One of the first studies published from the University of Missouri Brain Imaging Center (BIC) gives researchers insight into the brain and memory and may provide researchers clues to treating a variety of debilitating disorders.
Nelson Cowan, director of the BIC and Curator’s Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, used the BIC’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce graphics that depict the structure and function of the brain during various mental tasks in an effort to understand abstract working memory. People use their abstract working memories to assign meaning when trying to recall facts — for example, when someone dials a set of phone numbers, their abstract memory brings forth an image of the person they are calling.
Previous studies identified an area of the brain responsible for holding abstract working memory, although it was assumed by some researchers to hold only visual information. At the BIC, Cowan found that this same part of the brain can hold auditory information as well. For example, when people hear “Jingle Bells” they relate it to the Christmas season and retain the meaning of the song temporarily.
“This research has given us better understanding of an area of the brain that may be affected in people with various learning disabilities, autism and schizophrenia,” said Cowan. “For example, recent research has shown that people with schizophrenia simply hold fewer items in their working memories, rather having an inability to disregard unimportant items, as previously thought. Thus, discovering more about working memory will enable scientists to better target schizophrenia, among other disorders.”
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia.
Journal Reference: Nelson Cowan, Dawei Li, Amanda Moffitt, Theresa M. Becker, Elizabeth A. Martin, J. Scott Saults, Shawn E. Christ. A Neural Region of Abstract Working Memory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2011; : 1 DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2011.21625