MIT study: Maturity brings richer memories

August 05, 2007

CAMBRIDGE, MA - MIT neuroscientists exploring how memory formation differs between children and adults have found that although the two groups have much in common, maturity brings richer memories.

In the August 5 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience, the MIT team reports that children rival adults in forming basic memories, but adults do better at remembering the rich, contextual details of that information. The MIT study provides new insights into how children learn that are not only theoretically important, but could also inform practical learning in everyday settings.

The ability to remember factual information - who, what, where, when - emerges gradually during childhood, and plays a critical role in education. The brain systems underlying it have been extensively studied in adults, but until now little was known about how they mature during child development.

The MIT study indicates that a more developed prefrontal cortex (PFC) - an area of the brain long associated with higher-order thinking, planning, and reasoning -- may be responsible for creating richer memories in adults.

"Activation in the PFC follows an upward slope with age in contextual memories. The older the subjects, the more powerful the activation in that area," explains senior author John Gabrieli of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

"That makes sense, because there's been a convergence of evidence that the PFC develops later than other brain regions, both functionally and structurally.... But this is the first study that asks how this area matures and contributes to learning."

For the study, Noa Ofen, a postdoctoral associate in Gabrieli's lab, forewarned 49 healthy volunteers ranging in age from eight to 24 that they would be tested on their recognition of 250 common scenes, such as a kitchen, shown to them as they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. She recorded their brain responses as the volunteers tried to commit each picture to memory. Shortly after the volunteers left the scanner, she showed them twice as many scenes. Had they seen each one before, and if so, how vividly did they recall the scene"

Ofen then went back to the brain activation patterns. In both children and adults, several areas in the PFC and the medial temporal lobe (MTL) showed higher activation at the time when subjects studied a scene they would later remember. No age-related differences showed up in the activation patterns of the MTL regions in children and adults, but differences did appear in the PFC when looking at pictures that were later correctly recognized.

Those age-related differences related to the quality of the volunteers' memories. The older the volunteers, the more frequently their correct answers were enriched with contextual detail. Going back to the brain scans, Ofen found that the enriched memories also correlated with more intense activation in a specific region of the PFC.

"We found no change with age for memories without context," Ofen explains. "All the maturation is in memories with context. Our findings suggest that as we mature, we are able to create more contextually rich memories, and that ability evolves with a more mature PFC."

Susan Whitefield-Gabrieli, a research associate at MIT's McGovern Institute, contributed to this research, in addition to scientists from Harvard University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley.

"This study takes an important step forward in our understanding of the neural basis of memory development," comments Daniel Schacter, an expert on memory at Harvard University who was not associated with the study.
-end-
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.