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University of Pennsylvania neuroscientists are studying false memories, such as mistaking cereal for eggs at breakfast. Their research, focusing on the hippocampus, a crucial memory-related brain region, found that the brain emits distinct electrical signals when recalling true and false memories.

Hippocampus involved in memory events

Psychology professor at UPenn Michael Jacob Kahana, said that while previous research has confirmed the hippocampus’s involvement in event memory, the differentiation of impending recollection between false and true memories through electrical signals originating in this area was previously unexplored.

Researchers have suggested that during the process of recalling a memory, the human brain retains not only the primary event but also the peripheral details associated with that particular memory. This investigation was carried out using epilepsy patients who were undergoing deep brain monitoring as part of their medical treatment.

The study’s lead author and psotdoctoral fellow Noa Herz, said that this approach enabled the researchers to obtain a more precise and direct measurement of the neural signals originating from deep brain structures. Consequently, the acquired neural activity data is significantly more localized.

In the study, participants were given a list of unrelated words to remember. Researchers later analyzed the brain activity in the hippocampus when participants recalled these words, specifically when they remembered words incorrectly.

The brain shows different responses to true or false memories

The study revealed that the brain exhibited distinct responses depending on the similarity between false memories and true memories. For example, when participants incorrectly recalled words from a different category but had encountered those words earlier in the experiment, their brain’s electrical patterns displayed specific reactions.

Herz indicated that the terms were introduced while the patient was seated within the identical room, gazing at the same computer screen, accompanied by the same experimenter. Furthermore, these terms were recently presented, leading to a convergence of various elements.

In cases where an individual recollected a term not found on the list but was conceptually linked, such as recalling “sunflower” when presented with “rose” and “lily,” there was a corresponding consistency in brain activity patterns.