Memories exist even when forgotten, study suggests

September 9, 2009
Memories exist even when forgotten, study suggests
Jeff Johnson of the UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory and colleagues discovered that a person's brain activity while remembering an event is very similar to when it was first experienced, even if specifics can't be recalled. Photo by Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

A woman looks familiar, but you can't remember her name or where you met her. New research by UC Irvine neuroscientists suggests the memory exists - you simply can't retrieve it.

Using advanced brain imaging techniques, the scientists discovered that a person's brain activity while remembering an event is very similar to when it was first experienced, even if specifics can't be recalled.

"If the details are still there, hopefully we can find a way to access them," said Jeff Johnson, postdoctoral researcher at UCI's Center for the of Learning & and lead author of the study, appearing Sept. 10 in the journal Neuron.

"By understanding how this works in young, healthy adults, we can potentially gain insight into situations where our memories fail more noticeably, such as when we get older," he said. "It also might shed light on the fate of vivid memories of traumatic events that we may want to forget."

In collaboration with scientists at Princeton University, Johnson and colleague Michael Rugg, CNLM director, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain activity of students.

Inside an fMRI scanner, the students were shown words and asked to perform various tasks: imagine how an artist would draw the object named by the word, think about how the object is used, or pronounce the word backward in their minds. The scanner captured images of their brain activity during these exercises.

About 20 minutes later, the students viewed the words a second time and were asked to remember any details linked to them. Again, brain activity was recorded.

Utilizing a mathematical method called pattern analysis, the scientists associated the different tasks with distinct patterns of . When a student had a strong recollection of a word from a particular task, the pattern was very similar to the one generated during the task. When recollection was weak or nonexistent, the pattern was not as prominent but still recognizable as belonging to that particular task.

"The pattern analyzer could accurately identify tasks based on the patterns generated, regardless of whether the subject remembered specific details," Johnson said. "This tells us the brain knew something about what had occurred, even though the subject was not aware of the information."

Source: University of California - Irvine

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8 comments

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CSharpner
5 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2009
"Memories exist even when forgotten"

That makes no sense. Difficulty in recall is not "forgetting".... It's "difficulty in recall". If a memory no longer exists, THEN it is forgotten. When a memory is difficult to retrieve or recall, it's NOT forgotten... It's still there. You just need a better, internal search engine or better, internal indexing system.

People also frequently misuse the word "forgotten" in situations where their internal alarm clock doesn't fire, such as working through an appointment. When someone calls them to ask them why they aren't at the appointment, they immediately recall the memory of the appointment (by definition, NOT forgetting!), but then they say, "Oh! Sorry! I FORGOT!". No you didn't!
kerry
5 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2009
CSharpner:

Your clarification is probably valid, but I think the point still comes across well from the article. I think it's just a matter of wording you're annoyed with.
CSharpner
5 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2009
Kerry,

You're 100% right. It's just the article title that's screwy.
MongHTanPhD
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
RE: Memories recalled or manipulated or misinterpreted, etc!?

"Memories exist even when forgotten"

That makes no sense. Difficulty in recall is not "forgetting".... It's "difficulty in recall". If a memory no longer exists, THEN it is forgotten. When a memory is difficult to retrieve or recall, it's NOT forgotten... It's still there. You just need a better, internal search engine or better, internal indexing system.

People also frequently misuse the word "forgotten" in situations where their internal alarm clock doesn't fire, such as working through an appointment. When someone calls them to ask them why they aren't at the appointment, they immediately recall the memory of the appointment (by definition, NOT forgetting!), but then they say, "Oh! Sorry! I FORGOT!". No you didn't!


[to be continued in next multiple posts]
MongHTanPhD
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
RE: Memories recalled or manipulated or misinterpreted, etc!? [continued from last post]

Memory (or consciousness) research is still plagued by the incomprehension of our innate memory mechanisms and recall phenomenon, that I recently commented here: http://www.philos...k/?p=485&cpage=1#comment-1006 "The unnatural selection of consciousness -- RE: Commentary on Tallis' understanding of consciousness!?" (PhilosophyPressUK; August 14); in which I suggested that readers might appreciate my recent query and presentation of "consciousness" theory and "memory and recall" mechanisms in my seminal book "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (URL link below; and please see Chapter 15: The Universal Theory of Mind; especially, section 15.4, Memory Modulation and Recall: A New Hypothesis of Psychic Imagery, Perceptivity, Creativity, and Reflectivity; and section 15.6, New Understanding of Consciousness, Intelligence, Creativity, Dreams, Drives, and Hypnotism), etc. [to be continued in next post]
MongHTanPhD
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
RE: Memories recalled or manipulated or misinterpreted, etc!?

[continued from last post]

With this theory and mechanisms in mind, one can readily resolve the conflict of interpretations of memory and recall queries above; and easily identify the inadequacy and inaccuracy of research project, as one reported in the article above:
"The pattern analyzer could accurately identify tasks based on the patterns generated, regardless of whether the subject remembered specific details," Johnson said. "This tells us the brain knew something about what had occurred, even though the subject was not aware of the information."


[to be continued in next post]
MongHTanPhD
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
RE: Memories recalled or manipulated or misinterpreted, etc!?

[continued from last post]

On the contrary, whether Johnson realized it or not: 1) that the pattern analyzer may not identify nor reveal the context nor content of the memory patterns recalled; and 2) that such precognition memory-recall patterns are processed by our autonomous (neuro-endocrinal) or subconscious mechanisms first, before such memory-recall information could be realized consciously (with recollection and attention) by our brain as recalled memories.

As such, our memories are always modulated subconsciously in our brain, especially by the autonomous limbic (neuro-endocrino-cardiac) system; and our memories can also be easily recalled and/or manipulated consciously by our (attentional) prefrontal cortex, the executive center, where our (intentional) thoughts of life experiences (real or imagined) are generated!

[to be continued in next post]
MongHTanPhD
not rated yet Sep 10, 2009
RE: Memories recalled or manipulated or misinterpreted, etc!?

[continued from last post]

Best wishes, Mong 9/10/9usct1:51p; practical science-philosophy critic; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (2006: http://www.iunive...95379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006: http://www2.blogg...50569778 ).

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