Whether due to age, ailment, or lack of normal use and training, many people in modern times experience problems with memory. When such problems interfere with daily functioning, and especially with social interactions, the results can take a heavy toll on outlook and self-understanding, possibly contributing to depressive or anxious thoughts. But while not all lapses in memory lead to such unfortunate consequences, they aren’t exactly positive occurrences, by any measure. As such, the quest to understanding human memory on a deeper level than previously explored is of great import for the field of psychology. To this end, a team comprised of researchers and academics from the Université Toulouse and the Université de Bordeaux have created and published an investigative study of neuron operation in memory functions, available in the recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study, which was carried out with laboratory mice rather than human subjects, revolved around the hypothesis that new neurons–those created within the brain in one week or less prior to a relevant event–were responsible for the encoding and recollection of spatial memory within the brain’s hippocampus. The French team set out to test the idea by first labeling such neurons within the brains of mice. The mice were then introduced to a small tub of water, the only escape from which was a submerged flat board just beneath the surface. Observing the mice during their initial cognition concerning the task, the researchers found that it was indeed the new neurons that were activated.
The mice were given the same task a month later, and the same tagged neurons were shown to participate in brain activity during the exercise. Supporting the evidence was the fact that those mice who were not able to complete the task or who had difficulty showed an absence of the tagged neurons: a sign that they had either never activated or had failed during the one month interim. While the study’s interesting implications do not immediately provide a solution to help humans improve their memories, the research presents a strong basis upon which to continue the quest to find out how, precisely, the memory works, and what makes it problematic for some of us.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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