Scientific Breakthroughs

Reactivating Memories Through Magnetic Brain Stimulation

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memory recall, working memory
Scientists say your “mind” is not confined to your brain, or even your body. Moreover, memories stowed away can be reactivated through a sophisticated technique.

Ever wondered how the brain is able to retain memories that a person can vividly recall, whereas others are stowed away, not influencing current action and future plans?  Hollywood has shown us countless movies depicting how memory can easily slip away, haunt people, or frame relationships.

In real life, certain people strive to recall some events and people in their past. Some even try to remember their best accomplishments or worst failures, which may still carry great value, to no avail. In other instances, we deliberately choose to forget. As the Barbra Streisand song goes, things stowed away in our hearts “may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember we simply choose forget.”

An interesting study published in the December 2016 issue of the journal Science, disclosed that through a sophisticated technique, stowed away pieces of information and memories can be reactivated.

Details of The Study Findings

The team of researchers who studied how to bring back stowed away things from the past, or a significant part of what are placed in people’s memory bank, acknowledged that whatever the brain decides to keep in mind or set aside but keep handy for easy retrieval is a “work in progress.”

The new study, spearheaded by Bradley Postle from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (who tucked a Ph.D.  from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who also co-wrote Decoding the Internal Focus of Attention plus other relevant studies on human memory), was lauded by neurosciences experts.

Dr. Tommy Sprague, whose research interests include `how the brain supports behavior requiring visual spatial cognition,’ tweeted “Very cool new study from Brad Postle’s lab on reactivating latent WM representations with external TMS stimulation.”

TMS refers to transcranial magnetic stimulation. The study presented how using that technique can enhance recognition of  seemingly forgotten stimuli and bring it back into the person’s focal attention.

The researchers presented evidence that suggested that humans can hold information in their working memory through `activity-silent’ synaptic mechanisms. After decoding brain activity patterns, they found that the active representation of an item in working memory tended to drop to baseline when attention shifts away.

Through a targeted pulse of transcranial magnetic stimulation, the item or memory briefly reemerged. The finding underscored cognitive control. Studying how the brain apportions attention could eventually influence the way we understand and treat mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, the researchers deduced.

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