Intriguing research out of the UK seeks to help those of us who seem to always forget a person’s name, but not their face.

University of Bristol’s Clea Warburton, Ph.D., and Gareth Barker wondered why we recognize faces better when we have extra clues as to where or indeed when we encountered them in the first place.

Their research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

They discovered that when we need to remember that a particular object, for example a face, occurred in a particular place, or at a particular time, multiple brain regions have to work together — not independently.

It has been known for some time that three brain regions appear to have specific roles in memory processing.

The area of the brain around the nose, or the perirhinal cortex, seems to be critical for our ability to recognize whether an individual object is novel or familiar; the hippocampus is important for recognizing places and for navigation; and the medial prefrontal cortex is associated with higher brain functions.

Emerging research looks at situations where these brain regions interact all together, rather than considering each one individually.

Warburton said: “We are very excited to discover this important brain circuit. We’re now studying how memory information is processed within it, in the hope we can then understand how our own ‘internal library’ system works.”

In the study, researchers investigated the neural basis of our ability to recognize different types of stimuli under different conditions. Of specific interest were two types of recognition memory: “object-in-place recognition memory” (remembering where we put our keys), and “temporal order recognition memory” (when we last had them).

The scientists discovered neither “object-in-place” or “temporal order recognition” memories could be formed if communication between the hippocampus and either the perirhinal cortex, or the medial prefrontal cortex, was broken.

In other words, disconnecting the regions prevented the ability to remember both where objects had been, and in which order.

Learning that the three regions must work together will help scientists improve their understanding of memory and will facilitate treatment of people with memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: University of Bristol