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BrainKind Bulletin 005: How our brains remember

memory test-1

Welcome to BrainKind Bulletin - your regular dose of neuroscience research.


The (big?) news: 

Neuroscientists have discovered the difference between how we perceive and how we remember information.


In other words: 

Remembering is a reconstructive process reversing perception.


What did they measure?

They used reaction times and EEG to test the hypothesis that the information flow is reversed when an event is reconstructed from memory, compared to when the same event is initially being perceived.

When you see something, the visual processing centre in your brain first processes the low-level features – line orientations, shapes and colours. Then the information is sent to the neocortex, where it is consolidated in a more abstract form.

When we remember, this process happens in the reverse order, suggesting it’s easier and quicker to recall memories in their abstract form, such as remembering you saw fruit but not a kiwi.


How did they measure it?

24 participants memorised pairs of words and unrelated images – either drawings or photographs – and when later cued with the word, they were asked to recall the object and categorise it as living or non-living. 

Their brain activity was tracked with an electroencephalography (EEG) while the team asked the participants to say precisely when they were able to recall a visual memory of the object.


What were the results?

When they were memorising the pairs, their brain activity peaked in the visual processing centre 100 milliseconds before the categorical information was actually encoded in the neocortex.

But when they were recalling an object from memory, it was the reverse – peaks in activity in the neocortex related to the category were found 300 milliseconds before the perceptual information came to mind.


What does this mean?

The researchers have found a neurobiologically plausible model of human memory, suggesting that memory retrieval is a hierarchical, multi-layered process that prioritises semantically meaningful information over perceptual detail.


Final thoughts?

Given that we are quicker and more accurate at remembering vague pieces of information than precise details, should we rethink how we communicate our brand messaging? For example, are visual metaphors for a product benefit more effective than a voiceover?


Your thoughts?

Any questions or opinions...

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Read the paper here:

What can tech brands do to stand out? Learnings from CES 2019

About Author

Aoife McGuinness
Aoife McGuinness

Neuroscience Consultant

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