Nav: Home

What is your memory style?

December 10, 2015

Toronto, Canada - Why is it that some people have richly detailed recollection of past experiences (episodic memory), while others tend to remember just the facts without details (semantic memory)?

A research team from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences has shown for the first time that these different ways of experiencing the past are associated with distinct brain connectivity patterns that may be inherent to the individual and suggest a life-long 'memory trait'.

The study was recently published online in the journal Cortex.

"For decades, nearly all research on memory and brain function has treated people as the same, averaging across individuals," said lead investigator Dr. Signy Sheldon, now an assistant professor of Psychology at McGill University.

"Yet as we know from experience and from comparing our recollection to others, peoples' memory traits vary. Our study shows that these memory traits correspond to stable differences in brain function, even when we are not asking people to perform memory tasks while in the scanner."

In the study, 66 healthy young adults (average age 24) completed an online questionnaire -- the Survey of Autobiographical Memory (SAM) - describing how well they remember autobiographical events and facts. Their responses fell between the extremes seen in people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) or Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM) recently described by memory researchers. This allowed researchers to study normal variation in autobiographical memory.

After filling out the online survey, the 66 participants had their brains scanned at Baycrest with resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that maps patterns of brain connectivity, or how activity correlates across different brain regions.

The researchers focused on connections between the brain's medial temporal lobes and other brain regions. The medial temporal lobes are well known to be fundamentally involved with memory function. Those who endorsed richly-detailed autobiographical memories had higher medial temporal lobe connectivity to regions at the back of the brain involved in visual processes, whereas those tending to recall the past in a factual manner (minus the rich details) showed higher medial temporal lobe connectivity to areas at the front of the brain involved in organization and reasoning.

The findings raise interesting questions for cognitive scientists, related to aging and brain health. One of the more provocative inquiries: could certain memory traits be protective, delaying the manifestation of age-related cognitive decline in later years?

"With aging and early dementia, one of the first things that people notice is difficulty retrieving the details of events," said the study's senior author Dr. Brian Levine, a senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

"Yet no one has looked at how this relates to memory traits. People who are used to retrieving richly-detailed memories may be very sensitive to subtle memory changes as they age, whereas those who rely on a factual approach may prove to be more resistant to such changes," he said.

Could a person's profile of memory traits help guide treatment of memory issues in later life? The Rotman findings open the door to exciting possibilities that require further scientific exploration, said Dr. Levine. Follow-up studies are now being conducted relating memory traits to personality, psychiatric conditions such as depression, performance on other cognitive measures, and genetics.

This research is part of a new trend in focusing on differences in brain structure and function across healthy people. It is the first to relate such brain differences to differences in everyday autobiographical memory functioning.
-end-
The research team for the Cortex paper included Signy Sheldon (McGill University), Norman Farb (Department of Psychology, University of Toronto), Daniela Palombo (VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine) and Brian Levine (Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute). The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

Related Memory Articles:

Taking photos of experiences boosts visual memory, impairs auditory memory
A quick glance at any social media platform will tell you that people love taking photos of their experiences -- whether they're lying on the beach, touring a museum, or just waiting in line at the grocery store.
Think you know how to improve your memory? Think again
Research from Katherine Duncan at the University of Toronto suggests we may have to rethink how we improve memory.
Improving memory with magnets
The ability to remember sounds, and manipulate them in our minds, is incredibly important to our daily lives -- without it we would not be able to understand a sentence, or do simple arithmetic.
Who has the better memory -- men or women?
In the battle of the sexes, women have long claimed that they can remember things better and longer than men can.
New study of the memory through optogenetics
A collaboration between Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Harvard University pioneers the increase of memory using optogenetics in mice in Spain.
Peppermint tea can help improve your memory
Peppermint tea can improve long-term and working memory and in healthy adults.
A new glimpse into working memory
MIT study finds bursts of neural activity as the brain holds information in mind, overturns a long-held model.
Memory ensembles
For over forty years, neuro-scientists have been interested in the biological mechanisms underlying the storage of the information that our brain records every day.
What is your memory style?
Why is it that some people have richly detailed recollection of past experiences (episodic memory), while others tend to remember just the facts without details (semantic memory)?
Watching a memory form
Neuroscientists at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science have discovered a novel mechanism for memory formation.

Related Memory Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".