Monday, November 03, 2014

Memory reactivation during rest supports upcoming learning of related content.

I have found that a brief period of rest, around 20 minutes or so, after I have worked on learning the notes and fingering of a new piano piece, has a huge effect on the ease of my subsequent learning and consolidation of the difficult passage when I return to practice. Now Schlicting and Preston have looked at the neural basis of this enhancement of subsequent learning of related material. I pass on both their statement of significance and their abstract:
How our brains capture and store new information is heavily influenced by what we already know. While prior work demonstrates that existing memories are spontaneously reactivated and strengthened in the brain during passive rest periods, the prospective benefits of spontaneous offline reactivation for future learning remain unknown. Here, we use functional MRI to interrogate how reactivation and interregional coupling support the ability to learn related content in later situations. We find that offline processing of prior memories is associated with better subsequent learning. Our results provide a mechanistic account of the circumstances under which prior knowledge can come to facilitate—as opposed to interfere with—new learning, serving as a strong foundation upon which new content is encoded.
Although a number of studies have highlighted the importance of offline processes for memory, how these mechanisms influence future learning remains unknown. Participants with established memories for a set of initial face–object associations were scanned during passive rest and during encoding of new related and unrelated pairs of objects. Spontaneous reactivation of established memories and enhanced hippocampal–neocortical functional connectivity during rest was related to better subsequent learning, specifically of related content. Moreover, the degree of functional coupling during rest was predictive of neural engagement during the new learning experience itself. These results suggest that through rest-phase reactivation and hippocampal–neocortical interactions, existing memories may come to facilitate encoding during subsequent related episodes.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:30 AM

    I was disappointed to see that the researchers in this study excluded emotional memories when studying the hippocampus portion of the feeling brain. It isn’t that difficult to do, and makes me wonder why they and other researchers go to such lengths to avoid including emotions in their studies.

    In other memory studies such as "Out-of-body–induced hippocampal amnesia" at, the researchers deemed emotional memories to be necessary in order to properly study the hippocampus, as evidenced by this statement about the experiment’s scripts: “..the selected life events had a moderate emotional level to ensure episodic long-term memory encoding.”

    This study's exclusion of emotional memories yields questionable findings (such as that replaying made memories stronger) because the researchers thus have too narrow a basis for a finding about “memory” that could apply across the entire spectrum of what can be termed “memory.”