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By TOM FIELDS-MEYER I was looking in my closet, choosing a shirt, when I lost my mind. Four hours later, I’m in the E.R., and I don’t know how I got here. My wife, Shawn, stands at my bedside, her expression alternating between reassuring and dismayed. Next to her, a doctor in his mid-50s calmly tells me he’s going to name three objects. “I want you to hold these in your mind,” he says. “Apple, table, penny.” I nod, noticing a semicircle of young interns behind him, listening intently. Then the doctor asks me to multiply 17 times 3. “I’m not very good at math,” I say. He waits. “Let’s see. Twenty times 3 is 60, minus 6.” I pause, correcting myself. “No, minus 9. Fifty-one?” “Good.” He smiles. “Now, what were those three objects I named?” I can’t recall the objects. I barely remember that he listed them. Flustered, I purse my lips and slowly shake my head, looking at Shawn. She fills in the blanks for me: I woke up, took a shower, and when I stepped out, I seemed disoriented. I sat down on the bed. “Wait, remind me, what are we doing today?” I asked her. “Do I need to remind you again? We’re having lunch at the Swerdlows’.” I didn’t remember that. I put a hand on my forehead, then lay on my back. “What day is it?” I asked her. Concerned by my blank stare, Shawn shot me questions: Do you know who came over last night? (I didn’t.) Do you remember what we argued about yesterday morning? (I couldn’t.) © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18596 - Posted: 09.02.2013

Alison Abbott Like humans, Drosophila fruitflies become forgetful with age. But at least their memory deficits can be reversed by eating a diet rich in polyamines, according to a study published online today1 in Nature Neuroscience. “There’s a great need for cognitive enhancers to keep us healthy into old age — now polyamines are offering a new approach,” says learning and memory specialist Ronald Davis at the Scripps Research Institute Florida in Jupiter, who was not involved in the study. “There are reasons for optimism that this fly work will translate into human.” Polyamines — which include the graphically named putrescine, cadaverine and spermidine — are small molecules that are essential for cells to survive and grow. But their cellular levels decline with age. Some foods that are popularly considered to have health benefits — such as wheatgerm and fermented soya beans — contain high levels of polyamines. Japanese scientists have shown that natto, a fermented soya-bean product, raises the level of polyamines in the blood in humans2. But there is a long way to go before anyone can say that polyamines can help to stave off memory decline in ageing people, cautions Stephan Sigrist of the Free University of Berlin, one of the study's principal investigators. “Still, the polyamine system does offer a new target for those interested in developing therapies.” © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18595 - Posted: 09.02.2013

by Bob Holmes It's the cruel cycle of poverty. The many challenges that come with being poor can sap people's ability to think clearly, according to a new study. The findings suggest that governments should think twice before tying up social-assistance programmes in confusing red tape. Sociologists have long known that poor people are less likely to take medications, keep appointments, or be attentive parents. "Poor people make poorer decisions. They do. The question is why," says Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But does bad decision-making help cause poverty, or does poverty interfere with decision-making? To explore this question, psychologist Eldar Shafir at Princeton University and his colleagues took advantage of a natural experiment. Small-scale sugar-cane farmers in Tamil Nadu in southern India receive most of their year's income all at once, shortly after the annual harvest. As a result, the same farmer can be poor before harvest and relatively rich after. And indeed, Shafir's team found that farmers had more loans, pawned more belongings, and reported more difficulty paying bills before the harvest than after. The researchers visited 464 farmers in 54 villages both before and after harvest. At each visit, they gave the farmers two tests of their cognitive ability: a multiple-choice pattern-matching test, and one in which they had to declare the number of digits shown rather then their value: seeing "5 5 5" but saying "three", for example. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18592 - Posted: 08.31.2013

Amanda Mascarelli It’s an inconvenient truth of aging: In our 30s and up, it gets increasingly harder for most of us to recall names, faces, and details from the past. Scientists have long debated whether this gradual decline is an early form of Alzheimer’s disease—a neurodegenerative condition that leads to severe dementia—or a distinct neurological process. Now, researchers have found a protein that distinguishes typical forgetfulness from Alzheimer’s and could lead to potential treatments for age-related memory loss. Previous studies have shown that Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory loss involve different neural circuits in the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure in the brain where memories are formed and organized. The hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease are well established—tangled proteins and plaques accumulate over time, and brain tissue atrophies. But little is known about what occurs when memory declines during normal aging, except that brain cells begin to malfunction, says Scott Small, a neurologist at Columbia University and senior author to the study. “At the molecular level, there’s been a lot of uncertainty about what is actually going wrong, and that’s what this paper isolates.” To tease apart the biological processes involved in memory loss in normal aging, Scott and other researchers from Columbia University in New York examined postmortem brain tissue from eight healthy people ranging in age from 33 to 86. They looked for differences in gene expression—the proteins or other products that a gene makes—between younger and older people. They also looked for age-related changes in the brains of mice. © 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18582 - Posted: 08.29.2013

By Clayton Aldern We’ve been here before. Two or three times a year, a team of neuroscientists comes along and tightropes over the chasm that is dystopian research. Across the valley lies some pinnacle of human achievement; below flows the dirty, coursing river of mind control and government-sponsored brainwashing and all things Nineteen Eighty-Four. Cliffside, maybe clutching our tinfoil caps, we bite our nails and try to keep our faith in the scientists. This time is no different. On July 26, a research team took its first step onto the tightrope. Working under Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa, the MIT group reported that they had created a false memory in the brain of a mouse. “Our data,” wrote the authors in Science, “demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means.” While the sterility reserved for scientific research abstracts tends to diffuse the élan of the work, the gravity here is apparent. Which brings us to the cliff and the chasm. That devil-klaxon of a sound effect from Inception always seems appropriate for heralding reports with sci-fi undertones. In the case of the closest thing we have to an actual inception, it seems particularly apt. But the group’s work is not Inception per se, and it’s certainly not Total Recall. That’s not to say it isn’t unnerving. It’s also not to say the study isn’t remarkable. More than anything, the Science paper’s publication is a reminder that neuroscience is inching over some dangerous ethical waters, and from here, it is important to tread carefully. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18567 - Posted: 08.27.2013

Moheb Costandi In the early hours of 9 September, 1984, a stranger entered Mrs M's California home through an open living-room window. Finding Mrs M asleep, he tried to rape her, but fled when other people in the house awoke. Mrs M described her assailant to the police: he was black, weighing about 170 pounds and 5'7” to 5'9” tall, with small braids and a blue baseball cap. Officers cruising her neighbourhood spotted someone roughly matching that description standing beside his car a block away from the house. The man, Joseph Pacely, said that his car had broken down and he was looking for someone to jump-start it. But Mrs M identified him as her attacker and he was charged. At Pacely's trial a few months later, memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus testified on his behalf. She told the jury how memory is fallible; how stress and fear may have impaired Mrs M's ability to identify her assailant, and how people can find it difficult to identify someone of a race other than their own. Pacely was acquitted. “It's cases like this that mean the most to me,” says Loftus, “the ones in which I play a role in bringing justice to an innocent person.” In a career spanning four decades, Loftus, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, has done more than any other researcher to document the unreliability of memory in experimental settings. And she has used what she has learned to testify as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases — Pacely's was her 101st — informing juries that memories are pliable and that eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18514 - Posted: 08.15.2013

Helen Shen The false mouse memories made the ethicists uneasy. By stimulating certain neurons in the hippocampus, Susumu Tonegawa and his colleagues caused mice to recall receiving foot shocks in a setting in which none had occurred1. Tonegawa, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, says that he has no plans to ever implant false memories into humans — the study, published last month, was designed just to offer insight into memory formation. But the experiment has nonetheless alarmed some neuroethicists. “That was a bell-ringer, the idea that you can manipulate the brain to control the mind,” says James Giordano, chief of neuroethics studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He says that the study is one of many raising ethical concerns, and more are sure to come as an ambitious, multi-year US effort to parse the human brain gets under way. The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative will develop technologies to understand how the brain’s billions of neurons work together to produce thought, emotion, movement and memory. But, along with the discoveries, it could force scientists and society to grapple with a laundry list of ethical issues: the responsible use of cognitive-enhancement devices, the protection of personal neural data, the prediction of untreatable neurodegenerative diseases and the assessment of criminal responsibility through brain scanning. On 20 August, US President Barack Obama’s commission on bioethics will hold a meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to begin to craft a set of ethics standards to guide the BRAIN project. There is already one major mechanism for ethical oversight in US research: institutional review boards, which must approve any studies involving human subjects. But many ethicists say that as neuroscience discoveries creep beyond laboratory walls into the marketplace and the courtroom, more comprehensive oversight is needed. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18513 - Posted: 08.15.2013

“OUR primary goal is for our users to see us as a gym, where they can work out and keep mentally fit,” says Michael Scanlon, the co-founder and chief scientist of Lumos Labs. For $14.95 a month, subscribers to the firm’s Lumosity website get to play a selection of online games designed to improve their cognitive performance. There are around 40 exercises available, including “speed match”, in which players click if an image matches a previous one; “memory matrix”, which requires remembering which squares on a matrix were shaded; and “raindrops”, which involves solving arithmetic problems before the raindrops containing them hit the ground. The puzzles are varied, according to how well users perform, to ensure they are given a suitably challenging brain-training session each day. The popularity of Lumosity since its launch in 2007 has been, well, mind-blowing. Its smartphone app has been the top education app in the iTunes store at some point in 38 countries. On August 1st it launched an iPad version, which it expects to boost its existing 45m registered users in 180-plus countries. Lumos Labs has already raised almost $70m in venture capital, and is one of two firms vying to become the first public company serving the new “digital brain health” market, says Alvaro Fernandez of SharpBrains, a research firm. (The firm hoping to beat it to the punch is NeuroSky, which makes “brainwave sensors”—including some shaped like cats’ ears that will apparently wiggle if you are enjoying yourself and droop if you are relaxed.) The metaphor of workouts for the mind will set alarm bells ringing for anyone familiar with Brain Gym, a series of physical exercises for children, adopted unquestioningly by many British schools, whose supposed cognitive benefits were debunked in “Bad Science”, a 2008 book by Ben Goldacre. However, Mr Scanlon, who quit his neuroscience PhD at Stanford University to co-found Lumos Labs, says he was inspired to do so by the mounting academic evidence of the plasticity of the brain and of the ability to improve cognitive function through simple exercises. © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18480 - Posted: 08.10.2013

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Over the past decade, in study after study in animals and people, exercise has been shown to improve the ability to learn and remember. But the specifics of that process have remained hazy. Is it better to exercise before you learn something new? What about during? And should the exercise be vigorous or gentle? Two new studies helpfully tackle those questions, with each reaching the conclusion that the timing and intensity of even a single bout of exercise can definitely affect your ability to remember — though not always beneficially. To reach that conclusion, scientists conducting the larger and more ambitious of the new studies, published in May in PLoS One, first recruited 81 healthy young women who were native German speakers and randomly divided them into three groups. Each group wore headphones and listened for 30 minutes to lists of paired words, one a common German noun and the other its Polish equivalent. The women were asked to memorize the unfamiliar word. But they heard the words under quite different circumstances. One group listened after sitting quietly for 30 minutes. A second group rode a stationary bicycle at a gentle pace for 30 minutes and then sat down and donned the headphones. And the third group rode a bicycle at a mild intensity for 30 minutes while wearing the headphones and listening to the new words. Two days later, the women completed tests of their new vocabulary. Everyone could recall some new words. But the women who had gently ridden a bicycle while hearing the new words — who had exercised lightly during the process of creating new memories —performed best. They had the most robust recall of the new information, significantly better than the group that had sat quietly and better than the group that had exercised before learning. Those women performed only slightly better than the women who had not exercised at all. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18475 - Posted: 08.08.2013

Jason Bruck Ever been at a party where you recognize everyone’s faces but can’t think of their names? That wouldn’t happen if you were a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). The marine mammals can remember each other’s signature contact whistles—calls that function as names—for more than 20 years, the longest social memory ever recorded for a nonhuman animal, according to a new study. “The ability to remember individuals is thought to be extremely important to the ‘social brain,’ ” says Janet Mann, a marine mammal biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the research. Yet, she notes, no one has succeeded in designing a test for this talent in the great apes—our closest kin—let alone in dolphins. Dolphins use their signature whistles to stay in touch. Each has its own unique whistle, and they learn and can repeat the whistles of other dolphins. A dolphin will answer when another dolphin mimics its whistle—just as we reply when someone calls our name. The calls enable the marine mammals to communicate over long distances—which is necessary because they live in “fission-fusion” societies, meaning that dolphins in one group split off to join other groups and later return. By whistling, they’re able to find each other again. Scientists don’t know how long dolphins are separated in the wild, but they do know the animals can live almost 50 years. So how long do the dolphins remember the calls of their friends? To find out, Jason Bruck, a cognitive ethologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, spent 5 years collecting 71 whistles from 43 dolphins at six captive facilities, including Brookfield Zoo near Chicago and Dolphin Quest in Bermuda. The six sites belong to a consortium that rotates the marine mammals for breeding and has decades-long records of which dolphins have lived together. © 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 18473 - Posted: 08.07.2013

by Helen Thomson We all get lost sometimes. Luckily, specialised cells in the brain that help animals find their way have now been identified in humans for the first time. The discovery could lead to better treatments for people who have problems navigating. We know that animals use three cell types to navigate the world. Direction cells fire only when an animal is facing a particular direction, place cells fire only in a particular location, and grid cells fire at regular intervals as an animal moves around. To understand how grid cells work, imagine the carpet in front of you has a grid pattern of interlocking triangles. One grid cell will fire whenever you reach the corner of any triangle in that grid. Shift the grid pattern along ever so slightly to another section of the carpet, and another grid cell will be responsible for firing every time you reach the corners of that grid's triangles – and so on. Grid cells send information to place cells and both kinds of cell send information to the hippocampus – responsible for memory formation. Together, this network of activity helps form a mental representation of an animal's location in its environment. Direction and place cells have been identified in humans but the existence of grid cells has so far only been hinted at in brain scans. To find out whether these cells do exist in humans, Joshua Jacobs at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and colleagues tested 14 people who had already had electrodes implanted in their brains for epilepsy therapy. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18459 - Posted: 08.05.2013

By Darold Treffert So much of what happens to us in life is not by plan, but rather by coincidence or serendipity. Thus it was with me and my career. After completing my residency in psychiatry I was assigned the responsibility of developing a Children’s Unit at Winnebago Mental Health Institute here in Wisconsin. There were over 800 patients at the hospital, some under age 18. We gathered about 30 such children and adolescents and put them on this new unit. Three patients particularly caught my eye. One boy had memorized the bus system of the entire city of Milwaukee with exhaustive detail and precision. Another little guy, even though mute and severely disabled with autism, could put a 200 piece jig saw puzzle together—picture side down—just from the geometric shapes of the puzzle pieces. And a third lad was an expert on what happened on this day in history and even though I would study up the night before, knowing he would quiz me the next day, I could never surpass his recall of events on that day in history. Kim Peek, his father Fran Peek and Dr. Treffert meeting in Milwaukee I was stunned, and intrigued, by this jarring juxtaposition of ability and disability in the same individual and began to study all that I could about savant syndrome—“islands of genius” amidst a sea of impairment. Then in 1980 Leslie Lemke came to Fond du Lac to give a concert. Leslie–blind, cognitively impaired and with such spasticity in his hands that he could not hold a fork or spoon to eat—had become a accomplished pianist, never having had a piano lesson in his life. Somehow the hand spasticity magically disappears when he sits at the keyboard. The 1983 60 Minutes program, which many still remember, recounted in detail the astonishment of Leslie’s mother, May Lemke, one evening, when Leslie, age 14, played back Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 flawlessly, having heard it earlier for the first time that evening as the soundtrack to the movie Sincerely Yours. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18437 - Posted: 08.01.2013

By Julie Hecht AFTER A LONG DAY of being a dog, no dog in existence has ever curled up on a comfy couch to settle in with a good book. Dogs just don’t roll like that. But that shouldn’t imply that human words don’t or can’t have meaning for dogs. Chaser, a Border Collie from South Carolina, first entered the news in 2011 when a Behavioral Processes paper reported she had learned and retained the distinct names of over 1,000 objects. But that’s not all. When tested on the ability to associate a novel word with an unfamiliar item, she could do that, too. She also learned that different objects fell into different categories: certain things are general “toys,” while others are the more specific “Frisbees” and, of course, there are many, many exciting “balls.” She differentiates between object labels and action commands, interpreting “fetch sock” as two separate words, not as the single phrase “fetchsock.” Fast forward two years. Chaser and her owner and trainer Dr. John Pilley, an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College, appeared again in a scientific journal. This time, the study highlighted Chaser’s attention to the syntactical relationships between words, for example, differentiating “to ball take Frisbee” from “to Frisbee take ball.” I’ve been keeping an eye on Chaser, and I’ve been keeping an eye on Rico, Sofia, Bailey, Paddy and Betsy, all companion dogs whose way with human language has been reported in scientific journals. Most media reports tend to focus on outcomes: what these dogs can — or can’t — do with our words. But I think these reports are missing the point. Learning the names of over 1,000 words doesn’t just happen overnight. What does the behind-the-scenes learning and training look like? How did Chaser develop this intimate relationship with human language? © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 18435 - Posted: 07.31.2013

By Jason Castro It’s the premise of every third sci-fi thriller. Man wakes up to his normal seeming life, but of course it isn’t. At first, just the little things are off – the dog won’t eat and the TV keeps looping some strange video – but whatever. A few cuts later, with only his granddad’s rusty brass knuckles and a steely-eyed contempt for authority, our hero reveals a conspiracy that kicks up straight to the top. There were deals. Some blackmailing. A probe or two. But in the end, what’s most important is that everything he thought he knew was wrong. Because the scientists (Noooo!!) got to him with one of those electrode caps and rewrote his memory. Everything – the job, the daughter, the free parking – is a lie. The dramatic ploy works on us because memory seems inviolable, or at least, we desperately hope that it is. We allow that our memories may fade and fail a bit, but otherwise, we go on the sanity-preserving assumption that there is one reason why we remember a particular thing: because we were there, and it actually happened. Now, a new set of experiments, led by MIT neuroscientists Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu in Susumu Tonegawa’s lab, shows that this needn’t be the case. Using a stunning set of molecular neuroscience techniques (no electrode caps involved), these scientists have captured specific memories in mice, altered them, and shown that the mice behave in accord with these new, false, implanted memories. The era of memory engineering is upon us, and naturally, there are big implications for basic science and, perhaps someday, human health and society. © 2013 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18432 - Posted: 07.31.2013

Kelly Servick Our imperfect memory is inconvenient at the grocery store and downright dangerous on the witness stand. In extreme cases, we may be confident that we remember something that never happened at all. Now, a group of neuroscientists say that they’ve identified a potential mechanism of false memory creation and have planted such a memory in the brain of a mouse. Neuroscientists are only beginning to tackle the phenomenon of false memory, says Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, whose team conducted the new research. “It’s there, and it’s well established,” he says, “but the brain mechanisms underlying this false memory are poorly known.” With optogenetics—the precise stimulation of neurons with light—scientists can seek out the physical basis of recall and even tweak it a bit, using mouse models. Like us, mice develop memories based on context. When a mouse returns to an environment where it felt pain in the past, it recalls that experience and freezes with fear. Tonegawa’s team knew that the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for establishing memory, plays a role in encoding context-based experiences, and that stimulating cells in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus can make a mouse recall and react to a mild electric shock that it received in the past. The new goal was to connect that same painful shock memory to a context where the mouse had not actually received a shock. © 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18416 - Posted: 07.27.2013

by Virginia Morell The next time your dog digs a hole in the backyard after watching you garden, don't punish him. He's just imitating you. A new study reveals that our canine pals are capable of copying our behavior as long as 10 minutes after it's happened. The ability is considered mentally demanding and, until this discovery, something that only humans and apes were known to do. Scientists first discovered that dogs are excellent at imitating their owners in 2006. Or at least, one dog had the talent: Philip, a 4-year-old Belgian Tervuren working with József Topál, a behavioral ethologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. Topál adapted the method (called "Do as I do") that Keith and Catherine Hayes developed in the 1950s for teaching an infant chimpanzee to copy their actions. Philip was already a trained assistant dog for his disabled owner and readily followed Topál's commands. First, Topál told him to stay, and then commanded "Do as I do." The researcher then performed a simple action, such as jumping in place, barking, putting an object in a box, or carrying it to Philip's owner. Next, Topál ordered, "Do it!", and Philip responded by matching the scientist's actions. The experiment was designed to explore dog's imitative abilities, not to measure how long Philip's memory lasted; but his owner used Philip's skill to teach him how to do new, useful behaviors, such as fetching objects or putting things away. Despite Philip's abilities, "nobody really cared, or saw that it could be useful for investigating how dogs learn or see their world," says Ádám Miklósi, a behavioral ethologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest who was part of Topál's team. And in 2009, another team concluded that dogs were only able to correctly imitate if there was no more than a 5-second delay between watching the action and repeating it. With such a short retention span, dogs' vaunted imitation skills seemed useless. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18399 - Posted: 07.23.2013

by Virginia Morell A single cue—the taste of a madeleine, a small cake, dipped in lime tea—was all Marcel Proust needed to be transported down memory lane. He had what scientists term an autobiographical memory of the events, a type of memory that many researchers consider unique to humans. Now, a new study argues that at least two species of great apes, chimpanzees and orangutans, have a similar ability; in zoo experiments, the animals drew on 3-year-old memories to solve a problem. Their findings are the first report of such a long-lasting memory in nonhuman animals. The work supports the idea that autobiographical memory may have evolved as a problem-solving aid, but researchers caution that the type of memory system the apes used remains an open question. Elephants can remember, they say, but many scientists think that animals have a very different kind of memory than our own. Many can recall details about their environment and routes they've traveled. But having explicit autobiographical memories of things "I" did, or remembering events that occurred in the past, or imagining those in the future—so-called mental time travel—are considered by many psychologists to be uniquely human skills. Until recently, scientists argued that animals are stuck in time, meaning that they have no sense of the past or future and that they aren't able to recall specific events from their lives—that is, they don't have episodic memories, the what-where-when of an event that happened. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18395 - Posted: 07.20.2013

by Jennifer Viegas The memory of dogs is more human-like than previously thought, allowing our furry pals to copy our actions, even after delays. The discovery, outlined in the latest issue of Animal Cognition, means that dogs possess what’s known as “declarative memory,” which refers to memories which can be consciously recalled, such as facts or knowledge. Humans, of course, have this ability, as anyone playing a trivia game demonstrates. But it had never fully been scientifically proven in dogs before, although dog owners and canine aficionados have likely witnessed the skill first-hand for years. Claudia Fugazza and Adám Miklósi of Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary conducted the study. A LOT of dog studies happen in Hungary, where people really love their pooches and some of the world’s leading canine researchers live. The team investigated if dogs could defer imitation, which in this case meant copying what their owners were doing. Eight adult pet dogs were trained using the “Do As I Do” method. (Fugazza is a leading expert on this training method for dogs.) The tasks included copying their owners walking around a bucket and ringing a bell. Can dogs then successfully replicate what they learned after a 10 or so minute distracting break? The owner, Valentina, got her dog Adila to pay attention to her. She then demonstrated an activity, like ringing a bell with her hand. © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18386 - Posted: 07.18.2013

By Susan Gaidos For nearly a decade, neuro­scientist Li-Huei Tsai and her colleagues have been studying senile mice. In a lab at MIT her team has genetically fast-forwarded the mice into a condition much like dementia: They have problems making new memories and retrieving old ones. The mice forget how to navigate water mazes they had mastered; they don’t recognize signs of imminent danger they had once responded to fearfully. Last year, Tsai’s group found a way to reverse the process. When given a drug known to strengthen nerve cell connections in the brain, the mice not only gained back the ability to learn new tasks, but also remembered many forgotten behaviors. On the opposite coast, researchers are using a similar drug to rewire long-held memories in mice facing another kind of mental challenge: drug addiction. Neurobiologist Marcelo Wood of the University of California, Irvine coaxes cocaine-seeking mice to view the sights and sounds they’ve learned to associate with getting cocaine. He then creates a new, harmless memory around those cues. After a single treatment, mice placed near their drug den forget their cravings. Though Tsai and Wood use different drugs in their studies, both draw on research showing that the ability to learn and remember can be influenced by subtle changes to DNA — changes that affect how genes turn on and off without altering the underlying genetic information. Such epigenetic modifications, it turns out, might have a profound impact on long-term memory. Exploring these methods has opened a growing field of research, called neuroepigenetics, aimed at finding ways to boost memory in humans. Results so far offer the prospect of new types of medication to improve memory and even restore long-forgotten information in disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease or other types of dementia. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18373 - Posted: 07.13.2013

By Christie Aschwanden, It’s a thought that crosses many middle-aged minds when a word is forgotten or a set of keys misplaced: Is this a fluke, or the first sign of dementia? “Most of us will experience some cognitive changes with age,” says Molly Wagster, chief of the behavioral and systems neuroscience branch of the National Institute on Aging, who likens the mental change to the slowing of a marathon runner’s times with advancing years. The ability to call up words is one of the first things to slip. “You might find it more difficult to recall someone’s name or the name of a book you read or favorite movie. Eventually, you’ll remember it, but it takes a little longer,” Wagster says. Such problems are irritating and frustrating, but they’re usually not a sign that your mind is going, Wagster says. “There are a lot of things that have some evidence behind them, but it’s hard to find interventions that have convincing evidence behind them,” says Victor Henderson, a neurologist who studies cognitive aging at Stanford University Medical School. Physical activity seems like the most promising thing you can do to keep your brain at its best, Henderson says. The evidence comes mostly from observational studies rather than the randomized, controlled trials that are considered the gold standard, but it’s consistent: People who engage in aerobic activity — for instance, walking several times per week — show improvements in their cognitive function, particularly in their ability to switch quickly from task to task, Wagster says. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18338 - Posted: 07.03.2013