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Memories: It's all in the packaging, scientists say

Researchers at UC Irvine have found that how much detail one remembers of an event depends on whether a certain portion of the brain is activated to "package" the memory.

The research may help to explain why sometimes people only recall parts of an experience such as a car accident, and yet vividly recall all of the details of a similar experience.

In experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the scientists were able to view what happened in the brains of subjects when they experienced an event made up of multiple contextual details. They found that participants who later remembered all aspects of the experience, including the details, used a particular part of the brain that bound the different details together as a package at the time the event occurred. When this brain region wasn't activated to bind together the details, only some aspects of an event were recalled. The findings appear in the current issue of Neuron.

"This study provides a neurological basis for what psychologists have been telling us for years," said Michael Rugg, director of UCI's Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and senior author of the paper. "You can't get out of memory what you didn't put into it. It is not possible to remember things later if you didn't pay attention to them in the first place."

The scientists presented 23 research subjects with a list of words while they underwent an fMRI scan. The words were in different colors and would appear in one of four quadrants on a screen. The subjects had to decide whether the words represented an animate or inanimate object. Later, the participants were presented the words again, interspersed with words they had not seen before, and asked if they remembered seeing those words before. They were also asked if they remembered in what color the word had originally been and in which of the four quadrants it had originally appeared.

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Source:University of California - Irvine


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