How Memories Form- Breakthrough Study on Emotion and Neurological Association

Ever wonder what would happen if you ran into your first lost love on the train station? Imagine the sheer simultaneity of trauma and bliss forever etching that person, that place, and that day into your mind, like nonconsensual neurological programming. Ever wondered how memories form?


Neurologists have just gained the ability to observe a specific kind of physical link being created in the human brain. The study detailing recent research was published on Wednesday, in the journal Neuron. It happens when a subject’s (i.e. a Human’s) behavior alters by associating a particular person with a singular place. Itzhak Fried, one of the authors of the paper and also head of the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at UCLA, says that “this type of study helps us understand the neural code that serves memory,” and be key to understanding how memories form.


Cognitive psychology and neuroscience have made impressive progress in the study of patients suffering from diseases following accidents or disorders of the brain, but the precise mechanism behind these phenomena has eluded us until now.

This research is supplement to a broader topic of study which began ten years ago. Originally, scientists were inspired by neurons in the medial temporal lobe which seem to have evolved to respond only to a particular person, or a specific place, N.B., many patients tested positive for a real, singular neuron which exists specifically to respond to images of Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow of the TV show Friends. Scientists think that since the two actresses spent a good deal of time on screen together, it makes sense for the brain to create a link betwixt them.

THE PROCEDURE- how memories form by association

The scientists first step was to identify neurons responding to a specific face, e.g. Clint Eastwood, then scientists identified neurons responding to pictures of a particular place, for instance the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The fascinating part was to induce this process artificially; to cause the brain to form a new neurological association betwixt person and place. And, when stimulated with such imagery, the neurons in the medial temporal lobe changed their behavior.

“When the association is created, suddenly the cell very rapidly changes its firing properties, says Fried. To note, a cell in the brain ordinarily responding only to imagery of Clint Eastwood responded similarly to imagery of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


Such neurological behavior could lend explanatory power to how the brain creates memories of experiences in general, which, in addition to persons and specific places, may also involve emotions, tactile sensations, and a plenum of other information, added Fried. These specially designed neurons may function to assist in the re-assembly of all relevant information, to form a unitary simulation in the mind.


In addition, this study may also explain what occurs in the medial temporal lobe of those whom have trouble forming new memories, where in the case of “Alzheimer’s, one of the very first changes you see is in this very area…I have to create an association between my car and the particular place…If an association is not created, then I will not be able to find my car.”

This study also lends credence to the notion that memories can be formed quite rapidly, noted Michael J. Kahana, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (not directly involved in the study). This study will doubtlessly assist scientists pursuing the neurological cause(s) of memory impairment and identity loss, and be instrumental in finding out how memories form.


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