On This Day … 17 December

People (Births)

  • 1930 – Dorothy Rowe, Australian psychologist and author (d. 2019).
  • 1931 – James McGaugh, American neurobiologist and psychologist.

Dorothy Rowe

Dr. Dorothy Rowe (née Conn; 17 December 1930 to 25 March 2019) was an Australian psychologist and author, whose area of interest was depression. Born; Newcastle, NSW. Died Sydney, NSW.

Rowe came to England in her forties, working at Sheffield University and was the head of Lincolnshire Department of Clinical Psychology. In addition to her published works on depression, she is a regular columnist in the UK.

She spent her time working with depressed patients and, through listening to their stories, came to reject the medical model of mental illness, instead working within personal construct theory. She believes that depression is a result of beliefs which do not enable a person to live comfortably with themselves or the world. Most notably it is the belief in a “Just World” (that the bad are punished and the good rewarded) that exacerbates feelings of fear and anxiety if disaster strikes. Part of recovering is accepting that the external world is unpredictable and that we control relatively little of it.

In July 1989, Rowe made an extended appearance on the British television discussion programme After Dark alongside, among others, Steven Rose, Frank Cioffi, The Bishop of Durham and Michael Bentine.

The BBC were required to apologise to Dorothy Rowe in 2009 after the production editing of her radio interview misrepresented her views on the impact of religion in providing structure to people’s lives.

James McGaugh

James L. McGaugh (born 17 December 1931) is an American neurobiologist and author working in the field of learning and memory. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Neurobiology and Behaviour at the University of California, Irvine and a fellow and founding director of the Centre for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Career

McGaugh received his B.A. from San Jose State University in 1953 and his PhD in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959. He was briefly a professor at San Jose State and then did postdoctoral work in neuropharmacology with Nobel Laureate Professor Daniel Bovet at the Istituto Superiore di Sanitá in Rome, Italy. He then became a professor at the University of Oregon from 1961 to 1964. He was recruited to the University of California, Irvine, in 1964 (the year of the school’s founding) to be the founding chair of the Department of Psychobiology (now Neurobiology and Behaviour). He became dean (1967-1970) of the School of Biological Sciences and Vice Chancellor (1975-1977) and executive Vice Chancellor (1978-1982) of the university. In 1982, he founded the Centre for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and remained director from 1982 to 2004.

Early Research Findings

McGaugh’s early work (in the 1950s and 1960s) demonstrated that memories are not instantly created in a long-term, permanent fashion. Rather, immediately after a learning event, the memory is labile and susceptible to influence. As time passes, the memory becomes increasingly resistant to external influences and eventually becomes stored in a relatively permanent manner, a process termed memory consolidation. McGaugh found that drugs, given to an animal shortly after a learning event, influence the subsequent retention of that event. The concept of such “post-training” manipulations is one of McGaugh’s greatest contributions to the field of learning and memory because it avoids many potential confounds, such as performance effects of the drug, that may occur when a drug or other treatment is given prior to the training.

Over the ensuing decades, McGaugh and his research colleagues and students extended the findings into a long-term investigation of emotionally influenced memory consolidation. As most people realise, they have stronger memories for long-ago events that were emotionally arousing in nature, compared with memories for emotionally neutral events (which may not be remembered well at all). McGaugh’s research examined how emotional arousal influences memory consolidation. In particular, he has found that stress hormones, such as epinephrine and cortisol, mediate much of the effects of emotional arousal on subsequent retention of the event. These hormones, in turn, activate a variety of brain structures, including the amygdala, which appears to play a key role in modulating memory consolidation. The amygdala, when activated, influences a variety of other brain structures, including the hippocampus, nucleus accumbens and caudate nucleus that process different aspects of memory. It is through this “orchestration” of brain structures that memories are eventually formed and stored, though the exact nature of memory storage remains elusive.

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