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Controlling confusion: Researchers make insight into memory, forgetting

Why do we forget? Do memories decay on their own, or are they harmed by interference from similar memories? Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), brain researchers may have found the answer

Although the notion of memory decay makes sense, Brad Postle, assistant professor of psychology at UW-Madison, says it may be inaccurate.

"Psychologists have known for decades that the intuitive notion of decay is probably less of a factor in forgetting than is interference," he says. Interference occurs, he says, when "other remembered information disrupts, competes with or confuses the information that you want to remember."

Interference is always present, Postle says, but we don't always notice it.

From brain scans, scientists already knew that the subregion under study, called the inferior frontal gyrus, or IFG, is active when volunteers take memory tests while confronting interference. But was the IFG essential to controlling interference, or was it just contributing more brain horsepower to complex memory tasks?

To answer that question, the researchers temporarily disrupted the IFG using TMS, a noninvasive technique that shows potential for treating depression and other disorders.

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Tags : memory TMS confusion
Posted on: 2006-12-05 16:25:11