New York: Scientists have discovered a mechanism that may explain how we recall nearly all of what happened on a recent afternoon lunch with a friend or make a plan for how to spend an upcoming afternoon at home in the fraction of a time.
The breakthrough has implications for research into schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders where real experiences and ones that exist only in the mind can become distorted.
Laura Colgin, assistant professor of neuroscience and Chenguang Zheng, postdoctoral researcher, at the University of Texas at Austin found that one of the brain frequencies allows us to play back memories — or envision future activities — in fast forward.
“The reason we’re excited about it is that we think this mechanism can help explain how you can imagine a sequence of events you’re about to do in a time-compressed manner,” said Colgin.
“You can plan out those events and think about the sequences of actions you’ll do. And all of that happens on a faster time scale when you’re imagining it than when you actually go and do those things,” Colgin added.
The mechanism compresses information needed for memory retrieval, imagination or planning and encodes it on a brain wave frequency that is different from the one used for recording real-time experiences.
Colgin notes that the research could also explain why people with schizophrenia who are experiencing disrupted brain rhythms have a hard time distinguishing between imagined and real experiences.
“Maybe they are transmitting their own imagined thoughts on the wrong frequency, the one usually reserved for things that are really happening,” Colgin pointed out.
The paper appeared in journal Neuron.