Podcast: Exactly how does the brain do something as simple as storing a phone number?

| | November 9, 2018

You hear a new colleague’s name. You get directions to the airport. You glance at a phone number you’re about to call. These are the times you need working memory, the brain’s system for temporarily holding important information.

[Professors Earl] Miller and [Christos] Constantinidis agree that working memory is critical to just about everything the brain does. They also agree that problems with working memory are a common symptom of brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. But they are on opposite sides of a lively debate about how working memory works.

Constantinidis backs what he calls the standard model of working memory, which has been around for decades. It says that when we want to keep new information like a phone number, neurons in the front of the brain start firing — and keep firing.

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Miller’s hypothesis is that the neurons in working memory are communicating with other parts of the brain, including the networks involved in long-term memory. The neurons do this by firing together at specific frequencies, which leaves a temporary “impression” of the information in vast networks of brain cells.

Miller’s model would allow information from working memory to be stored in a latent form, much the way long-term memories are stored. And that could explain how we are able to keep a phone number in mind, even if we get distracted momentarily.

Read full, original post: Neuroscientists Debate A Simple Question: How Does The Brain Store A Phone Number?

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