Stop for a moment, take a stroll down memory lane and try to imagine your childhood home, or your former schools you had attended. You can probably visualize it, as expected, but there's a little more. When you "pan" out your memories, you can picture not only your home and school, but also nearby buildings, homes and shops across the street. Not only conceptually, but also physically, the brain is a complex structure, but it's not hard to derive the fact that this phenomenon exists and comes from some region in the cerebrum. However recently, MIT neuroscientists were able to locate the two brain regions involved in creating these panoramic memories.
"Our understanding of our environment is largely shaped by our memory for what's currently out of sight," Caroline Robertson says, who is a postdoc at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research and a junior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. She is also the lead author of the study.
Essentially, when we look at a scene, visual information comes through the retinas in the eye and into the brain, which has regions that process sections of things we typically see. The MIT team had believed that processing areas, such as the occipital place area (OPA), the retrosplenial complex (RSC), and parahippocampal place area (PPA) are responsible for generating these panoramic memories.
The general hypothesis was that "as we begin to build memory of the environment around us, there would be certain regions of the brain where the representation of a single image would start to overlap with representations of other views from the same scene."
The method they used to test this hypothesis was rather interesting. Using immersive, hi-tech virtual reality headsets, they were able to see people in various panoramic scenes. Then they showed some participants 40 street corners in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood and asked if they came from the same street corner. Their responses only configured their hypothesis -- participants were able to determine if the pairs came from the street corner when they were connected or linked in the 100-degree image rather than them unlinked. These results lead to the possibility that the PPA is not involved in building panoramic memories.
In a similar related experiment, researchers tried to test the possibility if an image could influence the brain to recall an image from that very same panoramic scene. To test this, they asked participants a scene and asked if they can recall if the image was on the left or right when they had first saw it. Prior to that, they showed them another image from the same street corner or an unrelated picture. As expected, participants did better with the related/linked image.
This experiment opens up a lot of possibilities not only involving brain research, but also with various technologies. As mentioned, they had used virtual reality headsets on participants, and were able to use the technology to their advantage, accurately simulating the experience they had intended the participants to go through. Future use of virtual reality along with brain research itself is a new golden key to the endless doors of discovery in the field of science.
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