AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Memory

Memory Card Plugged in for Future Generations of Bacteria?

E. coli BacteriaHave you ever thought about the ability of being born with knowledge? It sounds like a plot out of a science fiction novel, yet recent research discovered that Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, despite not having a brain, are able to remember past encounters with nutrients and pass this information down to their future offspring. This discovery not only surprises microbial behavior scientists but also reveals the challenge behind the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Swarming of Bacteria
George O’Toole, a microbiologist at Dartmouth College, explains that while “we typically think of microbes as single-celled organisms,” they actually operate in collective units or swarms. Interestingly, when they move in swarms, they become stronger against Antibiotics because there are more of them close together. According to this article from Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that explain what is Antibiotic resistance, the reason E. coli bacteria become stronger against antibiotics when they are close together in swarms is due to their biological mutations, DNA exchange, and rapid reproductions. Mutations are essential to evolution, they can bring genetic variation (good or bad) to a specie. Because of the vast number of bacteria present and their high reproduction rate, many mutations can occur in a swarm of bacteria. Through random mutations and selection, bacteria can develop defense mechanisms against antibiotics. After some bacteria have developed some anti-antibiotic genes, bacteria will actively swap bits of DNA among both related or unrelated species. Thus, antibiotic-resistant genes will spread rapidly among a swarm of bacteria and can can even be incorporated into other species of bacteria. Finally, given the fast reproduction speed of bacteria, it does not take long for the antibiotic-resistant bacteria to fill up a huge portion of the bacteria population, therefore disabling/nerfing the effects antibiotic drugs.

Collective Memory of E. coli
A team of scientists, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, found that E. coli bacteria swarms have a form of memory that correspond to their exposure to nutrients. This experiment, led by Souvik Bhattacharyya from the University of Texas at Austin, observed unusual patterns in E. coli colonies. Through deeper examination with his science team, they concluded that these bacteria acted differently because of their previous experiences. Specifically, bacteria from colonies that had swarmed before were more likely to swarm again. This behavior was passed down to their descendants for four generations, suggesting a genetic memory of past actions in the bacteria.

Diagram of a gene on a chromosome CRUK 020.svg
By Cancer Research UK – Original email from CRUK, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Genes that are Responsible for this Behavior:
Further investigation was conducted to this phenomenon concluded that two genes responsible for iron uptake and regulation is the keys to bacteria’s memory. Bacteria with lower levels of iron, an essential nutrient for them, are more likely to move collectively(in swarms) to find environments with higher level of iron concentration. In addition to the past research that shown that many bacteria can remember and pass to their offspring of the description of their physical surroundings, this study suggests that bacterial can also remember and pass to their offspring about nutrients’ presence. This ability of bacteria to remember and pass on knowledge about physical surroundings and nutrient existence demonstrates bacteria’s evolution journey. 

This research increases our understanding of microbial life, showing that bacteria like E. coli can remember more the physical environments and can also recall the presence of nutrients. These memories will affect their decisions on where to settle and can increase their chances of surviving and fitness. O’Toole believes that this mechanism of bacterial memory is probably not exclusive to E. coli; it can actually be a common mechanism that exists among many different types of bacteria. The insights gained from studying these E. coli at a molecular level can provide valuable context for the development of antibiotics, offering new approaches as traditional antibiotics will eventually lose their effectiveness. 

Connection to AP Bio
In AP Biology, we’ve learned about Cell Signaling molecules and mechanisms used by organisms. Bacteria can also communicate amongst them when they are close together through a process called Quorum Sensing. Bacteria will secrete small chemical signaling molecules which will be detected by other bacteria nearby using their receptors. Through Quorum Sensing, bacteria are able communicate with others of their kind, sharing information about bacteria density and adjust gene expression accordingly. In addition, we will also be covering information about DNA, Heredity, and Evolution during this year in AP biology, which are also significant themes in this post. Numerous mutations will occur in swarms of bacteria due to their large number, this mutation of their DNA can occasionally cause significant change. If this change is extremely positive and can do this bacteria good, through natural selection, this gene will be kept and pass on to future generations of bacteria so that more and more bacteria will have this trait. This is the reason behind my antibiotics are slowly losing their functions. More and more bacteria have mutated and can resist the effects of antibiotic drugs.

What are your thoughts?
A couple of years ago, I often watched cartoons that portrays a type of technology that can give knowledge and pass memory to a newborn baby. I thought that it was a fascinating and unrealistic idea. However, during my research, I surprisingly found out that bacteria seemed to have this ability to pass on their memories to their offspring. What are your views about bacteria’s ability to memorize and pass their memories on to future generations? Do you think this experiment is helpful to future development of antibiotics? Feel free to leave a comment below and we can discuss more about this topic! For more information on this post, go to for the latest research and updates.

The Discovery of Time Cells and Their Time Stamps

Have you ever wondered how we remember things, how we know one event followed another, how we are able to chronologically compartmentalize our memories? A recent article on a study published this summer in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that time cells found in the hippocampus may be the answer. 

Neuroscientist Leila Reddy of the French National Center for Scientific Research and her team conducted a study to confirm the existence, and reveal the function of time cells in the brain through understanding how neurons in the hippocampus relay temporal information. 

HippocampusThey found that these time cells consecutively fire during tasks in order to organize the specific moments of an experience in accordance to time. The study also confirmed that these time cells exist in the hippocampus (pictured on the right), which is an important location for memory processing. As an event plays out and a memory is created, these time cells turn on and start firing, recording each moment with a chronological time stamp. The work done in this study is crucial as it reveals a key component in memory formation and function.

The co-author of the study, Matthew Self of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, further relayed the importance of their findings, saying they believe “that time cells may be the underlying basis for encoding when something happened.” 

Time cells have been known to exist in rodents for a while now, but this study, conducted just late last year, was the first to identify these time cells in the human brain as well. But the study did not stop there. Reddy and her team continued to investigate these time cells. They looked at the hippocampal activity of willing epilepsy patients with electrodes implanted in their brain.

A schematic of the neuroprosthesis showing the external control unitPatients with epilepsy were most likely chosen for this study because their nerve cells communicate with one another in abnormal ways and send each other messages that get mixed up. Electrode implants would not only benefit the patient by producing impulses to regulate abnormal impulses, helping with an preventing seizures, but would work well for the study because the implant also allows neuron activity to be monitored (shown to the left).

About one week after their electrode implant surgery, the patients would participate in two experiments, during which their hippocampus activity would be monitored. The first experiment presented the patients with a sequence of five to seven images containing different settings or people – each image shown for 1.5 seconds with a .5 second break in between. This sequence was presented to the patient several times in the same order. Randomly, for one fourth of the intervals, the sequence would pause and the patient would be asked to identify which of two images should be the next one to occur. The research in this study found that, for all sixty repetitions of the sequence, all of the time sensitive neurons in the hippocampus of the patients fired at specific moments between each random pause in the sequence.

The second experiment was the same, except it included another component: a distraction. A black screen would show for 10 seconds after five sequences were repeated to half the patients, and after two sequences were repeated for the other half. The sequence was repeated to both groups a total of 30 times. In this experiment the patients were again tested about the order of the images. The results showed that neurons would fire corresponding to specific images, and that the time cells still turned on during the 10 second black screen distraction. The black screen was found to actually kelp the patients remember the correct order of images.

To find if there was time information in the activity of neurons in the hippocampus, the researchers stimulated time cell neurons already activated by an image in the experiment to test the firing activity of each neuron as a specific moment in time connected to a specific image. As a result they found that, “the activity pattern across the hippocampus [appeared] to simultaneously provide [them] with both the time stamp and the contents of the experience,” said Matthew Self. The researchers ability to decode moments in time from the neuron activity proved that the hippocampus in the human brain contains neurons capable of time-tracking.

These findings could explain why damage to the hippocampus can result in individuals having the ability to recall events, but not place them in chronological order. This problem is also seen in Alzheimer’s patients and those with other neurodegenerative conditions. A better understanding of cellular contributions to memory function can help us understand how and why people suffer from memory loss diseases, and give us a little bit of hope for the possibility of finding new and improved treatments and preventions.


Does The Time of Day Control Memory Ability?

Researchers University of Tokyo Department of Applied Biological Chemistry have found evidence that the time of day may influence one’s forgetfulness. They were able to study this by identifying and studying a gene in mice that controls memory. 

The key to their research was making a test that differentiates between never learning information versus not remembering information. To ensure that the mice learned new information, the mice were given a new object and then given the same object later in the day. The mice were considered to have “learned” new information if they spent less time exploring the new object. 

Researchers repeated this experiment with mice that had BMAL1 and with mice that did not have BMAL1. BMAL1 is a protein that controls different genes and normally fluctuates between high and low levels. Through tests, researchers discovered that the mice without the BMAL1 (normal mice), were more forgetful when they first woke up. 

Though the researcher’s findings may indicate that humans are also more forgetful early in the morning, more research meeds to be done. Scientists are currently trying to find ways to strengthen memory through the BMAL1 pathway, that can possibly help cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are also curious to determine the evolutionary benefit of having less memory ability later in the day. This study can be seen as the first step towards a major scientific discovery. 

A Gene Mutation that Keeps You Awake and Functioning for Longer


Could a gene mutation really allow someone to finish college in two and a half years? The answer is yes! We all wish we could get by a function perfectly, or even better than normal, on less sleep. This is a reality for some, specifically people with a rare gene mutation. I saw an article titled, “Why Do Some People Need Less Sleep? It’s in their DNA,” and I thought this was a rather interesting topic, because I have never heard of less sleep ever being a positive thing. I am interested to see more research on this, and the possibility of it being an added benefit for others. It prompted me to think about whether or not this is something I would want, considering some of the implications. 

People with this gene mutation can get significantly less sleep than recommended for function, as little as three to four hours—without suffering any health consequences and while actually performing on memory tests as well as, or better than, most people. There is now a new study correlating to a new genetic mutation found with these “powers,” after previous studies revealed other types of mutations that may impact sleep.



To understand this rare ability when presented to them, scientist Ying-Hui Fu and her team, at the University of California, San Francisco, in 2009, began this study on some individuals, but also on mice, to simulate a similar sleep equilibrium to humans. After a woman came in claiming she was functioning at a high level on very short sleep time, scientists needed to understand, as lack sleep is typically correlates with health issues such as risk of heart attack, cancer, or even Alzheimer’s. They initially found a small mutation in the DEC2 gene, a transcriptional repressor (hDEC2-P385R) that is associated with a human short sleep phenotype. According to UCSF, DEC2 helps regulate “circadian rhythms, the natural biological clock that dictates when hormones are released and influences behaviors such as eating and sleeping. This gene oscillates this particular c schedule: rising during the day, but falling at night.” The newer study reveals that the DEC2 gene lowers your level of alertness in the evening by binding to and blocking MyoD1, a gene that turns on orexin production, a hormone involved in maintaining wakefulness. Fu says the mutation seen in human short sleepers weakens DEC2’s ability to put the breaks on MyoD1, leading to more orexin production and causing the short sleepers to stay awake longer.


In a new study, released on October 16, 2019, by Science Translational Medicine brought on by a mother and daughter duo, mice were studied again to mimic the human sleep pattern. The mice again required less sleep, and were able to remember better. In the study, researchers identified a point mutation in the neuropeptide S receptor 1 (NPSR1) gene responsible for the short sleep phenotype. The mutation increased receptor sensitivity to the exterior ligand, and mice with the mutation displayed increased mobility time and reduced sleep duration. Even more interestingly, the animals were resistant to cognitive impairment induced by sleep deprivation. The results and findings in the study point to NPSR1 playing a major role in sleep-related memory consolidation. NSPR1 is a gene that codes for a brain receptor that controls functions in sleep behaviour and awakeness. In the new study, when mice were given this gene mutation, there were no obvious health, wellness, or memory issues over time. Although the family members did not appear to experience any of the negative effects of sleep deprivation, the researchers make sure to emphasize that longer term studies would be needed to confirm these findings.


In the future, a possible drug could be produced to synthesize a change in one of these genes, as a possible treatment for insomnia or other sleep disorders. We would need a lot more research about their functions, though, because of possible negative neurological side effects. 

If a medication with these powers were to exist, do you think it would cause social issues regarding some  possibly forcing certain individuals to take it to work longer hours/get more done? Do you think that it should be available to everyone, or only people with certain conditions? Comment about this below. 


The More You Sit, The More You Forget!

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles recently discovered a linkage between the memory of middle to older aged adults and their sedentary behaviors, actions that require little energy like sitting or lying down.

They concluded that long periods of sitting, like at a desk chair, affects the specific region of the brain that is involved in creating new memories, the medial temporal lobe. The UCLA researchers closely studied 35 people ages 45 to 75 years old, documenting their physical activity for two weeks prior to and during the study.  After the three months of research, they used a high resolution MRI scan and quickly noticed similarities between the thickness of each adult’s medial temporal lobe who spent on average the same amount of hours sitting everyday. The more hours spent sitting, regardless of any physical activity, the more thin the medial temporal lobe. “The participants reported that they spent from 3 to 7 hours, on average, sitting per day. With every hour of sitting each day, there was an observed decrease in brain thickness, according to the study. ”

Even though the findings of this study are preliminary, it suggests that “reducing sedentary behavior may be a possible target for interventions designed to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.” Becoming more active is always a great thing, but becoming conscious of how much time you spend being inactive and working to decrease that, could help you out more than you think. There is still more research to be done on this matter but this is a step in the right direction for improving life for those with memory related diseases and improving overall brain health.

To read more check out the full article here!

New Developments in the Biology of Alzheimer’s Disease

Recent work by Boston University School of Medicine researchers shows developments in a new model for the biology of Alzheimer’s disease, which could lead to entirely new approaches in treating the disease. Alzheimer’s disease disrupts one’s cognitive abilities, including memory, thinking, and behavior. It accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases. The neurodegenerative disease is caused by clumps and accumulations of 2 proteins –beta-amyloid and tau– which cause nerve cell injury and in turn, dementia.

Comparison of a normal brain (left) and the brain of a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (right).

Recent work by the BUSM researchers has shown that the clumping and accumulation of the tau protein are largely due to stress. The accumulation of tau produces “stress granules” (RNA/protein complexes). The brain responds to these stress granules by producing important protective proteins. However, with excessive stress, there is a greater accumulation of stress granules, which in turn leads to greater accumulation of clumped tau, which causes nerve cell injury. In this study, researchers are using this model to show that reducing the level of stress granules could lead to improved nerve cell health. It may be possible to reduce the level of stress granules by genetically decreasing TIA1, a protein required for stress granule formation.

In an experimental model of Alzheimer’s disease, the research team found that reducing the TIA1 protein led to striking improvements in memory and life expectancy. However, although stress granule levels decreased (leading to better protection), the team observed that the clumps of tau became larger. The researchers further looked at the tau pathology and found that the while small clumps of tau (known as tau oligomers) are toxic, larger tau clumps are generally less toxic. According to pharmacology and experimental therapeutics professor Benjamin Wolozin, this discovery would explain why the experimental models experienced better memory and longer life expectancy. The implications and ability of TIA1 protein reduction in order to provide protection may lead to further novel developments in the biology and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.


Probiotics: The Real Brain Food

While it is nearly common knowledge that probiotics give partial protection against certain colds, allergies, infectious diarrheas, and other health issues, scientists were not able to prove until recently that probiotics can potentially improve cognition. This is possible since there is communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain via the nervous system, the immune system, and hormones.

Scientists have seen that in mice, probiotics have caused an improvement in learning and memory. Researchers from Kashan University of Medical Sciences, Kashan, and Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran, completed a double-blind experiment where 52 men and women with Alzheimers (between 60 and 95 years old) either received milk enriched with four probiotic bacteria, or untreated milk. As predicted by several researchers, by the end of the 12 week period, those who received the milk with Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. fermentum, and Bifidobacterium Bifidum displayed an improvement in cognition. To determine these results of the study, the scientists asked the participants of the study to complete tasks such as giving the current date, repeating a phrase, and counting backwards from 100 by sevens. Those who received the probiotics earned a “score” on these tasks ranging from 8.7 to 10.6 on the scale out of 30, whereas the participants who did not receive the probiotics scored slightly lower ranging from 8.5 to 8.0. Despite the seemingly minute difference, these results provide scientists with an insight as to the fact that probiotics can improve human cognition.


In the near future, scientists hope to test these results based on longevity of their intake to test whether or not the effects of probiotics grows throughout prolonged treatment. The patients who received the probiotics also demonstrated lower levels of triglyceride, Very Loy Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), high sensitivity C-Reactive protein (hs-CRP) in the blood of the Alzheimer patients, and a reduction in two common measures of insulin resistance and the activity of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. These results also signify that this change in metabolic adjustments might be a way that the probiotics impacts other cognitive and neurological disorders.

Further Reading:

You Are What You Eat


Whenever a person consumes healthier meals and therefore less calories, according to a new study on mice at the NYU Langone Medical Center, they could be lengthening their lives.

Using female mice, scientists fed one group of mice a diet of pellets containing a high amount of calories, while feeding another group of mice a diet of pellets containing 30% less calories. The hippocampus and the region surrounding it in the brains of the mice were then examined for expression of aging-genes throughout various stages of maturity. The results of the study, while not entirely applicable to humans, has shown that the mice that ate the lower calorie diets had less expression of aging genes and had less risk of chronic illnesses such as hypertension and stroke.

“The study does not mean calorie restriction is the ‘fountain of youth,’ but that it does add evidence for the role of diet in delaying the effects of aging and age-related disease.” Stated Stephen D. Ginsberg, a researcher involved with the study. The study examined more than 10,000 genes related to aging, which is a much larger amount than that previously studied by researchers. While the study was performed on mice, the results could be similar in humans, and the researched performed by Dr. Ginsberg and others should serve as a warning for our ever-indulgent world of fast food and high caloric intake.


Magnetizing the Game of Football

As more and more concussions have plagued Football, from the high-school level to that of the NFL, it is known that change must occur, and fast. Along with creating temporary memory loss, concussions have created long-term health problems for football players that hurt them for the rest of their lives. This article highlights the innovative invention of magnetized football helmets that repel each other to decrease the impact into the helmet.

Up until now, the only real idea with respect to reducing the amount of concussions has been to “disperse the impact energy after the impact’s already occurred.” Neuroscientist Raymond Colello believes that magnets would lower the impact before the collisions occur, thus reducing the amount of concussions in football.

The Brain

Although the magnets haven’t been tested in football helmets yet, there have been several experiments verifying the magnets’ effectiveness. The article talks about how, with players running up to 20 mph on the field, players can receive impact forces of up to 150 g’s; this is terrifying because concussions occur at an impact of 100 g’s. Colello argues that the only way to lower the 100,000 people who receive concussions playing football every year is to put magnets in their helmets.

Using very powerful magnets made in China that weigh about .3 lbs, Colello measured that two magnets beside each other repel each other with about 100 pounds of force. After testing the magnets by attaching them to weights and dropping them from 48 inches, he recored that dropping a helmet and it hitting a stationary object would create 120 g’s of force. With these magnets in the helmets, the impact force would be under 100 g’s, which is enough of a difference to stop a concussion from occurring.

Of course Colello recognizes that there are different levels of football with different amounts of contact. The powerful magnets cost about $50 to $100, but for younger players, Colello recommends less powerful, cheaper magnets that will still help in preventing concussions. He is anxiously awaiting customized magnets that will fit into helmets and allow him to begin testing the magnets with dummy’s, and then eventually real people!

I am completely in support of changes in the technology of football helmets! Concussions have become more and more common as football players have become stronger, and concussions have also proven to be detrimental to the health of many athletes. Articles such as these are very exciting, and I expect big improvements in preventing concussions in years to come. What is your take on putting magnets in football helmets?

Major Article Used:

Other Related Articles:


Stop Taking Notes

Put down your pencils. Stop taking notes. Scientists have recently proven that you are less likely to remember something once you write it down. Now you all have scientific explanations for not bringing a backpack to school. Scientists began by researching the effects of technology on our memories. Unsurprisingly, they concluded that people who saved information on the computer were less likely to remember it than those who were told the facts verbally. More of this study can be seen in the article “Poor Memory, Blame Google”. It brings up a larger concern; what will the mental capacities of our society come to in our increasingly technological age? This brought Professor Susan Greenfield to investigate the affects of all information processing tactics and their effect on human memory.

She began with the most simple and popular of memory methods, note taking. They split a population of undergraduate students into 2 groups, one that took notes and one that relied on straight memory. They showed them pairs of cards and instructed them to memorize the location. One group wrote it down and the other did not. After the study time, the note-taking group had their notes taken away and the full group was tested on the cards’ location. Surprisingly, the note-taking group performed very poorly in the exercise, far underperforming the memory group.

The scientists concluding that by taking notes, the students were relying on an external form of storage rather than their own synapses. So keep those pencils down, your memory will thank you.

Original Article:

Contrary Study:

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 3.08.22 PM

“Pink Noise” Improves Sleep

Insomnia affects nearly ten percent of Americans. A survey of more than seven thousand people found that 23% exhibited signs of insomnia and estimated that lack of sleep costs the country 63 billion dollars annually in lost productivity. Some preliminary studies have suggested that applying a gentle current to the brain might ameliorate this issue, but the idea has been understandably unpopular among potential patients.

In an effort to find another method to ameliorate insomnia, researchers conducted a study of of “pink noise,” a type of noise with a power spectrum that is inversely proportional to its frequency. It is called pink noise because visible light within this spectrum appears pink in color. In executing their study, the scientists had eleven volunteers spend two nights in their sleep lab, one while pink noise matched to their brain waves was played and one in silence. Before they went to sleep, they were showed pairs of words and asked to memorize them. The volunteers were also hooked up to EEGs so that their brains could be monitored while they slept.

During the night with pink noise playing, the researchers recorded prolonged deep sleep and increased size of the  wavelengths in the volunteers’ brains. These slow brain waves are connected with memory retention and “information processing,” which was reflected in the researchers results. The volunteer sleepers performed better in the memory exercise when the pink noise had played as they slept.

The scientists involved in this study emphasize that the pink noise was matched to the brain waves of the patients, and that further research and development could lead to tools to improve sleep and even enhance brain activity while awake. Entitled Auditory Closed-Loop Stimulation of the Sleep Slow Oscillation Enhances Memory, the study was published in Neuron.

Caffeine Enhances Memory in Bees

Photo credits to Treesha Duncan at

Researchers recently discovered that honeybees get a memory boost from caffeine, both short-term and long-term. In their study, honeybees that consumed a solution with sugar and caffeine were three times more likely to remember a flower’s scent than honeybees that consumed a solution with just sugar. Three times as many bees that drank the first solution remembered the scent a day later and twice as many bees remembered the scent after three days.

This connection does not just help bees with their “foraging prowess” but also benefits plants that contain caffeinated nectar. According to lead researcher Dr Geraldine Wright, bees that drink the caffeine-laced nectar will carry the coffee pollen to other plants, leading to greater pollination.

Researchers found that the nectar of coffee and citrus plants contains low levels of caffeine. Caffeine generally acts as a defense mechanism in plants with its bitter and unappealing taste, so the presence of caffeine in the nectar surprised Phil Stevenson of the Royal Botanic Gardens. However, the nectar of these plants contained just enough caffeine to affect bee behavior, and not enough to give a bitter taste.

So what does this correlation between caffeine and bees have to do with us?This project was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, as populations of bees have been declining. Understanding  the preferences of bees could provide clues to reinvigorating the species, protecting the balance of our natural ecosystems and agriculture.

The study will also allow scientists further comprehension into how caffeine affects the brain. Although honeybee brains and human brains clearly differ, at the cellular and genetic level, they function similarly. Thus, Dr. Julie Mustard of Arizona State University concludes, “we can use the honeybee to investigate how caffeine affects our own brains and behaviors.” Perhaps their study can explain why many people drink coffee while studying. What do you think?



Forget about it!

What is the earliest memory that you can remember? Is it a good memory or a bad one? Hopefully it’s a good one. Recent studies have shown, however, that the brain has two ways of coping with bad memories.

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc

Students are taught in school that in order to “remember” something, there are a series of chemical reactions throughout the brain that allows you to find the memory you are looking for. But if you have a bad memory, how do you stop the reaction and forget?

Dr. Roland Benoit is a “cognitive neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in England.” He and his team studied how one can stop these bad memories. They found that the brain uses two mechanisms. First, the brain can simply “block out the memory.” The other mechanism is to “recall a substitute memory.”

Dr. Benoit studied the outcome of MRI scans when participants were told to associate different words. They were first told to associate the words “beach” and “Africa.” Next, they were told to associate the words “beach” and “snorkel” (forgetting about “Africa.” Dr. Benoit and his team found that the left prefrontal cortex of the brain works with the hippocampus (the “hippocampus is an area of the brain connecting to conscious remembering”). When the group was told to forget about Africa, and focus on snorkel, the prefrontal cortex inhibited the function of the hippocampus. Thus, the brain has a mechanism built in to allow humans to virtually block out memories.

This study shows that there are different techniques to block out memories, especially if they are bad memories. Every human is going to have a different mechanism when it comes to blocking out memories. If you would rather replace a memory with something else or completely block out a memory, the choice is yours.

But I Studied!

Night Before Test: Oh, I studied sooo much, I think I’m ready for the test tomorrow.

Right Before Test: Yes, I’m going to ace this thing!

During the Test: …..

After the Test: What the @#$%?

Taken by Yasmin Kibria

Some of us may not have the best studying techniques, but it’s not just us who tend to undermine the power of repeated studying.  A recent study by UCLA shows that “students not only underestimate the power of continual study and repetition, but that they tend to overestimate their knowledge of material.”

This was determined by performing a study using a large group of college students where they were shown a list of word pairs, and were asked to give an estimate of how well they knew the material and how well they would test if they studied the material regularly.  A a majority of the volunteers overestimated their abilities, but underestimated the fact that they’d do better if givern time and repeated exercise.

This study is also supported by current research by Nate Kornell, an assistant professor of psychology at Williams College and Robert Bjork of the University of California, Los Angeles.  In their paper they write: “To manage one’s own conditions of learning effectively requires gaining an understanding of the activities and processes that do and do not support learning.”

In psychology, this thinking about thinking is called metacognition.  Performing a similar experiment, Kornell and Bjork found again, that poeple are under confident in their learning abilities and overconfident in their memories.

Just as we’re getting ready to go to college (!!!), it’s important to note the power of studying on a regular basis.

Brain Stimulation Improves Spatial Memory!


Credit: taod Flickr

In a recent article, the NY Times discusses scientists’ new findings on how to improve memorythrough electrical stimulation. In a study covered by the New England Journal of Medecine, epilepsy  patients were stimulated by getting electrodes inserted into their brain as they were being prepared for surgery. Although these tests are nonconclusive, these patients showed an incredible improvement in spatial memory .

In addition, scientists recently concluded that damage associated with Alzheimer’s Disease beings in the entorhinal cortex , the same area of the brain from the electrode-stimulation study. This is very big news because, with more tests done, this could be a big step towards treating (or curing) memory disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers and scientists immediately jumped into another study that takes place in the University of California (Los Angeles). Foccused on the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus , the researchers inserted more electrodes into a small group of epileptic patients, and had them play Crazy Taxi. So as you know, Crazy Taxi is a video game where you have to drive up to people “hailing a taxi” on the sidewalk and drive them to a certain destination on the map in a limited amount of time. After the brain stimulation, the patients’ scores were dramatically higher, being able to navigate the map more easily, due to their improvement of spatial memory.

Whether this answers the question of Alzheimer’s or not, finding a way to improve memory is extremely beneficial in many other cases or disorders. All scientists can do now is take advantage of this recent finding, and perform as many more tests as they can, and hopefully they will come across even more cures to many more memory malfunctions.

But I Just Looked That Up!


credit: crystaljingsr user on Flickr

Did you ever look something up on Google and forget it five seconds later?

Recent studies show that the use of online databases (Google) is affecting the way people remember information. Because everything is displayed on the Internet for maximum public consumption, more people are finding that they can easily recall where they have found certain information rather than what the information actually said. In other words, databases like Google have become a primary form of human’s Transactive Memory.

This is a sign that our brains are adapting to our environments. As technology becomes more of a vital part of humans’ every day life, our brains begin to alter the way we handle the information, and find ways to adapt. Memory works through levels of processing, which can be summed up in Organization, Distinctiveness, Effort, and Elaboration. The problem with having information at our fingertips using Google or Yahoo is that people simply don’t have to exert the effort to find this information and understand it anymore.

This new information may change the way professors teach certain classes. Rather than ask for memorization of facts, professors should require a certain level of understanding and a more thorough way of thinking information through.

What about you? Have YOU ever looked something up on Google or yahoo, maybe for a test that started in two minutes, and totally forgotten it?

For more information on the cognitive consequences of Internet databases on our memories, click here.

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