Emerging research discovers that training to recognize visual patterns can imbed brain memories for an extended period.
In an article published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers at McMaster University found that when participants were shown visual patterns — faces, which are highly familiar objects, and abstract patterns, which are much less frequently encountered — they were able to retain very specific information about those patterns one to two years later.
“We found that this type of learning, called perceptual learning, was very precise and long-lasting,” said lead author Zahra Hussain, Ph.D.
“These long-lasting effects arose out of relatively brief experience with the patterns — about two hours, followed by nothing for several months, or years.”
Over the course of two consecutive days, participants were asked to identify a specific face or pattern from a larger group of images. The task was challenging because images were degraded — faces were cropped, for example — and shown very briefly.
Study members had difficulty identifying the correct images in the beginning of the training, but accuracy rates steadily climbed with practice.
About one year later, a group of participants were called back and their performance on the task was re-measured, both with the same set of items they’d been exposed to earlier, and with a new set from the same class of images.
Researchers found that when they showed participants the original images, accuracy rates were high. When they showed participants new images, accuracy rates plummeted, even though the new images closely resembled the learned ones, and they hadn’t seen the original images for at least a year.
“During those months in between visits to our lab, our participants would have seen thousands of faces, and yet somehow maintained information about precisely which faces they had seen over a year ago,” said Allison Sekuler, Ph.D., co-author of the study.
“The brain really seems to hold onto specific information, which provides great promise for the development of brain training, but also raises questions about what happens as a function of development. How much information do we store as we grow older and ,how does the type of information we store chage across our lifetimes? And what is the impact of storing all that potentially irrelevant information on our ability to learn and remember more relevant information?”
The experts are curious on how the information overload will affect children. “We don’t yet know the long-term implications of retaining all this information, which is why it is so important to understand the physiological underpinnings,” said Patrick Bennett, co-author and professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior at McMaster.
“This result warrants further study on how we can optimize our ability to train the brain to preserve what would be considered the most valuable information.”
Source: McMaster University