Your Brain's Activity Before an Event May Impact How Well You Remember It

First Posted: Dec 04, 2014 10:01 AM EST

Scientists have taken a closer look at memory in the brain and have found that brain activity prior to seeing an item is related on how well it is later remembered. The new findings reveal a bit more about how brain activity influences memory in the longer term.

"If you're interested in memory, you want to know the factors that are associated with it being worse as well as what makes it better," said Richard Addante, lead author of the new paper, in a news release. "Knowledge of these factors can lead to developing ways to help improve memory."

In order to better understand what happens in the brain prior to forming a memory, the scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging. This allowed them to look for activity in different areas of the brain as a participant decided which of two words or pictures would fit inside the other; for example, a dog and a house. Moments before the task, participants were shown a cue-an "X" if items would be presented as words or an "O" if they would be presented as pictures. Then 20 minutes later, volunteers were tested on how well they remembered the pairs of items.

"We found that the brain activity before people were presented with information predicted how well people ended up remembering that information on a later memory test," said Addante. "What was really interesting was that bran activity wasn't just predictive of whether they remembered the information later, but how they remembered it."

More specifically, greater activity in the hippocampus before a participant saw the two items predicted that the subject was more likely to forget which items were in a pair. Increased brain activity in the frontal and parietal cortices, in contrast, predicted a greater likelihood that a volunteer would falsely identify items as previously paired even though they were not.

The findings reveal that how the brain prepares to study an event can affect how well it is remembered. This could help researchers develop strategies so that people can better remember specific events.

The findings are published in the journal NeuroImage.

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