Obsessive disorders affect memory

All you who obsess about your inability to retain precious knowledge – research shows that fixations severely impact your ability to remember and utilize, as they say in Legalese, that which you are trying to learn.  

The research is very specific – it focuses on eating disorders.  If you ever had an eating disorder, you know that food features prominently in your thoughts.  It’s the enemy to destroy, burn or shun.  What caused you to fixate on food doesn’t matter anymore in the advanced stages.  You’ve become a warrior, and food is your preferred target.  You go through the rest of your life like a zombie, performing all other motions mechanically and without engagement.  In response, food doesn’t nourish you anymore. 

There is no question that these disorders take their heavy physiological and psychological toll.  Memory, which is a mysterious faculty itself, comes to be undermined as well.  I will ignore the physiological factors and focus on the cognitive underpinnings of this phenomenon. 

Look at this painting: 

Do you see the elongated object at the front bottom of the painting? Can you tell right away what it is?


It is a skull, but to see it as such, you have to start looking at it from weird angles.  And when you finally see the skull, the rest of the painting appears blurred.  And because this skull puzzled you and made you spend some considerable time transforming it into something intelligible, every time you look at the painting, you kinda forget that there are other objects in it.  And the next time you see that painting, you go straight for the hypnotizing skull.  Hypnotizing it is, because it’s hard to remember the angle from which you saw it properly.  And at one point you don’t even care to see it properly, you just stare at this elongated blob at the bottom of the picture. 

The analogy with eating disorders is a loose and fast one, but it works.  Food is like that skull – at first, you just wanted to figure out how to eat it so that you stay thin, or healthy, or whatever it is that launched you on that path.  (Yes, I think obsession with eating healthy can also evolve into an eating disorder.)  And then food absorbed you.  It crammed everything else aside.  It rules over you.  It is now an elongated, zombifying blob. 

OK, I pushed it a little, because I want to make a point – if you obssess about stuff, it ends up possessing you.  Ditto about Latin and Greek paradigms – don’t allow them to turn into an elongated blob.  There are simple and efficient ways to master them and move on to the real fun. 



16 thoughts on “Obsessive disorders affect memory

  1. I’ve found your post by pure chance, but I’ll remember your elongated blob not to allow anything to turn into it. It seems to me it was in no way fortuitous I need such a view on problems. Thanks.

  2. Weird, I figured out it was a skull at first look. Lol. And the rest of the picture didn’t look blurred.

    1. I also saw the skull immediately, before reading the rest of the post. But I am ever the pessimist, and generally see the worst in everything.

      1. Oh come on, you must have heard me talking about it and that’s why you saw it… AM I THE ONLY DUPE HERE??

        Did you take in all other details? I am now obsessing about the greenish tint of those curtains.

  3. Excuse me, I didn’t want to frighten you. I think ‘the skull’ is a good experience for those like me who concentrates on a problem hence doesn’t see another decisions. When you aware this, you can deal with your obstucle. It’s rather good psychological technique. By the way, it was an answer to me what to do with the problem I’m trying to decide now.
    Unfortunately, I’m not a fortunate possessor of a good ability of attention dividing like you, Ksche. I can’t but admire you, nature or your experience gave you a remarkable gift.

    1. You didn’t scare me at all – I was happy that I got to say a word in Russian. I am Bulgarian, by the way.

      I wonder if the Zeigarnik Effect has something to do with all this. I wrote a post some time ago about it. Prof. Zeigarnik, who is also Russian, argued that frequent interruptions facilitate memory and learning. So if we interrupt whatever activity we are fixated on for the sake of some other activity, maybe the first activity will come better into focus… Have to percolate a bit more on that.

  4. I would have posted the video below on the Feynman post (Bongo), but somehow it fits this one as well. The guy had a peculiar strategy for coping with disappointment, e.g., watching a not-so-pretty woman dive into the swimming pool:

  5. Rali, frankly speaking I’ve never heard about Zeigarnik Effect so I read a little. It seems to me that it doesn’t connect with attention focusing which this picture shows. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that it shows peculiarities of person’s attention and is connected with memory only through it. As for the Zeigarnik Effect, all my study is build on it, as my study is only a little part of my life and I have to interrupt it frequently to do other more important things. By the way, I believe it works rather effectively and not only by reason of motivation and emotions. I feel that if I have a problem (interrupted task) my brain keeps solving it subconsciously. I wonder, why do you connect Zeigarnik Effect with the effect of this picture?
    Rali, it’s interesting how different perception we have. Do you really think Faynman is disappoint watching a not-so-pretty woman? It seems to me he is rather sexy man and he simply can’t think about serious things near a pretty woman. But the video was really interesting for me as I could see a way of thinking of such a great scientist.

    1. Irina – I love your questions! The connection to the Zeigarnik effect first. For the longest time, I thought something was wrong with me, b/c I feel the urge to interrupt whatever I am doing and then come back to it, especially if I am doing something really exciting (like responding here – I got up three times already). I think it is a claustrophobia of sorts, or maybe I just came to enjoy interruptions instead of resenting them… So when I see a blob that spellbinds me (positively or negatively), I nead to take a breath. Not that I stop thinking about it, but doing so while twirling my hair or doing situps makes me think better. Does this make sense?

      About Feynman – he cracked me up at the beginning of the video, so I just ran with it. Plus, it’s my own way of responding to negative stuff – I just start thinking of the amazing configurations involved. The guy is something else – there is a link to the site dedicated to him on the Bongo post.

      1. Rali, you interruptions is only your manner of thinking and have nothing to do with any phobia, I think like you and many people do the same. I remember an interesting fact as for Mendeleev who saw his periodic table of elements in his night dream. So our brain works even when we sleep and certainly when we do other things and if you have good concentration your brain really need other activities to have a rest. So it’s maybe only a phobia of being taken ill and you perfect imagination…
        By the way, try to see at the picture at certain distance, and the effect of blurred things disappears.
        You have a good way of responding to negative stuff, I don’t manage to do like you but I frequently use reframing (it’s from NLP) and it helps me very much. Do you know something about this?

        1. Irina – I had to check reframing and NLP. Yes! What I do is pretty much it, that’s why I feel the need to do something else while percolating. I should tru looking at The Blob while doing The Standing Seat, huh:)

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