTSD makes people relieve old and traumatic events making said person’s life tremendously difficult, PTSD affects the brain in the worst ways possibles, it is never said in the story if Anders Suffered from some sort of PTSD as he did not have any good recollections only hate.
Moving forward, a study from Ohio State University in which the participants were hooked up to a EEGs ( Machine used to measure brain activity) During this time the participants were shown a variety of pictures, one type of picture classified as “Positive” and the other classified as “ Negative” . The end result showed that even though the students brain showed arousal to both types of pictures, arousal for the negative pictures. From the study it was concluded that negative stimuli has a deeper effect than positive stimuli. The only flaw in this study was that it was performed on only men and it was not co-ed. However to counter argue this a study published in the “Journal of Neuroscience” a study with over 3,000 participants in which the participants were shown, neutral, negative, and positive images discovered that women responded more to the emotional images( In specific negative images). This study used fMRI to determine that women's brains showed more arousal to the negative images.
In conclusion, studies have shown that as you age your brain tends to remember the more negative than positive things, this may be in effect to why Anders grew up and became so miserable with himself. In terms of life, your brain tends to memorize those events that particularly displeased you more than those actually pleased you. This raises the question, why does your brain remember negative memories as you ? Research shows that unpleasing events are more likely to be remembered in detail that pleasant ones, bad memories tend to happen more often than good ones, many factors are played in to this question. In conclusion research after research shows as you age your brain tends to remember negative memories more.
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