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Brain state affects memory recall

Date:
June 14, 2011
Source:
University of California - Davis
Summary:
Lost your keys? Your brain might be in a better state to recall where you put them at some times than at others, according to new research.

Lost keys at the beach. New research shows that the human brain might be in a better state to recall things at some times than at others.
Credit: Habman18 / Fotolia

Lost your keys? Your brain might be in a better state to recall where you put them at some times than at others, according to new research from UC Davis.

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A paper describing the work is published June 13 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's been assumed that the process of retrieving a memory is cued by an external stimulus," said Charan Ranganath, professor at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology. "But we found that the levels of brain activity before items came up were correlated with memory."

Graduate students Richard Addante and Andrew Watrous; Ranganath; Andrew Yonelinas, professor of psychology at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain; and Arne Ekstrom, assistant professor of psychology at the Center for Neuroscience, measured a particular frequency of brainwaves called theta oscillations in the brains of volunteers during a memory test.

Theta waves are associated with a brain that is actively monitoring something, Ranganath said. For example, rats show high theta waves while exploring a maze.

In the memory test, the volunteers had to memorize a series of words with a related context. They later had to recall whether they had seen the word previously and the context in which the word was seen.

High theta waves immediately before being prompted to remember an item were associated with better performance.

The work goes against the assumption that the brain is waiting to react to the external world, Ranganath said. In fact, most of the brain is busy with internal activity that is not related to the outside world -- and when external stimuli come in, they interact with these spontaneous patterns of activity.

It's not clear whether it is possible to deliberately put your brain into a better state for memory recall, Ranganath said. The laboratory is currently investigating that area -- with the hope that it might lead to better treatments for memory loss.

The work was funded by grants from the NIH.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard J. Addante, Andrew J. Watrous, Andrew P. Yonelinas, Arne D. Ekstrom, and Charan Ranganath. Prestimulus theta activity predicts correct source memory retrieval. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1014528108

Cite This Page:

University of California - Davis. "Brain state affects memory recall." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110613151716.htm>.
University of California - Davis. (2011, June 14). Brain state affects memory recall. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110613151716.htm
University of California - Davis. "Brain state affects memory recall." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110613151716.htm (accessed April 1, 2015).

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