Memory plays a crucial role in the way we perceive the world around us. Memories and experiences condition our vision of reality and also allow us to modify behaviors.
A group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim seems to have found a key to understanding how our memories affect our perception of the world around us.
Through the development of a new computer model and a simulated scenario using virtual reality technologies, the specialists studied the participants’ reactions to certain stimuli and challenges.
According to a press release, the purpose of the scientists was to determine the specific areas of the brain that act when retrieving images of spaces or situations stored in memory. In addition to this, they sought to create a coding model capable of relating people’s choices to memory formation.
Beyond achieving success in their specific search, they reached other surprising conclusions. According to the results of the study, it can be determined that the memories of recent formation directly modify how we perceive the environment.
In other words, if the environment in which we move is familiar and familiar to us, the information that is integrated into neural networks to generate the mental maps that locate us in a given context is minimal, while in situations that seem to us the brain must work much more and put into action other areas and mechanisms.
This explains, for example, the appearance of certain memories in our minds in specific situations. The brain selects those that may be more significant at that time and discards others, which are still stored for use in another situation.
Accurate information on brain activity
All these mechanisms are reflected in brain activity, but the finding of this research is that it has managed to pinpoint and measure the information flows involved in these processes. To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques when studying the participants’ reactions.
The tests included the use of an MRI scanner, which measured how the participants reacted by trying to overcome different challenges in a kind of computer game, a virtual scenario in which they had to find different objects.
The results show that our perception of reality is closely related to the creation of memories and memory activity, to a much greater degree than previously thought. At the same time, it is possible to determine the brain areas that affect these processes.
Memories that teach
Checking the close relationship between perception and memory when structuring our behaviors in everyday life also sheds light on another useful aspect of memories. It helps us understand that the brain learns from memories and seeks to apply that information in future behaviors.
The researchers believe that this information can have multiple applications in situations in which the way we interact with the environment is vital, such as in the area of space navigation.