Measuring Speed of Mental Replay of Movies Gives Insight into Accessing Memories

Summary: Study reports people access fully detailed memories at different speeds and levels of detail, often accessing older information first. Findings could help developing treatments for those with PTSD, researchers say.

Source: University of Birmingham.

Researchers have discovered that ‘fully detailed’ memories are stored in the brain, but people access this information at different speeds and levels of detail, with people accessing memories ‘forward’ that is recalling older information first.

They quickly skip episodic blocks of information when recalling events in summary – for example, telling a friend about the plot of a movie they have seen, but can also delve into greater levels of detail at a slower speed when asked about a particular movie scene.

Experts at the Universities of Birmingham and Kent worked with a group of volunteers, who were asked to associate word-cues with a series of short videos, as the researchers investigated the flexible dynamics of episodic memory replay.

They found that memory replay does not occur at a constant speed, but changes flexibly during recall, in a study which is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Dr Simon Hanslmayr, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Think about the scene in Pulp Fiction, where Vincent (John Travolta) tells Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) about his trip to Amsterdam – you might methodically and sequentially revisit every element of that particular dialogue because it’s fun to do so.”

“On the other hand, if a friend asks you what the movie is about you would mentally skip between key scenes – omitting less important information – as you quickly summarise the action.”

“Our understanding of flexible episodic memory may help PTSD sufferers troubled by slow, uncompressed replay of memories which haunt them. We may be able to design therapies that speed up the replay process to recall these memories in a less disturbing way.”

Researchers studied a group of 24 participants in the video study, supplemented by 23 volunteers who took part in a further study enhanced by real-time, non-invasive brain scanning (magnetencephalography or MEG).

The tests used six-second video clips featuring three separate but coherent sequences of a single theme, such as a ship sailing followed by a diver jumping into water followed by an octopus floating in the water. Researchers found that participants in the study were able to flexibly skip between ‘sub-events’ during memory replay, demonstrating different levels of information compression.

They found that memory replay does not occur at a constant speed, but changes flexibly during recall. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

The study links to earlier research carried out by Dr Hanslmayr and colleagues, which suggests that heavily traumatized people, such as refugees fleeing war, torture and natural catastrophes may not necessarily develop PTSD.

Dr Hanslmayr worked with a group of refugees – half suffering from PTSD, the others not – and asked them to suppress neutral memories. Results showed that participants who struggled to control these thoughts were more likely to show symptoms of PTSD.

This research raised the question of whether the ability to control memories protects against developing PTSD or if the condition causes an impairment in an individual’s ability to control their memories.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Tony Moran – University of Birmingham
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Speed of time-compressed forward replay flexibly changes in human episodic memory” by Sebastian Michelmann, Bernhard P. Staresina, Howard Bowman & Simon Hanslmayr in Nature Human Behaviour. Published December 17 2018.
doi:10.1038/s41562-018-0491-4

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Birmingham”Measuring Speed of Mental Replay of Movies Gives Insight into Accessing Memories.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 17 December 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/movie-replay-memory-10364/>.
University of Birmingham(2018, December 17). Measuring Speed of Mental Replay of Movies Gives Insight into Accessing Memories. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/movie-replay-memory-10364/
University of Birmingham”Measuring Speed of Mental Replay of Movies Gives Insight into Accessing Memories.” http://neurosciencenews.com/movie-replay-memory-10364/ (accessed December 17, 2018).

Abstract

Speed of time-compressed forward replay flexibly changes in human episodic memory

Remembering information from continuous past episodes is a complex task1. On the one hand, we must be able to recall events in a highly accurate way, often including exact timings. On the other hand, we can ignore irrelevant details and skip to events of interest. Here, we track continuous episodes consisting of different subevents as they are recalled from memory. In behavioural and magnetoencephalography data, we show that memory replay is temporally compressed and proceeds in a forward direction. Neural replay is characterized by the reinstatement of temporal patterns from encoding2,3. These fragments of activity reappear on a compressed timescale. Herein, the replay of subevents takes longer than the transition from one subevent to another. This identifies episodic memory replay as a dynamic process in which participants replay fragments of fine-grained temporal patterns and are able to skip flexibly across subevents.

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