How the brain brings back memories of past events remains largely unknown. In a collaboration between the MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge (Dr. Maria Wimber), the University of Konstanz (Dr. Simon Hanslmayr, Zukunfskolleg) and the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, researchers have now identified a rapid memory reactivation mechanism that has so far only been speculated about. In this project, participants learned long lists of words while the screen was flickering at different frequencies. Such flickering stimulation is known to induce a frequency-specific "oscillating" brain signal that is clearly visible in the human electroencephalogram (EEG). The study revealed that when participants later remember one of the previously studied words, the brain rapidly reproduces a signal at the particular frequency that had been present during learning. These results indicate that when people recollect past events, the brain transiently returns to the state that it was in when the event had first been encountered. The study is available online in Current Biology:
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