The human brain retrieves memories of the past by reconstructing an experience in reverse order, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Birmingham.
Memory is one of the most complicated processes in the brain. It refers to various structures and processes that are involved in the storage/retrieval of information in and from the brain.
In the study, which was carried at the University of Birmingham's Centre for Human Brain Health, the researchers sifted through the human mind to find out how it retrieves memories. Using the brain decoding techniques, they were able to track when in time a unique memory is reactivated in the brain.
The brain first focuses on the core meaning or gist of the object and follows up with specific details later
Researchers attached 128 electrodes to the scalp of each study participant to record the activity in their brains. All participants were shown pictures of some specific objects and were also told a unique reminder word associated with each picture.
In the next step of the experiment, participants were presented with the reminder word and asked to reconstruct the associated image in as much detail as possible. During the entire experiment, the changes in participants' brain patterns were observed with millisecond precision.
Finally, the team used a computer algorithm to decode the type of picture that a participant retrieved at different points in the task.
The results of the study suggested that when trying to recall something about a particular event or object, the brain first focuses on the core meaning or gist of the object and follows up with specific details later.
Our memories are actually reconstructed and biased representations rather than simple snapshots of the past
"We were able to show that the participants were retrieving higher-level, abstract information, such as whether they were thinking of an animal or an inanimate object, shortly after they heard the reminder word," says Maria Wimber, senior author of the study.
"It was only later that they retrieved the specific details, for example whether they had been looking at a colour object, or a black and white outline."
The findings also suggest that our memories are actually reconstructed and biased representations rather than simple snapshots of the past.
The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature Communications.
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