Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Traces of the past: Computer algorithm able to 'read' memories

Date:
March 11, 2010
Source:
Wellcome Trust
Summary:
Computer programs have been able to predict which of three short films a person is thinking about, just by looking at their brain activity. The research provides further insight into how our memories are recorded.

To explore how memories are recorded, researchers showed volunteers three short films and asked them to memorize what they saw. The films were very simple, sharing a number of similar features -- all included a woman carrying out an everyday task in a typical urban street, and each film was the same length, seven seconds long. For example, one film showed a woman posting a letter.
Credit: Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL

Computer programs have been able to predict which of three short films a person is thinking about, just by looking at their brain activity. The research, conducted by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London), provides further insight into how our memories are recorded.

Related Articles


Professor Eleanor Maguire led this Wellcome Trust-funded study, an extension of work published last year which showed how spatial memories -- in that case, where a volunteer was standing in a virtual reality room -- are recorded in regular patterns of activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

"In our previous experiment, we were looking at basic memories, at someone's location in an environment," says Professor Maguire. "What is more interesting is to look at 'episodic' memories -- the complex, everyday memories that include much more information on where we are, what we are doing and how we feel."

To explore how such memories are recorded, the researchers showed ten volunteers three short films and asked them to memorise what they saw. The films were very simple, sharing a number of similar features -- all included a woman carrying out an everyday task in a typical urban street, and each film was the same length, seven seconds long. For example, one film showed a woman drinking coffee from a paper cup in the street before discarding the cup in a litter bin; another film showed a (different) woman posting a letter.

The volunteers were then asked to recall each of the films in turn whilst inside an fMRI scanner, which records brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow within the brain.

A computer algorithm then studied the patterns and had to identify which film the volunteer was recalling purely by looking at the pattern of their brain activity. The results are published in the journal Current Biology.

"The algorithm was able to predict correctly which of the three films the volunteer was recalling significantly above what would be expected by chance," explains Martin Chadwick, lead author of the study. "This suggests that our memories are recorded in a regular pattern."

Although a whole network of brain areas support memory, the researchers focused their study on the medial temporal lobe, an area deep within the brain believed to be most heavily involved in episodic memory. It includes the hippocampus -- an area which Professor Maguire and colleagues have studied extensively in the past.

They found that the key areas involved in recording the memories were the hippocampus and its immediate neighbours. However, the computer algorithm performed best when analysing activity in the hippocampus itself, suggesting that this is the most important region for recording episodic memories. In particular, three areas of the hippocampus -- the rear right and the front left and front right areas -- seemed to be involved consistently across all participants. The rear right area had been implicated in the earlier study, further enforcing the idea that this is where spatial information is recorded. However, it is still not clear what role the front two regions play.

"Now that we are developing a clearer picture of how our memories are stored, we hope to examine how they are affected by time, the ageing process and by brain injury," says Professor Maguire.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wellcome Trust. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Martin J. Chadwick, Demis Hassabis, Nikolaus Weiskopf, and Eleanor A. Maguire. Decoding Individual Episodic Memory Traces in the Human Hippocampus. Current Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.01.053

Cite This Page:

Wellcome Trust. "Traces of the past: Computer algorithm able to 'read' memories." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311123520.htm>.
Wellcome Trust. (2010, March 11). Traces of the past: Computer algorithm able to 'read' memories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311123520.htm
Wellcome Trust. "Traces of the past: Computer algorithm able to 'read' memories." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311123520.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 9 out of 10 excessive drinkers in the country are not alcohol dependent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins