New research funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and carried out by a group from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences has shown that people have different capabilities when it comes to recalling past events in full details.
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They study shows that some people have the natural abilities to recall the full details of past events (episodic memory), while others only manage to remember the bare facts of the events (semantic memory) – raising the need for researchers to investigate this phenomenon that might be linked to memory traits.
The team of researchers ultimately established that people have different brain connectivity patterns, and this determines their ability to remember things differently. The findings are published in the journal Cortex.
According to Dr. Signy Sheldon, now an assistant professor of Psychology at McGill University, “For decades, nearly all research on memory and brain function has treated people as the same, averaging across individuals,” she said.
“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,” Sheldon added.
About 66 people were recruited for the study and asked to fill out a digital questionnaire called the Survey of Autobiographical Memory (SAM).
This online form was designed to assess how well participants recalled past autobiographical facts and events. The answers given by the respondents allowed them to be labeled as having Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) or Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM).
Following the completion of the online questionnaire, all the participants underwent brain scanning at Baycrest Health Sciences. The brain scan was necessary because it allowed researchers to study the mapping pattern of brain connectivity – that is, how physical operations tally with various parts of the brain.
The research team focused their attention on connectivity existing between the medial temporal lobes and other parts of the brain; this area is known to operate memory function capabilities. The researchers observed that participants with SDAM recorded greater medial temporal lobe connectivity to part of their back brain known for visual processes, while those with HSAM had higher medial temporal lobe connectivity to the frontal part of the brain associated with reasoning and organization.
The results obtained from this research raises the question of how people with either HSAM or SDAM fares later in life with aging and brain health.
“With aging and early dementia, one of the first things that people notice is difficulty retrieving the details of events,” explained Dr. Brian Levine, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto.
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“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,” Levine added.