Noninvasive treatment improves memory and reduces amyloid plaques in mice. By exposing mice to a unique combination of light and sound, MIT neuroscientists have shown that they can improve cognitive and memory impairments similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
I recently visited the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia – one of the best art museums in the world. I was expecting to serenely experience its masterpieces, but my view was blocked by a wall of smart phones taking pictures of the paintings. And where I could find a bit of empty space, there were people taking selfies to create lasting memories of their visit.
Say you meet an old friend at the train station. She is standing about a metre ahead of you, and on the tracks to your right a train has just pulled into the station. Behind your friend you see a bakery. We often remember such scenes in vivid detail. But exactly how we do that by forming mental images has long been a bit of a mystery.
We all want other people to “get us” and appreciate us for who we really are. In striving to achieve such relationships, we typically assume that there is a “real me”. But how do we actually know who we are? It may seem simple – we are a product of our life experiences, which we can be easily accessed through our memories of the past.
To uncover how the brain keeps track of an animal’s experience, we started by asking how the brain records its electrical activity. Every experience you have, from chatting with a friend to smelling french fries, corresponds to its own unique pattern of electrical activity in the nervous system and brain. These activity patterns are defined by which neurons are active and in what way they’re active.
When we have a new experience, the memory of that event is stored in a neural circuit that connects several parts of the hippocampus and other brain structures. Each cluster of neurons may store different aspects of the memory, such as the location where the event occurred or the emotions associated with it.
When you need to remember a phone number, a shopping list or a set of instructions, you rely on what psychologists and neuroscientists refer to as working memory. It’s the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind, over brief intervals. It’s for things that are important to you in the present moment, but not 20 years from now.
The internet may be the most comprehensive source of information ever created but it’s also the biggest distraction. Set out to find an answer on the web and it’s all too easy to find yourself flitting between multiple tabs, wondering how you ended up on a page so seemingly irrelevant to the topic you started on.
When you hold in mind a sentence you have just read or a phone number you’re about to dial, you’re engaging a critical brain system known as working memory. For the past several decades, neuroscientists have believed that as information is held in working memory, brain cells associated with that information fire continuously. However, a new study from MIT has upended that theory, instead finding that as information is held in working memory, neurons fire in sporadic, coordinated bursts.
It’s not uncommon to hear people wishing that they had a better memory. “If only I weren’t so forgetful”, they complain. “If only I could reliably remember my computer password, and that my neighbour’s name is Sarah, not Sandra.” If this sounds familiar then I know how you feel. As a psychologist who studies the science of remembering, it’s especially embarrassing to me that my memory is frequently dreadful. When asked whether I had a good weekend, I often struggle to immediately recollect enough details to provide an answer.