Now, where did I put those keys?

UC DAVIS (US) — Lose something? Wait awhile and think again. New research shows the brain might be in a better state to recall things at some times than others.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might lead to better treatments for memory loss.

“It’s been assumed that the process of retrieving a memory is cued by an external stimulus,” says Charan Ranganath, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. “But we found that the levels of brain activity before items came up were correlated with memory.”

Researchers measured a particular frequency of brainwaves called theta oscillations in the brains of volunteers during a memory test. Theta waves are associated with a brain that is actively monitoring something. For example, rats show high theta waves while exploring a maze.

In the memory test, the volunteers had to memorize a series of words with a related context. They later had to recall whether they had seen the word previously and the context in which the word was seen.

High theta waves immediately before being prompted to remember an item were associated with better performance.

The work goes against the assumption that the brain is waiting to react to the external world, Ranganath says. In fact, most of the brain is busy with internal activity that is not related to the outside world—and when external stimuli come in, they interact with these spontaneous patterns of activity.

The next step, Ranganath says, is to investigate whether it’s possible to deliberately put the brain into a better state for memory recall.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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  1. Dr. O'

    If I cannot find or remember something I ‘put it in the back of my mind’ and go on to something else. Normally, within minutes the answer shows up. The trick is to consciously put the problem into your mind so you know it is important. There is also a phenomena called ‘object blindness’ when you look at something and don’t see it. Close your eyes and visualize what you are looking for. Rotate the object in your mind and look again. Most of the time it will be there.

  2. BB

    W.R.T forgotten object search, active looking turns out to be a real problem, akin to scaring a child to spill out an answer.

    Policemen frequently encounter this, a case that does not crack under questioning, will crack under everyday conversation. Less energy, more clarity.

    As Dr.O mentions, if we can quit active searching and let the non conscious brain part do its work, in most cases the answer will be there and will soon be pushed into the conscious foreground.

    We tend to forget that the body has a mass of sensors, and that all these data are not only sampled but also stored, even the memories perhaps of non conscious babyhood.

    Perhaps nothing is really forgotten, just driven under, under the mass of data, and more often under the search glance of conscious reckoning.

    Take the conscious off and the answer flows from the unconscious background into the conscious foreground, as it is supposed to do.

    The answer may even pop up in a dream because many a time the conscious reckoning barely takes time off from questioning, and can therefore not be told about the find. Now how does one go about devising a test for this?

    We may acquire knowledge under pressure, but understanding usually takes its own time to make its appearance. The intrusive focus of foreground consciousness is deleterious to many brain related activities, and limits learning, understanding, and as mentioned, the search for forgotten objects.

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