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article imageCan human memory be improved with magnets?

By Tim Sandle     Apr 1, 2017 in Science
The way we interpret the world is partly based on how we remember sounds and interpret these in our minds. New research into memory, building on this concept, suggests that memory might be improved through the use of magnets.
A neural network of the brain - the dorsal stream - is responsible for aspects of auditory memory (how sound is connected to recall and interpretation). Inside the dorsal stream rhythmic electrical pulses termed theta waves are detected. While researchers have long-though these waves are connected with memory, how they function has, until recently, been unknown.
New research explores the relationship between theta waves and auditory memory, carried out at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University. Running a study, researchers provided 17 study participants a series of auditory memory tasks. The tasks consisted tying to recognize a pattern of tones when it was reversed.
While the tasks were performed measurements were taken from the individuals: magnetoencephalography and electroencephalography. These readings demonstrated the amplitude and frequency signatures of theta waves in the dorsal stream. The readings indicated that the theta waves were coming from within the brain.
The tests were then re-run. This time the researchers applied transcranial magnetic stimulation at the same theta frequency to the subjects as they re-took the tests. This was carried out in order to enhance the theta waves. It was found that when the transcranial magnetic stimulation was applied, the subjects performed better at auditory memory tasks. For this to occur the simulation had to precisely match the rhythm of natural theta waves in the brain.
Discussing the findings, and the successful application of the magnetic simulation, lead researcher Sylvain Baillet states: "We now know much more about the nature of the mechanisms involved and their causal role in brain functions. For this study, we have built on our strengths at The Neuro, using MEG, EEG and TMS as complementary techniques."
The results are not only of general interest. Transcranial magnetic stimulation could potentially be used clinically, perhaps addressing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
The research has been published in the journal Neuron, under the title “Selective Entrainment of Theta Oscillations in the Dorsal Stream Causally Enhances Auditory Working Memory Performance.”
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