Perry's memory gaffe could be linked to studied health issue

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on November 10, 2011 at 6:29 PM

Team Perry is in damage control mode, trying to clean up an "Oops” moment at Wednesday night's GOP debate when Texas Governor Rick Perry couldn't remember a key point of his presidential campaign.
 
"The third agency of government I would do away with the education, the uh, the commerce and let's see.  I can't the third one. I can't.  Oops," said Perry.
 
Forgetfulness in geniuses is often considered a sign of brilliance. Einstein was famous for it.
 
Among the rest of us, senior moments are considered a sign of incompetence, aging, or disease.
 
Brain researchers said in Perry's case, it was none of those things. 
 
In fact, there is a name for what happened to Perry.
 
"The tip of the tongue experience, or state," said Dr. Alan Brown, memory researcher at SMU. "It's where you know you have the information, but you just can't get it out right at the moment."
 
Dr. Brown knows all about the phenomenon because he researches the memory and even wrote a book on "The Tip of the Tongue State."
 
He said stress temporarily causes part of the brain called the hippocampus to malfunction.
 
Researchers still haven't figured out why the brain goes haywire.  Scientist point out the difficulty of trying to recreate a temporary memory lapse under laboratory conditions. But, Perry apparently showed classic signs at the debate in just the one word he couldn't recall.
 
"He was trying to remember commerce, education and energy," Dr. Brown said. "Well he had two e-words.  He got the first e-word out, and it bullied the second e-word.  And it sounds fairly simple.  But if you think of when you get a tip of the tongue with another word blocking it, it's almost always the same first letter or the same first sound."
 
Dr. Brown said people who know they have trouble with instant recall, should study harder to reduce the risk of forgetting important information.  Physical exercise also impacts memory function.
 
So perhaps, experts say, Perry might consider hitting the gym along with the books.

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