Memories and memory

A mouse hippocampus with colours identifying neurones and their axons-dendrites. The hippocampus is the area where memories are stored, at least in mice. Credit: MIT

Our understanding of the brain keeps progressing (although we are still quite far from saying that we understand it). Two years ago researchers at MIT have identified the area where memories are stored (in a mouse) and have experimentally proved that memories are stored as a network of neurones. If you activate (as they did with a laser) that network you (the mouse) remember a specific memory. If you remove those neurones you remove that memory.

The discovery requires some invasive surgery and so far has involved only mice but according to researchers it is very very likely that our brains work in exactly the same way.

Now I run across another news, this one recent, December 10 2014, where researchers at the University of California - Santa Cruz- are reporting on their study on the effect of storing information on a computer on the way we can remember information. 

Here the gist of it: a set of students was asked to look at a list of names on a file (A) for 20" and then asked to look at another list of names in a second file (B). They were then asked to write down the names they remember from file B. And here comes the interesting discovery.

Those students that were asked to simply close file A remembered fewer names from file B than the students who were told to save file A before closing it. Remarkably, those students that were told to save file A but were given the hint that they might not be able to retrieve file A again scored in the same range as those that were not asked to save file A.

The meaning of the experiment (that was repeated several times with different students) is quite clear. Our brain once knowing that it can relay on a computer memory to remember "things" shift its attention to remember those things that are not stored (the one in file B). If you are saving "stuff" on your computer you are providing your brain more "room" to store other information. It will just need to remember that if it needs some information it can easily go "on-line" and get them. An amazing example of integration of our life with the digital ambient, of memories with memory; again another, more subtle but very powerful example of "blended life".

Author - Roberto Saracco

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