How Aha Moments Are Etched in Memory We usually remember those moments of sudden insight, and new research examines this phenomenon as investigators look to determine how the brain imprints the aha! discovery.

“In daily life, information that results from moments of insight is, almost by definition, incorporated in long-term memory: Once we have realized a new way to solve a problem, or to perform a task better and faster, we are not likely to forget that insight easily,” said Nava Rubin, Ph.D., senior author of a new brain-imaging study that looks at the neural activity associated with this specific type of rapid learning, insight.

“We were interested in determining the neural basis of this long-lasting nature of insight.”

Rubin, along with collaborators Rachel Ludmer and neurobiologist Dr. Yadin Dudai, designed a model system for studying memory formation associated with perceptual insight. Perceptual insight is where the sudden realization of a solution to a visual puzzle is triggered by an external cue.

Study participants viewed a real-world image that had been degraded almost beyond recognition. After a few moments the original image was revealed, transforming the previously meaningless arrangement of ink blots to a coherent scene (the “aha!”).

Memory was tested a week later when participants were shown the degraded image again and asked to recall detailed perceptual information about the original image.

Brain imaging allowed the researchers to capture the neural activity associated with the original moment of insight and relate it to the subsequent fate of the image in memory.

During moments of insight, there was significant activity in the amygdala, a brain structure best known for its role in emotional learning. The researchers discovered that higher activity in the amygdala during the moment of insight predicted more successful performance in the memory task a week later, even though the images in and of themselves were not emotional at all.

“We propose that the amygdala plays an important role in signaling to different cortical regions that an internal event of significant neural reorganization has occurred,” concluded Rubin.

“Our findings extend the known roles of the amygdala in memory to include promoting of long-term memory of the sudden reorganization of internal representations.”

Source: Cell Press