Researchers have discovered a mechanism that may explain how the brain remembers nearly all of what happened on a recent afternoon - or make a thorough plan for how to spend an upcoming afternoon - in a fraction of the time it takes to live out the experience.
The new mechanism compresses information needed for memory retrieval, imagination or planning and encodes it on a brain wave frequency that is separate from the one used for recording real-time experiences.
Brain cells share different kinds of information with one another using a variety of different brain waves, analogous to the way radio stations broadcast on different frequencies.
Researchers found that one of these frequencies allows us to play back memories - or envision future activities – in fast forward.
In the brain, fast gamma rhythms encode memories about things that are happening right now; these waves come rapidly one after another as the brain processes high-resolution information in real time.
The researchers learned that slow gamma rhythms — used to retrieve memories of the past, as well as imagine and plan for the future — store more information on their longer waves, contributing to the fast-forward effect as the mind processes many data points with each wave.
The finding has implications for medicine as well as for criminal justice and other areas where memory reliability can be at issue, researchers said.
The findings were published in the journal Neuron.


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