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THE NEUROLOGICALJUSTIFICATION FOR THE USE OF INTERRUPTION IN COMMUNICATION* FRANK FREMONT-SMITH] It has long been known that when injury to the brain leads to memory loss, as in concussion or disease, it is nearly always recent memory that is most affected. Likewise, in old age or senile dementia, it is short-term memory that is impaired while long-term memory is retained. Similarly, the elderly often remember childhood events vividly but may be at a loss to recall what happened yesterday. In general, it may be stated that in adults, the longer a memory resides undisturbed in the central nervous system, the more difficult it becomes to modify it. If by chance such a memory represents a misconception, the longer the error remains uncorrected the more difficult it is to make the necessary change. Vice versa, the more recent the memory the more susceptible it is to change or correction. Under stress, too, there is the tendency to revert to an earlier memory, as, for instance, ifa telephone number which has long been familiar is changed, it is the old not the new number which is recalled in a moment of stress. In the more than three hundred interdisciplinary conferences that the author has organized over the past thirty-odd years for theJosiah Macy Jr. Foundation, the AmericanInstitute ofBiological Sciences, and the New York Academy ofSciences, it has been found that prompt interruption ofa speaker, in order to ask a question, to pose a doubt or even to make a comment, added greatly to the effectiveness ofcommunication at the conference . Occasionally, interruption of a presentation was objected to, especially by those who preferred to make lengthy statements, but most * Paper presented at the 1969 annual meeting of the American Neurological Association and reprinted here with permission of Transactions ofthe American Neurological Association. t Address: 149 Brewster Road, Massapequa, New York 11758. 333 of our participants soon found that the interrupting process resulted in a more lively and interesting conference than the usual reading of formal papers. Such interruption was clearly far more desirable in terms ofcommunication than the usual procedure ofuninterrupted presentations followed by discussion. The major goal ofthese multi-professional conferences was to facilitate cross-discipline communication in depth. Prompt interruption provided for early correction ofmisunderstanding. As conference organizer, the author frequently used the phrase "Don't speak when I'm interrupting" as encouragement to theparticipants to interrupt. Itwas, however, only after the admonition "Don't speak when I'm interrupting" had been in operation in our conferences for several years that the author realized that the clinical aspects ofmemory loss suggested a neurological basis tojustify the use ofinterruption in enhancing communication. Eugene N. Sokolov, ofthe University ofMoscow, USSR, states that in order to remember we probably need to make in the nervous system a neuronal model of our environment against which new inputs are constantly compared. He also points out that the orienting reflex which is perhaps evoked by interruption consists oftwo parts: a sampling operation and a registration function, the latter evidenced by the participation ofthe autonomic nervous system without which participation there is no arousal. Karl Pribram has evidence for the involvement ofthe frontal and limbic systems in the building of such a model as that to which Sokolov refers. It has become evident that remembering and forgetting are complex, multiphasic, dynamic operations and that the concept ofa memory trace is, as F. M. R. Walshe states, "largely speculative" and does not dojustice to the intricacy ofthe process. Another matter which is crucial to this thesis has to do with the transfer of information. M. L.Johnson Abercrombie, in The Anatomy ofJudgment, points out that contrary to the commonly held view we do not, when exposed to something novel, first observe the phenomenon and then as a second step make an interpretation. Rather, she emphasizes, there is a builtin interpretation which takes place during the very act of observation. When we observe what is new, we do not deal with a "tabula rasa" but always make such an observation in relation to past experience. Since each person has had a unique past, each observes and interprets a new phenomenon in a somewhat different way and...


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