The study by psychology professor Boyer Winters sheds new light on the internal workings of the brain, specifically regions involved in recognizing and remembering objects. The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
“Our study suggests that past experience with an object alters the brain circuitry responsible for object recognition,” says Winters. “It has significant implications for our understanding of multisensory information processing.”
Multisensory integration is an important part of memory. For example, if you hold something while blindfolded, chances are you can recognize it by touch if you have seen it before.
Winters and his team from U of G’s Collaborative Neuroscience Program used rats to discover how this happens. They let some rats briefly see and touch an object. The next day, the researchers showed the object to the same animals and compared their responses to those of rats seeing the object for the first time.
Rats exploring a new object appeared to use multiple specialized brain regions to recognize it, while rats with previous exposure tapped into a separate part of their brains to perform the same memory task.
“Our study suggests there is an assigned region of the brain for memory based on previous experience with objects,” says Winters.
The more exposure to an object, the more information about it is stored in dedicated parts of the brain, leading to more efficient behavioural responses, he says.
The research may help in developing therapies for people with brain disorders who cannot recognize highly familiar objects or people.