We’ve all misplaced our car keys at one time or another. But, have you ever thought about how you suddenly remembered where they were? Here’s an easier one – how does your brain remember where you parked your car? Well, apparently it’s similar to associating your auto insurance payment with a particular date on the calendar.
In other words – your brain has the capability to form a specific memory of an experience that might involve running into an old friend you haven’t seen for years in a particular place, such as an airport, supermarket – or perhaps where you might have first met your future wife or husband. As a result, that memory will likely forever link the person you ran into or met for the first time with the particular place where you saw them.
Proving this point further – Itzhak Fried, head of the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at UCLA and a co-author of the paper that was published in the journal Neuron, explains that a study such as this can help doctors understand the neural code that serves memory. Even more important – is being able to actually witness the links people’s brains create and how they create them.
Without getting too technical, according to researchers, “neurons in one area of the brain change their behavior as soon as someone associates a particular person with a specific place”. But, the recent findings are positive in more ways than one as they could be equally vital in the search of how patients in early to late stages of Alzheimer’s have an increased difficulty in forming new memories.
Interestingly, this research isn’t new. In fact, it initially began over a decade ago and the latest study is merely a continuation of the original work. It was during that study that scientists first discovered the presence of special neurons in the brain, located within the temporal lobe, which possessed certain characteristics. The neurons reacted only to stimuli associated with a specific person or place.
For experiment purposes, researchers used a fake picture of actor Clint Eastwood and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test the way the human brain creates a link between person and place. And, according to Matias Ison of the University of Leicester in the U.K., in the latest study, it was discovered that – if two individuals were connected in some fashion, those same neurons would, in turn, respond by creating a link between the two individuals.
At the outset, the research team was able to identify the neurons responsible for reacting to a specific individual. That led to scientists identifying different neurons that responded only when the test subject was shown pictures of a particular place.
The test that followed involved getting a patient’s brain to form a new association between a person and a place, when shown images of a famous person and a distinctive place, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The end result was the creation of a new memory linking the person and the place, causing special neurons in the medial temporal lobe to go about a behavioral change.
With guarded optimism, researchers believe that, if Alzheimer’s disease affects the same neurons that associate people with places, it could lead to an explanation as to why people afflicted with Alzheimer’s can’t remember simple things like where they parked their car, according to Fried.
So, if you make it a habit of going to the mall or large amusement parks on busy days – and, often can’t remember where you put your mini-van – you may want to think about creating an association between your car and where you park it. Not only will it save you time, but it’ll also save you from wearing out your shoes.
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Have you ever been unable to find where you parked your car? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.