Why do our vivid memories feel so real?

New evidence suggests that experience and mental replay share similar brain activation patterns.

Neuroscientists have found strong evidence that vivid memory and directly experiencing the real moment can trigger similar brain activation patterns.

Researchers found that vivid memory and real perceptual experience share “striking” similarities at the neural level, although they are not “pixel-perfect” brain pattern replications.

Dr. Brad Buchsbaum, of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, is lead investigator of the study. He said:

When we mentally replay an episode we’ve experienced, it can feel like we are transported back in time and re-living that moment again. Our study has confirmed that complex, multi-featured memory involves a partial reinstatement of the whole pattern of brain activity that is evoked during initial perception of the experience. This helps to explain why vivid memory can feel so real.

Researchers found that vivid memory and real perceptual experience share “striking” similarities at the neural level, although they are not “pixel-perfect” brain pattern replications. Photo credit: Tiffany Dawn Nicholson

But vivid memory rarely fools us into believing we are in the real, external world – and that in itself offers a very powerful clue that the two cognitive operations don’t work exactly the same way in the brain, he explained.

The study, led by Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), in collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas, appears online in July 2012 in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, ahead of print publication.

Read more about the study from Rotman Research Institute

Bottom line: New research by a team of neuroscientists suggests that vivid memory and directly experiencing the real moment can trigger similar brain activation patterns.

EarthSky

MORE ARTICLES