"This study shows that, as you search for memories of a particular event, your brain state progressively comes to resemble the state it was in when you initially experienced the event," said Sean Polyn, a post-doctoral fellow at the Computational Memory Lab in Penn's Department of Psychology. "It is all part of the brain's ability to cross-reference memories, pulling together separate pieces of information from an elaborate network of stored representations to recreate an event."
The inability to recall something is a common frustration.
"An every-day strategy for getting at lost memories involves using a part of a memory to pull out the entire thought, much like when you try remember where you put your keys last night," Polyn said. "If you recall that you were washing dishes, that might trigger associated memories, leading you to remember that your keys are next to the sink. We refer to this phenomenon as 'bootstrapping.'"
According to Polyn, this "bootstrapping" effect occurs as a brain area called the hippocampus helps sort through the storage bins of memory, returning the brain to its state at the time of the initial experience. Polyn believes that the knowledge of how the brain uses its memories could be applied to designing more detailed models of memory, which could help treat brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy. This knowledge could also guide creation of more self-sufficient artificial neural networks and robots.