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Brain Waves Move in Opposite Directions For Memorizing And Recalling

Published in Brain/Neurology, Memory.

Our squishy gray matter conducts its activities through an orchestra of waves. With many tasks operating in tandem, how our brain keeps distinct oscillations from tangling has long been a puzzle.

Now US researchers have found the direction of traveling brain waves align with their type of task, with learning processes flowing one way and recall actions bouncing back the other direction.

“These findings… help us better understand how the brain supports a wide range of behaviors that involve precisely coordinated interactions between brain regions,” explains US National Institutes of Health neurologist Uma Mohan.

The study recruited 93 patients from hospitals across the US who already had electrodes implanted temporarily on the surfaces of their cerebral cortex for drug-resistant epilepsy treatment, giving researchers access to what’s usually out of reach.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to see what’s going on directly from the brain while the participants are engaged in different cognitive behaviors,” says Mohan.

The cortex is our brain’s outermost layer, involved in consciousness and associated behaviors, like attention and thoughts.

Mohan and colleagues recorded theta (2–8 Hz) and alpha (8–13 Hz) frequency waves flowing across the brain’s surface while the volunteers performed different tasks. One set of these behaviors involved memorizing lists of words or letters; the other set was about recalling them.