In this test, the important thing was to find out whether brain activity before an event has an impact on memory or whether, as was previously thought, it's just brain activity after an event that is important for memory. Without the timeline given by an EEG scanner such an analysis would not be possible.
Tests showed that the brain's electrical activity differed after the cue question and before the word was presented and this was linked to whether the subject would remember or forget the word in a later unexpected memory test. If the electrical activity maintained a high level over frontal parts of the scalp just before the word was shown, then it was likely that the subject would remember the word up to 50 minutes later - and after doing a series of other word tests. On the other hand, if the voltage was lower, the subjects were less likely to remember the word.
Dr Otten said: "It would be nice to know what brain regions are involved in this preparatory activity, and whether it can be used to help people who have difficulties remembering things. Unfortunately we aren't at that stage yet! What we do know though is that it might have something to do with trying to get into the right frame of mind to make a decision about a word's meaning. Staying alert between the cue and the word also appears to help. We are currently trying to find out more about this kind of brain activity and how it helps long-term memory."