Writtle University College and ARU have merged. Writtle’s full range of college, degree, postgraduate and short courses will still be delivered on the Writtle campus. See our guide to finding Writtle information on this site.

New study shows benefits of reliving past events

Published: 10 October 2018 at 13:04

Picture of a human brain

Research shows retrieving memories increases the long-term retention of information

New research published this week helps to explain the scientific reason why memories come flooding back, and why reliving events could help to boost long-term memory.

The study is published in PNAS, the journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and is co-authored by Dr Alex Clarke of Anglia Ruskin University. 

The scientists carried out experiments demonstrating that when remembering one specific detail of a place or event, other people, objects and activities from the same place or event are also recalled.  They found that the more often that memory is retrieved, the more that memory is retained in the long-term, along with any additional information linked to it.

By conducting functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) they discovered that this “neural reactivation” occurs in various parts of the brain – including both the hippocampus and a network of medial and lateral parietal lobe regions – and these brain mechanisms play a complimentary role in the reactivation of linked information during retrieval. 

Dr Clarke, a Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, worked on the study with academics from University of California, Davis and Boston College.  Dr Clarke said: 

“Remembering is a complex process that involves recalling many specific details.  For example, when you think about your last birthday, what we remember could include who you were with, where you celebrated, what was said and done, and what you had to eat and drink.

“Recalling information is useful for more than just accessing memories – it is also a powerful way to enhance long-term memory. The more we recall information, the stronger those memories can become. Our study found that when trying to remember a specific item from an event – perhaps your last birthday cake, people not only recall the specific information they are searching for, but other information from the same event is also reactivated.

“We saw that during memory retrieval, the brain patterns showed reactivation of both the target object and the contextually linked objects. This reactivation occurred in a network of medial and lateral parietal lobe regions that have been linked to episodic recollection, as well as the hippocampus. 

“Our results demonstrate that our memories of the past are organised in terms of integrated events, and that when we recall even a small part of an event, we engage brain networks that have powerful effects on the ability to retain information from the entire event.”

The scientists believe the findings could be used to devise new ways of improving learning and retention of information within education.