Scans Can Detect Recording of Memories

Positronic Emission Tomography (PET) images of brains

While believed to be a subtle biomechanical process by some neuroscientists and not prone to direct observation, new research with subjects interacting with a virtual reality environment has shown that scans can follow, record, and even predict the formulation of memories almost like an emulsion exposure process in chemical photography.

Humans create memories of locations in physical or virtual space as they move around - and it all shows up on brain scans.

Researchers tracked brain activity related to "spatial memory" as volunteers moved about inside a virtual reality setup. Their new study challenges previous scientific thinking by showing that memories are recorded in regular patterns.

"Surprisingly, just by looking at the brain data we could predict exactly where they were in the virtual reality environment," said Eleanor Maguire, a neuroscientist at the University College London in the U.K. "In other words, we could 'read' their spatial memories."

Maguire and her colleagues focused on the hippocampus, or a small part of the brain that deals with navigation, memory recall and imagining future events. Neurons known as "place cells" activate in the hippocampus and inform people of where they are as they move around.

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