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Brain scan reveals memories

12th March 2010

Scientists say they have been able to use brain scans to tell which past event a person is recalling.

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Researchers from University College London say their study, published in the journal Current Biology, can provide an insight into how memories are recorded.

They showed people film clips and, using scans, were able to predict which ones the participants were subsequently thinking about.

The tests follow previous research which used brain scans to predict simpler thought processes such as distinguishing between colours, objects or locations in an environment.

Professor Eleanor Maguire from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL, who led the study, said: “What is more interesting is to look at 'episodic' memories - the complex, everyday memories that include much more information on where we are, what we are doing and how we feel.”

After 10 volunteers watched three short film clips, they were asked to remember each of the films in turn while inside an MRI scanner which recorded brain activity that was then studied by a computer programme.

The researchers found that in subsequent scanning sessions, the computer algorithm could predict which film the volunteers were thinking about from the pattern of their brain activity.

Neuroscience experts say the findings are an important advance on traditional ways of analysing brain images.

Meanwhile, the UCL team hopes their work will eventually help develop treatments for people with memory loss.

The Alzheimer's Society said the work may in the longer term help investigate what goes wrong in brains that are developing the diseases which cause dementia.

 

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