Advancing Basic Science for Humanity
Spotlight Live: Uncovering a More Complex Path for Memory
NOTE: Thanks to everyone who joined our discussion. YOUR QUESTIONS are listed below, as well as time stamps for finding your answers.
MOST OF US CAN REMEMBER WHERE WE WERE DURING MAJOR EVENTS IN OUR LIVES. Now neuroscientists have determined this isn’t just an accident of memory; the imprinting of place in our minds plays a fundamental role in remembering events that take place in our lives. They’ve also discovered memories aren’t formed and permanently lodged in just one location in the brain, but rely on an extensive network of memory highways that reaches several regions. These are significant findings that may in turn help neuroscientists develop ways to enhance learning, aid memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, or guard against memory loss from aging.
On April 11, science writer Bruce Lieberman asked your questions about memory and the brain of two leading researchers in the field: Bradford Dickerson and Mayank Mehta.
About the Participants
BRADFORD DICKERSON is Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School and Director of the Frontotemporal Disorders Unit and Dickerson Neuroimaging Lab, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Studying brain structure and function, Dickerson's lab uses magnetic resonance imaging to try to understand the roles of various brain regions in normal human memory, and to investigate the locations and degrees to which brain regions are affected by disease, as well as how these changes relate to clinical symptoms and difficulties with the performance of cognitive tasks.
MAYANK MEHTA is Professor of Neurophysics at the Brain Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mehta's research has focused on computational and experimental investigations of learning and memory, seeking to understand how the brain learns and remembers how to navigate unfamiliar environments -- research aimed at paving the way to better understanding mechanisms of learning and memory in neural networks.
BRUCE LIEBERMAN is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the news business. He worked as a reporter at daily newspapers for many years before becoming an independent writer and editor in 2010. For The Kavli Foundation, Bruce has interviewed researchers about galaxy clusters, dark matter and dark energy, string theory, the emergence of the first stars and galaxies, exoplanets and other subjects. He has also written for Scientific American, Smithsonian Air & Space magazine, and Nature about a variety of science topics.
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On April 11, Bradford Dickerson and Mayank Mehta answered these questions about memory and the brain.
- What is the significance of place in our memories and how this relates to memory storage? (2:10)
- How has our understanding or memory and its complexity changed in light of new research? (4:00)
- There are five basic questions: who, what, where, why and how. Does the brain store the answers to these questions in different memory areas? (7:15)
- How does physical contact affect the formation and storage of memories? (9:00)
- Does memory storage differ between humans and animals? (11:40)
- Does the brain's concept of location change if a person is impaired in some way? (15:05)
- Are memories stored and used the same way regardless of impairment? (18:15)
- Can we command our brain's to let go of a memory? (19:10)
- Do we know how or why a memory starts to change over time? (21:25)
- Is there hope for a new method to prevent memory loss caused by aging and disease and how close are we to discovery of this method? (22:50)
- How can educators apply your findings to junior and high school classrooms? (26:25)
- Do you have any ideas about experiments high school students can do to demonstrate how memory is stored and used in the brain? (30:15)
Extended Interview wth Bradford Dickerson*
- How can we understand the differences in specific memories and their storage? (32:55)
- Can people over 70 be trained to better store and retrieve new information? (36:55)
- Are good habits earlier in life a preventative measure for losing cognitive ability and memory later in life? (41:20)
- Do you have any exercises or memory tricks that you use to remember something important? (43:30)
- Are you born with memory? (45:50)
- What do you find most mystifying about memory? (47:25)
*These additional questions were asked of Dr. Dickerson on April 12. Audio difficulties to some of his earlier responses were also corrected.