The young brain

  • July 20, 2012
The young brain

Gates Scholar Elect Brielle Stark's research shows how young adults remember events may occur in a different part of the brain to older adults, meaning that perhaps a developmental change takes place in the brain in older adulthood.

How young adults remember events may occur in a different part of the brain to older adults, meaning that perhaps a developmental change takes place in the brain in older adulthood, according to new research.

The research, by Gates Scholar Elect Brielle Stark, has been accepted for publication in the Yale Review for Undergraduate Research in Psychology next year. The Review is an annual publication that chooses only six articles a year to publish.

There has been a lot of research on how older adults recollect events (whether they remember events ‘with detail’ or without), and it is thought that these processes occur in the frontal and medial temporal lobes of the brain. However, research on young adults is much more rare. Brielle, who will start a PhD in Clinical Neurosciences this autumn, wanted to see if the same general brain regions were associated with how events are recollected in young adults as in older adults.

Her research found that the medial temporal lobe, at least in young adults, is heavily implicated in both the simplest type of recollection judgment (whether you actually remember if you saw the item before) and in further subjective judgments, like if you remember the item with details or without details. 

She says this finding contrasts to cognitive aging literature, which argues that the medial temporal lobe’s main role is mostly involved in the first judgment (deciding if something has or has not been seen before), rather than in the later, more subjective judgments of ‘how’ it is remembered.

As part of her research, young adults took part in neuropsychological tests to determine if they were high- or lower-functioning in frontal and medial temporal lobes, including mental arithmetic and logical memory.  Essentially, these were tests indicating if some younger adults were better with tasks usually associated with the medial temporal lobe (things like memory) and with the frontal lobe (thinks like multitasking).

In addition to the behavioral tests, participants completed a recognition memory paradigm, where they were shown a word list and later shown a word and asked if they could remember if it was on the list. If they answered that they did remember the item, participants were then prompted (on a scale) if they remembered the items with lots of details, some details, few details or little details.  This paradigm was completed while wearing an EEG (electroencephalography) cap, to observe the interaction of judgment and brain area.

Brielle says: “In summary, the frontal lobe plays a great role in the differentiation of recollect/familiar responses in older adults.  We do not see this pattern in the young adults, where the medial temporal lobe seems to play the prominent role in both the original old/new judgment and in the subsequent judgment of recollection/familiarity.  This suggests a developmental change occurring in the frontal lobe in older adulthood, where the frontal lobe assumes a bigger role in judgments succeeding the old/new judgment, either due to compensatory mechanisms or dedifferentiation.”

Picture credit: Mr Lightman and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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