Scans of brain activity, published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience, indicate that the brain can actually get into the 'right frame of mind' to store new information and that we perform at our best if the brain is active not only at the moment we get new information but also in the seconds before.
Dr Leun Otten from UCL Psychology and the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, who led the research project, said: "It sounds a bit like clairvoyance in the sense that we're able to predict whether someone will remember a word before they even see it. That's really new - scientists knew that brain activity changes as you store things into memory but now we have found brain activity that tells how well your memory will work in advance."
Two experiments were conducted to tap into long-term memory and arrive at the results. In the first, a symbol was presented on screen a few seconds before each word, telling the subjects what kind of decision to make about the following word. Participants either had to decide whether the word referred to something living, or whether the first and last letters of the word were in alphabetical order.
In the second experiment, the subjects had to imagine what the item looked like to decide whether it was taller than wide or vice versa. The cue before each word in this experiment told people whether the following word would be seen or heard. These tests were designed to make the subject think about different aspects of a word, including its meaning.
The participants' brains were scanned using an EEG (electroencephalogram) scanner which looks like a swimming cap covered with electrodes and records electrical brain activity on the scalp. The scanners, popular since the 1960s, are used in hospitals t
Contact: Alex Brew
University College London