University of Haifa study shows how emotions affect learning and memory in the brain

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August 6, 2015 13:03
1 minute read.

 
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 A new University of Haifa study provides the scientific explanation behind the saying that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Led by Dr. Shlomo Wagner and published recently in the open-access, online journal eLife, the research has found for the first time that emotions are not only the product of the processing of information by the brain, but that they also directly influence processes of learning and memory in the brain.

Wagner of his university’s neurobiology department, noted: “It turns out that different emotions cause the brain to work differently and on distinct frequencies.” The team’s main goal was to identify the electrical activity that takes place in the brain during the formation of social memory. During the course of their work, the researchers - Wagner and Dr. Alex Tendler - came to understand the connection between emotions and cognitive processes such as learning and memory.


In the first part of the study, the researchers examined the electrical activity in the brains of rats during social behavior. They discovered strong rhythmical activity reflecting a state of excitement in the animal. To their surprise, this activity was particularly strong and synchronous between areas of the brain associated with social memory during the first encounter between two previously unfamiliar rats.


This rhythmical brain activity declined in strength and in the level of coordination between different brain areas as the encounter between the two rats was repeated. “In other words, during the first encounter between the two animals, the distinct brain areas worked intensively and at a high level of coordination. It’s almost as though the brain was working under a specific communication protocol coordinating different areas and telling them precisely when to operate. As the two animals got to know each other, the rhythmical activity declined in strength and the coordination between the different parts of the network trailed off,” Wagner said.

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