UTA Logo It is a common belief that people retain information more effectively when they study it several times under different contexts and, thus give their brains multiple cues to remember it. A new study led by the University of Texas at Austin affirms that people are able to remember certain information like faces or words if the pattern of activity in their brain is identical each time they study that information. The experts have apparently revealed a novel technique for understanding the relationship between mind and the brain in detail.

In the process of studying memory, scientists may rely on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. This technology seemingly allows scrutinizing activity in large regions of the brain. But with advancement in science, researchers can possibly examine the pattern of activity across many different parts of the image called voxels.

“This helps us begin to understand what makes for effective studying. Sometimes we study and remember things, sometimes we don’t and this helps explain why,” shared Russell Poldrack, a professor in the Section of Neurobiology and Department of Psychology and the director of the Imaging Research Center (IRC) at The University of Texas at Austin.

In order to affirm the results, investigators triggered three studies at Beijing Normal University wherein participants were shown different sets of photographs or words multiple times in different orders. While the subjects were studying the material, authors recorded their brain activity. The subjects were then made to recall or recognize those items between 30 minutes and six hours later for testing the ‘encoding variability theory.’

Poldrack concluded, “These results are very important in providing a challenge to this well established theory. There’s something that’s clearly still right about the theory, but this challenges psychologists to reconsider what we know about it.”

If the encoding variability theory is to be believed, then people will remember something more effectively if they study it at different times in different contexts like in a dorm room, the library, a coffee shop than in one sitting. It is assumed that different sensory experiences will give the brain various reminders of that information and multiple routes to find the data studied. Authors anticipate that subjects would retain memories of the photos or words more effectively if their brains were activated in different ways while studying that information multiple times.

It was discovered that subjects’ memories were improved when there was a similarity in their pattern of brain activity throughout the several study episodes. Experts mention that the findings don’t contradict the effect of variable contexts during learning in enhancing memory. The scientists were supposedly unable to estimate what triggers the brain to present such different patterns of activity when studying the same information minutes apart. A previously viewed image, sound or smell around or daydreaming may be held responsible for this activity.

The study is published online in the journal Science.