MADISON -- Stress has long been pegged as the enemy of attention, disrupting focus and doing substantial damage to working memory the short-term juggling of information that allows us to do all the little things that make us productive.
By watching individual neurons at work, a group of psychologists at the University of WisconsinMadison has revealed just how stress can addle the mind, as well as how neurons in the brain's prefrontal cortex help "remember" information in the first place.
Working memory is short-term and flexible, allowing the brain to hold a large amount of information close at hand to perform complex tasks. Without it, you would have forgotten the first half of this sentence while reading the second half. The prefrontal cortex is vital to working memory.
"In many respects, you'd look pretty normal without a prefrontal cortex," said Craig Berridge, UWMadison psychology professor. "You don't need that part of the brain to hear or talk, to keep long-term memories, or to remember what you did as a child or what you read in the newspaper three days ago."
But without your prefrontal cortex you'd be unable to stay on task or modulate your emotions well.
"People without a prefrontal cortex are very distractible," Berridge said. "They're very impulsive. They can be very argumentative."
The neurons of the prefrontal cortex help store information for short periods. Like a chalkboard, these neurons can be written with information, erased when that information is no longer needed, and rewritten with something new.
It's how the neurons maintain access to that short-term information that leaves them vulnerable to stress. David Devilbiss, a scientist working with Berridge and lead author on a study published today in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, applied a new statistical modeling approach to show that rat prefrontal neurons were firing and re-firing to keep recently stored i
|Contact: David Devilbiss|
University of Wisconsin-Madison