Previous studies conclude that recollection and familiarity memory is separated and processed in different parts of the brain

Researchers from the University of California - San Diego have dug deep into the human brain and uncovered new possibilities about the hippocampus' role in how memories are created and processed.

Larry R. Squire, Ph.D., study leader and professor of psychiatry, neurosciences and psychology at UC San Diego, along with Christine N. Smith, Ph.D., a project scientist, and John T. Wixted, Ph.D., professor of psychology and chair of the UC San Diego Department of Psychology, have studied different types of memories and where they are processed in the brain.

Squire, Smith and Wixted have found that the hippocampus, which is a structure in the center of the brain associated with memory function, may play a larger memory role than scientists previously thought.

Familiarity memory and recollection memory are two vital pieces of recognition memory, which allows humans to identify something that have previously encountered before. Familiarity memory involves remembering something previously encountered without any specific details. On the other hand, recollection memory refers to remembering specific details about something the person encountered, such as where and when they may have met a person.

Previous research has shown that these two types of memory have been independent of one another, involving different areas of the brain. Recollection memory has been associated with the hippocampus while the perirhinal cortex has been associated with familiarity memory. But according to Squire, the idea that these two types of memories were separated seemed unlikely due to the connectivity in the two parts of the human brain.

To look further into this, Squire, Smith and Wixted created a new technique for analyzing how both types of memory are formed. It also looks at their strength, since recollection memories are typically thought to be stronger with higher accuracy and confidence while familiarity-based memory is thought to be weaker as far as accuracy and confidence goes.

The technique involves functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and word tests. Volunteers had their brains scanned as they conducted word tests, which entailed the appearance of a word, and the volunteer had to decide whether the word had been encountered previously in the game or not on a 20-point confidence scale. If a volunteer decided that a word had been encountered before, they were asked to deem it "remembered," which means a recollected memory, "known," which means a familiar memory, or just "guessed."

According to the study's results, the hippocampus was involved in both strong recollected and familiar items, which challenges previous studies that believe the two are separated. As expected, recollected choices had a higher accuracy and confidence rating than familiar choices.

Squire hopes that this type of research leads to better treatments for patients with memory problems.

Source: Science Daily

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