Memory Sweep

Is your brain. . . a hoarder?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, actually, not.

Consider: so much happens throughout a day, but we don’t remember every detail the next morning. That’s because from day to day, a night of sleep provides a housekeeping service. Our brain literally declutters our memories. But how does it decide what to keep… and what to trash?

Scientists from the University of Cambridge studied memory selection using mice. They gave mice anesthesia to mimic our deep sleep. In the meantime, they monitored neuron interaction through electrodes placed inside their brains.

Results? The memory purge was organized by brainwaves. What to keep and what to trash totally depends on timing. It’s like the game of jump rope, with brainwaves constantly swinging up and down. Just as we JUMP when the rope swings down, the neurons TALK when the brainwave swings down. This strengthens neuron connections. And their conversation is saved as memory. Otherwise, when the brainwave swings up, all the information gets knocked out!

It’s a fascinating system! But students, take note – for your dorm room, perhaps a wastebasket and a Swiffer…?