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In a new area of study, researchers explore how brain mechanisms for memory retrieval differ between adults and children.
Neuroscientists from Wayne State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that while the memory systems are the same in many ways, the aging process appears to impart important differences in how we learn and respond to education.
Noa Ofen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Pediatrics, says that cognitive ability, including the ability to learn and remember new information, dramatically changes between childhood and adulthood.
This ability parallels with dramatic changes that occur in the structure and function of the brain during these periods.
In the study, Ofen and her collaborative team tested the development of neural foundations of memory from childhood to young adulthood.
Researchers did this by exposing participants to pictures of scenes and then showing them the same scenes mixed with new ones. They then and asked them to judge whether each picture was presented earlier.
Participants made retrieval judgments while researchers collected images of their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Using this method, the researchers were able to see how the brain remembers. “Our results suggest that cortical regions related to attentional or strategic control show the greatest developmental changes for memory retrieval,” said Ofen.
This finding suggests that older participants use the cortical regions of the brain to retrieve past memories more so than younger participants.
“We were interested to see whether there are changes in the connectivity of regions in the brain that support memory retrieval,” Ofen added.
“We found changes in connectivity of memory-related regions. In particular, the developmental change in connectivity between regions was profound even without a developmental change in the recruitment of those regions, suggesting that functional brain connectivity is an important aspect of developmental changes in the brain.”
Researchers say this study is unique as it is the first time that the development of connectivity within memory systems in the brain has been tested.
Findings suggest the brain continues to rearrange connections to achieve adult-like performance during development.
Future studies by Ofen and her research team will focus on modeling brain network connectivity, and applying these methods to study abnormal brain development.
The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Source: Wayne State University