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A Psychological Review of “50 First Dates”

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The 2004 romantic comedy “50 First Dates” was a spin on the “Groundhog Day” notion of a day that keeps repeating itself. However, in this movie, the recycling takes place entirely inside the mind of Lucy Whitmore played by Drew Barrymore. Barrymore plays a young woman who was in an accident that caused short-term memory loss. Every night while she sleeps, the slate of her memory is wiped clean, and when she wakes up in the morning, she remembers everything that happened up to the moment of the accident, but nothing that happened afterward. In this movie, movie goers get to see a warmer side of Sandler. He reveals the warm side of his personality, and leaves behind the anger and gross-out humor of his past movies. Sandler plays Henry Roth, a marine biologist at a Hawaiian sea world, healing walruses, sea lions and dolphins and moonlighting as an expert in one-night stands. He romances women who are in Hawaii on vacation, and then forgets them when they go home.

One must imagine then, his amazement when he meets Lucy and finds that she forgets him every night. Lucy is surrounded by a great deal of support and love throughout her dilemma. Lucy can always rely on the support of her loving father and the staff at the local diner. Lucy?s close friends and family are suspicious of the motives of this guy who says he’s so much in love with her that he’s willing to start over with her every morning. Lucy gets a briefing every morning on what she has missed, and makes daily notes in a journal about her strange romance with Henry. Eventually this leads her to conclude that it’s unfair to Henry to have to endure her daily memory losses, and she says she wants to break up. Of course the formula for the movie requires this, but how the movie solves the problem in the end is in fact quite charming.

The movie 50 First Dates deals primarily with memory and memory loss. There are three different types of memory sensory information, short-term memory, and long-term memory. There are three processes that go along with memory. First is encoding, or taking information in and the storing of that information. Second is maintenance or the act of keeping the information ?alive”. Lastly, is the retrieval stage, which is where the information stored in the first two stages is brought back for use, or to put it simply the finding of encoded information.

In a relatively simple model of memory, sensory information that is obtained from the eyes, ears, noise, and so on, enters is either ignored or paid attention to. Ignored information doesn’t last very long. While new perceptual information quickly writes over old information, a process sometimes described as “interference.” Attended information is not only protected from interference, it is processed by higher-level mechanisms that figure out what it means. Once information is processed it can be encoded into the short-term memory. Usually, the short-term memory is described as having a limited storage capacity of seven, plus or minus two items.

These items “decay” and become inaccessible after a relatively brief interval, estimates range from about 12 to 30 seconds. In addition to decay, loss of information from the short-term memory can occur by interference when new information displaces older information. Interference does not always cause information to be lost, but may instead produce memory retrieval errors in which one recalls information that is similar to but not identical with that which is needed. Information can be maintained in short-term memory for releatively long periods using maintenance rehearsal, a term describing the act of mentally repeating the information to be maintained. In many cases, the reason one wishes to maintain information in the short-term memory is to allow time for it to be encoded into the long-term memory, and thus become more permanently available.

However, maintenance rehearsal does not appear to be very efficient way to get the memory into long-term memory. Another memory maintenance technique, elaboration rehearsal seems to work better. Long-term memory can store a very large quantity of information and can maintain that information for very long periods of time. It holds many different kinds of information including: facts, events, motor and perceptual skills, knowledge of physical laws, spatial models of familiar environments, attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others.

Many different factors seem to affect the difficulty of accessing a memory in the long-term memory. These factors include, the similarity between current conditions and those that existed when the memory was stored, how recently the memory was last used, its degree of inter-relatedness to other knowledge, and its uniqueness relative to other long-term memory information. Memory loss is unusual forgetfulness that can be caused by brain damage due to disease or injury, or it can be caused by severe emotional trauma. The cause determines whether memory loss comes on slowly or suddenly, and whether it is temporary or permanent.

Normal aging may result in trouble learning new material or requiring longer time to recall learned material. However, in the movie 50 First Dates Lucys memory loss comes after a head injury, and comes on very suddenly. Family support should be provided for people suffering with memory loss. Reality orientation is also recommended such as a supply familiar music, objects, or photos, to help the patient become oriented. Support for relearning may be required in some cases. Any medication schedules should be written down to avoid dependence on memory.

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