Experts have long thought that a person’s working memory is limited to remembering only four things. But a new study by researchers at MIT suggests that the brain can actually process different amounts of things with both the right and left hemisphere. They hope their findings may affect “heads up displays,” brain games and lead to better cognitive therapy approaches. Timothy Buschman, a post-doctoral researcher at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and the Picower Professor of Neuroscience, Earl Miller, explored the neural basis of working memory in monkeys to determine the capacity of human’s working memory. For many years, experts have believed that humans have only four slots in which to hold memory, but this belief has been debated by others who believe that our memory works more like a pool.
“Our study shows that both the slot and the pool models are true,’ says Miller. “The two hemispheres of the visual brain work like slots, but within each slot, it’s a pool. We also found that the bottleneck is not in the remembering, it is in the perceiving.” Because perception is a fundamental tool that each person uses in order to process our surroundings, this discovery sheds new light on how the human consciousness works.
“The fact that we have different capacities in each hemisphere implies that we should present information in a way that does not overtax one hemisphere while under-taxing the other,” explains Buschman. He adds that this should be kept in mind when implementing cognitive therapies to improve a person’s working memory. The researchers hope to further explore this topic in order to determine just why the bottleneck of perception occurs. Miller adds, “That would give us a deep understanding of how the brain represents information and would give us the first real insights into consciousness.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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