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Our brain’s pattern of wavelengths to store memories

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Neuroscientists have found evidence that brain waves of different
frequencies play a crucial role in storing memories by getting separate
brain regions to work together.

It’s part of a growing body of
research that suggests that our brain waves – long thought of as simply a
byproduct of neuronal activity – play a crucial role in allowing our
brains to communicate internally.
Intrigued by previous research in the area, a team led by Earl Miller
and Scott Brincat, both from MIT, decided to study how the brain waves
of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex – two regions that are
crucial to learning – changed while the brain was trying to learn to
associate to unrelated objects.
What they found was pretty, well,
mind-blowing – whenever the brain correctly linked the two items in
question, the brain waves oscillated at a high, “beta” frequency, but
when the guess was wrong the waves oscillated at a lower, “theta”
frequency.
“It’s like you’re playing a computer game and you get a ding when you get it right, and a buzz when you get it wrong,” said Miller in a press release. “These two areas of the brain are playing two different ‘notes’ for correct guesses and wrong guesses.”
“Brain
waves had been ignored for decades in neuroscience. It’s been thought
of as the humming of a car engine. What we’re discovering through this
experiment and others is that these brain waves may be the
infrastructure that supports neural communication,” he added.
The researchers now believe that this brain wave feedback system
could actually reinforce correct guesses while suppressing the wrong
answers, helping the brain to learn the correct answer.
To work
out what was going on, the team studied monkeys’ brains – which are
known to work in a similar way to humans’ brains – as they formed
something called an explicit memory. The scientists did this by showing
the monkeys pairs of images so that they would gradually learn through
trial and error which two images went together – every time they got it
right, they were given a reward.
While this was going on, the
scientists recorded the brain wave activity of the animals. They
realised that when they were getting the answer wrong, the waves were
oscillating at around 2-6 hertz (cycles per second), while a correct
answer saw the brain waves oscillate at between 9 and 16 hertz.
“When
the animal guesses correctly, the brain hums at the correct answer
note, and that frequency reinforces the strengthening of connections,” said Miller in the release.
“When the animal guesses incorrectly, the ‘wrong’ buzzer buzzes, and
that frequency is what weakens connections, so it’s basically telling
the brain to forget about what it just did.”

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The results have been published in Nature Neuroscience, and
what’s perhaps most exciting about the research is that it essentially
means that we can hijack this process to enhance our cognitive
abilities.
Scientists are already using non-invasive, low voltage electrical stimulation to help improve adults’ memories and also treat a range of neurological conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia.
The team is now hoping that by knowing which brain wave frequencies are
used when by the brain, that they can speed up the learning process.
“The idea is that you make the correct guesses feel more correct to the brain, and the incorrect guesses feel more incorrect,” said Miller in the release.

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