Mixed-Up Memories

Just a minute of physical exertion can seriously impair a person’s memory of the threat that triggered it, says a new study. When we undergo a strenuous task, such as a chase or a fight, immediately after witnessing an event, we have much less ability to remember the event’s details than if we’d taken time to process what we’ve seen. This calls the concept of eyewitness testimony into serious question. As I’ve written here and Jonah Lehrer has written here, our memories aren’t nearly as static as we might like to think. In fact, each time we recall a memory, … Continue reading Mixed-Up Memories

Forget Me Not

Having trouble remembering where you left your keys? You can improve with a little practice, says a new study. It’s an idea that had never occurred to me before, but one that seems weirdly obvious once you think about it: people who train their brains to recall the locations of objects for a few minutes each day show greatly improved ability to remember where they’ve left things. No matter what age you are, you’ve probably had your share of “Alzheimer’s moments,” when you’ve walked into a room only to forget why you’re there, or set something down and immediately forgotten … Continue reading Forget Me Not

The Memory Master

A gene that may underlie the molecular mechanisms of memory has been identified, says a new study. The gene’s called neuronal PAS domain protein 4 (Npas4 to its friends). When a brain has a new experience, Npas4 leaps into action, activating a whole series of other genes that modify the strength of synapses – the connections that allow neurons to pass electrochemical signals around. You can think of synapses as being a bit like traffic lights: a very strong synapse is like a green light, allowing lots of traffic (i.e., signals) to pass down a particular neural path when the neuron … Continue reading The Memory Master

Catchin’ Some Waves

Our capacity for short-term memory depends on the synchronization of two types of brainwaves – rapid cycles of electrical activation – says a new study. When the patterns of theta waves (4-7 Hz) and gamma waves (25-50 Hz) are closely synchronized, pieces of verbal information seem to be “written” into our short-term memory. But it also turns out that longer theta cycles help us remember more bits of information, while longer gamma cycles are correlated with lower recall. These patterns are measured using electroencephalography (EEG), a lab technique with a long and successful history. Back in the 1950s, it helped scientists unravel the … Continue reading Catchin’ Some Waves

I Know Kung Fu

New technology may soon enable us download knowledge directly into our brains, says a new study. By decoding activation patterns from fMRI scans and then reproducing them as direct input to a precise area of the brain, the new system may be able to “teach” neural networks by example – priming them to fire in a certain way until they learn to do it on their own. This has led everyone from io9 to the National Science Foundation to make Matrix references – and it’s hard to blame them. After all, immersive virtual reality isn’t too hard to imagine – … Continue reading I Know Kung Fu

Harry Potter and the Nature of the Self

Yup, this is what we’re doing today. I finally got to see Deathly Hallows Part 2, and it got me thinking about neuroscience like frickin’ everything always does, and I came home and wrote an essay about the nature of consciousness in the Harry Potter universe. And we’re going to talk about it, because it’s the holidays and can we please just pull it together and act like a normal family for the length of one blog post? Thank you. I really mean it. Besides, I guarantee you that this stuff is gonna bug you too once I’ve brought it … Continue reading Harry Potter and the Nature of the Self

Digital Friendships

Those of us who have loads of Facebook friends tend to have greater development in several specific brain regions, says a new study. Researchers have found a strong correlation between large numbers of Facebook connections and increased development of gray matter – tissue containing neuron cell bodies, where dense communication occurs – in several regions crucial for social interaction: the amygdala, the right superior temporal sulcus (STS), the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG), and the right entorhinal cortex (EC). Intriguingly, the size of some of these regions seems to correlate only with the size of people’s online social networks – not their real-world ones. It’s not clear … Continue reading Digital Friendships