In a recent study from Stanford University, researchers found they can predict whether a person will remember or forget based on their brain activity and pupil size.
They found that media multitasking is linked to poor memory and attention functions.
The findings suggest that the eyes can provide insightful glimpses into memory.
The study has implications for memory conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and could lead to applications for improving peoples’ attention—and thereby memory—in daily life.
The study is published in Nature. One author is Professor Anthony Wagner.
In the study, the team wanted to know why people sometimes remember and other times forget, and why some people seem to have better memory recall than others.
To monitor attention lapses in relation to the memory, 80 participants between the ages of 18 to 26 had their pupils measured and their brain activity monitored via an electroencephalogram (EEG) – specifically, the brain waves referred to as posterior alpha power—while performing tasks like recalling or identifying changes to previously studied items.
Increases in alpha power in the back of the skull have been related to attention lapses, mind wandering, distractibility, and so forth.
Constrictions in pupil diameter—in particular before people do different tasks—are related to failures of performance like slower reaction times and more mind wandering.
Differences in people’s ability to sustain attention were also measured by studying how well subjects were able to identify a gradual change in an image.
Media multitasking was assessed by having individuals report how well they could engage with multiple media sources, like texting and watching television, within a given hour.
The scientists then compared memory performance between people, and they found that those with lower sustained attention ability and heavier media multitaskers both performed worse on memory tasks.
They also found wearable eye sensors that detect lapses in attention in real-time based on pupil size.
If the individual wearer can then be cued to reorient their attention to the task at hand, the sensors may assist learning or information recall.
The researchers say future work needs to explore and understand how interactions between the brain’s networks that support attention and memory relate to individual differences in memory in older adults.
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