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Ecology

The Psychology of Memory and the 2016 Election

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An intriguing new study uses the 2016 US Presidential election as a tool to examine the organization of human memory.

The results show that events that occur around the same time are linked in memory. Remembering one past event tends to trigger the recall of other memories from that time. This chronological clustering makes intuitive sense, but it’s a theory that’s been debated in psychology for a while, under the name of the temporal-contiguity effect (TCE).

According to the authors of the new study, Mitchell G. Uitvlugt and M. Karl Healey, most previous studies of the temporal-contiguity effect have relied on memories created in the lab (e.g. by getting people to read an ordered list of items). Instead, Uitvlugt and Healey used real-world memories.

In the first experiment, n=1,051 MTurk participants were asked (shortly after election day) to recall events from the 2016 Presidential campaigns. Participants could describe the events in any order, and in their own words. On average, each participant recalled almost 9 distinct events. Here’s what people remembered:

election_recallApart from the election results themselves, the most recalled event was Trump’s “Grab Them” tape being released, with ‘Peak of FBI Probe into Clinton’s emails’ a close runner-up.

The key test of the temporal-contiguity effect came when Uitvlugt and Healey looked at the ‘time lag’ between each participant’s consecutive recalled events. This revealed that short time-lags were more common than would be expected by chance, even correcting for the fact that news events that occured close in time also tended to have related content (semantic similarity).

temporalbiasSo the temporal-contiguity effect was confirmed in the first dataset. A second experiment, in which participants were asked (on May 2nd) to recall news events from 2018, replicated the results. However, the magnitude of the effect was smaller in the second study, a difference that Uitvlugt and Healey say is difficult to interpret without further research.

Overall, the authors conclude that:

Our results suggest that mere temporal proximity can cause memories to be linked. This is true even when events are not deliberately studied and do not occur one after another in a chainlike sequence… the data suggest that the memory system naturally encodes information about temporal distance and uses that information during memory search.

This does seem common-sense to me. However, when I tried to find evidence of temporal-contiguity in my own memory, I confess that I drew a blank. I just can’t remember what else was in the news around, say, the 2016 Brexit referendum, even though I remember that event very clearly.

Perhaps my memory is organized differently? Or perhaps temporal-contiguity doesn’t work when you are deliberately trying to make it happen…?

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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