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Wrapping a memory with an experience, capacity for recollection detected in non-human species

hose triggered by recollection, the sudden rush of detailed memory. The BU team chose to determine whether analyses related to this technique, known as receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves, could be used to assess rat memory processes.

With familiarity, previous encounters are not recalled. For instance, if you encounter someone you know you've met, your sense of "knowing" that person may be weak or strong, but it does not include details of previous encounters. ROC analyses show that familiarity manifests itself as a continuous function reflecting the strength of a perceptual impression in memory.

Recollection, by comparison, is expressed in an all-or-none fashion, triggered when a certain threshold of associative and contextual information has been achieved. It is a sudden, overwhelming rush of detailed memory, such as that which is experienced when you eventually recall the prior encounter with that familiar person.

The researchers devised a memory test that capitalized on rats' highly developed sense of smell as well as instinctual foraging behavior. Initially, the rats explored a "list" of 10 common household odors (for example, cinnamon, oregano, coffee, chocolate), each mixed in ordinary sand that hid a buried food reward.

Following a 30-minute retention period, they were presented with a series of 20 odors, the 10 "old" odors plus 10 "new" ones. In addition, the animal's decisions were intentionally biased by varying the difficulty of responding to each odor and by varying the food "payoffs" for correct identification of old and new odors.

The test design allowed the researchers to measure the ratio of correct and false odor identifications across a range of bias conditions, generating the ROC curve. The shape of this curve indicated the existence of both an all-or-none threshold component and a continuous-strength component. The curves produced are very similar to those observed in the ROCs of
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Contact: Ann Marie Menting
amenting@bu.edu
617-358-1240
Boston University
8-Sep-2004


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