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Anticipation Could Have An Intense Effect On Memory

ry for Brain Imaging and Behavior. "Just the expectation of seeing something bad can enhance the memory of it after it happens."

A teacher who struggles with stage fright, for example, might feel anxious before every class she has to teach. The UW-Madison work suggests that the longer she spends dreading her next lecture, the stronger her memory of the uncomfortable experience is likely to be when it is over. Unfortunately, that sets a vicious cycle in motion, because the stronger her memory of discomfort, the worse her performance anxiety is likely to get.

The UW-Madison scientists found that two key regions of the brain - the amygdala and the hippocampus - become activated when a person is anticipating a difficult situation. Scientists think the amygdala is associated with the formation of emotional memories, while the hippocampus helps the brain form long-term recollections, Nitschke says.

The researchers studied the brain activity of 36 healthy volunteers using a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, which produces high-contrast images of human tissue. They began by showing the volunteers two kinds of signals. One was neutral, but the other indicated that some type of gruesome picture was soon to follow, such as explicit photos of bloody, mutilated bodies. Thirty minutes after the researchers had shown dozens of violent images, they quizzed study participants on how well they remembered the pictures they had just seen.

"We found that the more activated the amygdala and hippocampus had been during the anticipation [of the pictures], the more likely it was that a person would remember more of them right away," says Nitschke.

Two weeks after the experiment, scientists met with the study subjects again to measure how well they remembered the same disturbing images. This time, they found that people who best remembered them had shown the greatest amygdala and hippocampus activity during t
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