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Memory Tagging

February 15, 2011

The brain may “tag” certain experiences for long-term storage during sleep.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Selective storage in sleep…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

 It’s long been known that sleep transfers memories to long-term storage.  Now, German researchers have shown that the brain chooses which memories to store.  University of Lübeck neuro-endocrinologist Jan Born and his colleagues taught volunteers either a list of paired words or a finger-tapping exercise.  Afterwards, half were told there would be a test in two days.  But actually, all of them were tested.

JAN BORN (Univ. of Lübeck & Univ. of Tübingen, Germany):

Only when they were informed about the later recall, there was robust, very substantial benefit for these memories during sleep.

HIRSHON:

In contrast, the group that hadn’t expected a test improved only a little.  Born suspects that the brain tags important experiences throughout the day, and preferentially stores the tagged memories while we sleep. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.