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Management of memories is the predominant activity in human brains. Memories help us recognize things, tell stories, learn, and experience life.

Researchers have been studying the structure and inner workings of the human brain for years. They use advanced technology animal (mice) models and sometimes live humans to test and discover how memory processes work.

How memories work

There are fundamentally two ways to store memories in the brain. Live Science reports that according to the Canadian Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health, and Addition, along with McGill University, short-term memory is processed in the pre-frontal cortex.

Short-term memory is then shifted to long-term memory in the hippocampus, the deeper part of the brain. It collects several memories from different sensory organs and combines them into one memory. As the memory is played in the hippocampus, the sensory organs with related senses are activated, and the memory eventually becomes permanent. That is why when people hear or smell a familiar stimulus, it brings back a related memory.

Wired reported that the brain tries hard not to overlap memories. It keeps the short-term memories from being overwritten by new memories. A recent paper published in the Nature Neuroscience journal explained the buzzer used by the brain to prevent old memories from being mixed up with new experiences.

The paper reveals that to encode it into a memory, the brain rotates sensory information by 90 degrees. As a result, it prevents the new information from overwriting the existing memories and causes a misinterpretation of stimuli. The study might help answer some long-running questions on how the brain processes memories.

Using mice models

Timothy Buschman, a Princeton University neuroscientist, and Alexandra Libby, a graduate student of his lab, used mice models to study their auditory perception. The scientists had the mice listen to four chords sequences on repeat.

They compared these mice to another group of mice trained to recognize neural patterns that represented memories of sequenced chords. Surprisingly, they discovered that traces of previous activity were different from sensory information.