(ORDO NEWS) — “It was not like that at all!” How often do people come across such an answer when discussing stories from distant childhood or from their past with relatives? Memory turns out to be an unreliable source of information, and even in some cases we not only forget some important elements, but “think out” something new. These kinds of memory errors are called false memories.
Human memory is not analogous to a computer or recorded video: every time a person remembers an element of information, a reconstruction of this event occurs in the brain, which in some cases entails changes. But what is happening in our brain that causes memory to change so much?
A group of scientists from Duke University in the United States tried to answer this question, literally forcing the participants in the experiment to remember something that actually did not exist. The research results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Two dozen people were invited to the MRI lab to watch 70 short videos – like at an ad or short film festival. The day after that, they watched the video again, but now half of the video clips were interrupted at the climax without warning.
For the participants, such an event came as a surprise, and any element of surprise is encoded in the brain by the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, acetylcholine and norepinephrine, helping to capture the event in more detail. On the third day, the subjects were interviewed to find out how much they memorized the plot of the video. It turned out that the majority thought out the content of the interrupted watched videos. They had a false memory of the clip they watched.
The researchers noticed what happens in the brain at the moment when people are faced with an unexpected event – an element of surprise, for example, when a video is interrupted at a key moment. They focused on studying such a structure as the hippocampus, an area in the temporal lobe of the brain responsible for transferring information from short-term to long-term memory.
While the participants watched the video to the end, hippocampal activity was stable. But after the video was interrupted in the middle, the stability of the activity patterns was disturbed, it was like a transition to a “different mode”, which allows updating the content of the memorized information.
The more unstable the interruption pattern was, the more people tended to create false memories. Most often, they were created on the basis of similarity, for example, semantic proximity: fragments in one video about sports were replaced with episodes from another.
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