Have you exercised your memory muscle today?

2 minute read

More motivation may make memories more muscular.

Researchers in the US have identified a link between memory formation and effort, in what could be a clue to improving brain function in neuropsychiatric disease.  

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience this week, the study looked at how the exertion of mental effort influenced activity in the brain’s memory centre.  

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the authors put participants through a series of memory-related tests of varying difficulty.  

When participants were informed of the difficulty level prior to the task, they tended to put in more effort, which was measured by changes in their pupil size and response time.  

“Behaviorally, pupil size was larger and response times were slower on hard compared to easy trials suggesting our manipulation of effort succeeded,” the New York University researchers wrote.  

“Neurally, we observed robust persistent activity during delay periods in prefrontal cortex, especially during hard trials.” 

While none of the memories could be decoded from patterns in prefrontal activity, the patterns of activity in the visual cortex revealed “strong decoding of memorised targets, where accuracy was higher on hard trials”.  

Linking the across-region effects, the researchers theorised that effort level impacts the quality of working memory representations encoded in the visual cortex; i.e. try harder, and your memories get better.  

“Indeed, we found that the amplitude of delay period activity in frontal cortex predicted decoded accuracy in visual cortex on a trial-wise basis,” they said.  

“These results indicate that effort-related feedback signals sculpt population activity in visual cortex, improving mnemonic fidelity.” 

This finding could potentially be applied in treatments aimed at improving cognition in diseases characterised by cognitive dysfunction, such as schizophrenia.  

Send your tips for building a mind palace to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au.

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