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Some people have a better memory than others, because areas of the brain involved in remembering information have a stronger connection with each other. This was one of the findings in research carried out by Dr Mike Cohen, neuropsychologist at the University of Amsterdam. His research results were published in the academic journal Current Biology on 3 November 2011.

Brain and Cognition

Some people have a better memory than others, because areas of the brain involved in remembering information have a stronger connection with each other. This was one of the findings in research carried out by Dr Mike Cohen, neuropsychologist at the University of Amsterdam. His research also showed that the extent to which you can remember things depends on specific rhythmic brain activity. His research results were published in the academic journal Current Biology on 3 November 2011.

Cohen had test subjects look at drawings on a computer screen. They were then asked to remember the image for a few seconds after it was removed from the screen. To do this, test subjects used their working memory (WM), the part of the memory that is used for temporarily storing information. While performing this task, their brain activity was monitored using an Electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain. Test subjects were asked to undergo a second test to examine their long-term memory. They were again asked to look at a series of drawings and indicate whether any of these drawings had been presented in the first test.

Rhythmic brain activity

Using the EEG data, Cohen looked at the rhythmic brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Test subjects showing a slower brain rhythm in the WM task, performed better in the second test and were better able to remember complex drawings. Slower brain rhythms may therefore play an important role in processing and remembering complex information.

Cohen also examined the test subjects using an MRI scanner. He observed activity in the prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain involved in the WM – and the hippocampus, which is involved in long-term memory. Cohen discovered that test subjects with stronger connectivity between these two areas performed better in the long-term memory test. Comparison with the EEG data showed that these test subjects also exhibited a slower brain rhythm in the prefrontal cortex.

Cohen’s findings suggest that people with stronger connectivity between two important brain memory centres have a slower brain rhythm in the prefrontal cortex and are better at creating memories. Why some people have stronger connectivity and slower brain rhythms is currently unknown. Subsequent research will demonstrate if it is possible to strengthen connectivity in the brain and if this would be effective in improving memory.

Publication information

M.X. Cohen: ‘Hippocampal-Prefrontal Connectivity Predicts Midfrontal Oscillations and Long-Term Memory Performance’, in Current Biology, 22 November 2011.