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Decoding short-term memory with fMRI
Date:2/20/2009

People voluntarily pick what information they store in short-term memory. Now, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers can see just what information people are holding in memory based only on patterns of activity in the brain.

Psychologists from the University of Oregon and the University of California, San Diego, reported their findings in the February issue of Psychological Science. By analyzing blood-flow activity, they were able to identify the specific color or orientation of an object that was intentionally stored by the observer.

The experiments, in which subjects viewed a stimulus for one second and held a specific aspect of the object in mind after the stimulus disappeared, were conducted in the UO's Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging. In 10-second delays after each exposure, researchers recorded brain activity during memory selection and storage processing in the visual cortex, a brain region that they hypothesized would support the maintenance of visual details in short-term memory.

"Another interesting thing was that if subjects were remembering orientation, then that pattern of activity during the delay period had no information about color, even though they were staring at a colored-oriented stimulus," said Edward Awh, a UO professor of psychology. "Likewise, if they chose to remember color we were able to decode which color they remembered, but orientation information was completely missing."

Researchers used machine-learning algorithms to examine spatial patterns of activation in the early visual cortex that are associated with remembering different stimuli, said John T. Serences, professor of psychology at UC-San Diego. "This algorithm," he said, "can then be used to predict exactly what someone is remembering based on these activation patterns."

Increases in blood flow, as seen with fMRI, are measured in voxels -- small units displayed in a 3-D grid.
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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
Source:Eurekalert  

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