Memory

From Mind Control to Curing Brain Diseases, a Neuroscience Revolution Is Coming

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If the idea of physicalism is correct — that all of our mental states can be described in purely physical terms — then neuroscience is not only the study of our brains, but the study of our entire existence. Neuroengineering, defined as the application of engineering principles to neurological problems, then becomes how we engineer our relationship with existence itself.

Fifty years ago, nobody but computer programmers knew the personal computer was being developed, and the primary market for the device was thought to be scientists. Today, computers are a ubiquitous.

Digital technology has revolutionized nearly every facet of our lives. Today, neuroengineering is in a similar infancy. While most people would understand the basic idea of using engineering techniques to alter, improve, repair, and study neural systems, most people would lack for ideas on the application.

This article is part of a series sponsored by The Hertz Foundation. Discover more of what remarkable students can do in the sciences: — From Space Elevators to Drone Delivery, Looking for Failure Inspires Innovation

Dr. Ed Boyden is somebody who does not lack for those ideas.

Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy Edward Boyden

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Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy

Ed-boyden-hs

Edward Boyden

MIT Professor, Media Lab Synthetic Neurobiology Group Leader

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As professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Boyden has launched an award-winning series of classes at MIT which teach principles of neural engineering, starting with the basic principles of how to control and observe neural functions. While studying neuroscience at Stanford University as a Hertz Foundation Fellow, Boyden discovered that human memories are stored by a specific molecular mechanism, and that the content of a memory determines the mechanism used by the brain.

His work focuses on dramatically improving how the brain is imaged, opening a world of opportunities for people who wish to study the neural pathways that make our brains work. Dr. Boyden’s high resolution 3-D maps of the brain, unlike prior 2-D maps, allow researchers to pinpoint exactly what part of the brain they wish to…

Brain training turns recall rookies into memory masters

brain links
Compared with novices, trained memory experts have some connections between brain areas that are stronger (red) and others that are weaker (blue). The bigger spheres highlight brain areas that have more connections specific to people with supercharged memory.

THINK LINK

Just six weeks of training can turn average people into memory masters.

Boosting these prodigious mnemonic skills came with overhauls in brain activity, resulting in brains that behaved more like those of experts who win World Memory Championships competitions, scientists report March 8 in Neuron.

The findings are notable because they show just how remarkably adaptable the human brain is, says neuroscientist Craig Stark of the University of California, Irvine. “The brain is plastic,” he says. “Through use, it changes.”

It’s not yet clear how long the changes in the newly trained brains last, but the memory gains persisted for four months.

In an initial matchup, a group of 17 memory experts, people who place high in World Memory Championships, throttled a group of people with average memories. Twenty minutes after seeing a list of 72 words, the experts remembered an average of 70.8 words; the nonexperts caught, on average, only 39.9 words.

In subsequent matchups, some nonexperts got varying levels of help. Fifty-one novices were split into three groups. A third of these people spent six weeks learning the method of loci, a memorization strategy used by ancient Greek and Roman orators. To use the technique, a person must imagine an elaborate mental scene, such as a palace or a familiar walking path, and populate it with memorable items….

Time of Day and Age May Influence Coffee’s Impact on Memory

Many people knock back a cup of coffee every morning with the goal of doing better on a test or jumping into a backlog of work … or just to feel remotely human. Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in North America—some 90 percent of the adult population consumes it for its mentally arousing effects. But a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology has found that the time of day and your age may influence coffee’s influence on your memory.

Memory, of course, is a key component of learning, retention, and performance in a number of areas of our lives. Explicit memory, lead author Stephanie Sherman, a postdoctoral fellow in the psychology department at Boston College, tells mental_floss, “is just conscious recall of info.” Implicit memory, on the other hand, which researchers call “priming,” is the unconscious recall of previously learned information. More specifically, if something you’ve recently encountered happens to be in the forefront of your mind, “you’re more likely to recall it without being conscious you recalled it because you previously saw it,” she explains.

Sherman became intrigued by a study her professor Lee Ryan conducted that explored the relationship between caffeine and implicit and explicit memory in older adults. Ryan’s study showed that caffeine enhanced memory performance in older adults in their non-optimal time of day: the afternoon. But caffeine had no effect on their memory in the morning, Sherman says. She wanted to find out if this would hold true in young adults, whose circadian rhythms are different, making afternoon their optimal time of day for physiological arousal—essentially, in how awake they feel—and morning their non-optimal time.

To test this hypothesis, she and her colleagues designed a double-blind experiment with college students aged 18 to 21. The first group of students came into the lab between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. Half of these participants received a cup of caffeinated coffee, and the others got decaffeinated; regardless of which cup they received, they were told their coffee was caffeinated. That procedure was repeated with a second group of 40 participants in the afternoon between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Sherman’s team theorized that caffeine would have memory-boosting effects for young adults in their non-optimal time of day—early morning—but to determine the specificity of caffeine’s effects, they also investigated the effects on memory performance of two types of exercise in the early morning—vigorous aerobic exercise and gentle stretching.

“We thought another way of increasing physiological arousal would be exercise. If just being more awake increases your memory performance, than exercise would have the same effect [as caffeine],” Sherman reports.

On…