Unstable memories create a high-level representation that enables learning transfer

Mosha, N. and Robertson, E. M. (2016) Unstable memories create a high-level representation that enables learning transfer. Current Biology, 26(11), pp. 100-105. (doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.11.035) (PMID:26711493)

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A memory is unstable, making it susceptible to interference and disruption, after its acquisition [1, 2, 3 and 4]. The function or possible benefit of a memory being unstable at its acquisition is not well understood. Potentially, instability may be critical for the communication between recently acquired memories, which would allow learning in one task to be transferred to the other subsequent task [1 and 5]. Learning may be transferred between any memories that are unstable, even between different types of memory. Here, we test the link between a memory being unstable and the transfer of learning to a different type of memory task. We measured how learning in one task transferred to and thus improved learning in a subsequent task. There was transfer from a motor skill to a word list task and, vice versa, from a word list to a motor skill task. What was transferred was a high-level relationship between elements, rather than knowledge of the individual elements themselves. Memory instability was correlated with subsequent transfer, suggesting that transfer was related to the instability of the memory. Using different methods, we stabilized the initial memory, preventing it from being susceptible to interference, and found that these methods consistently prevented transfer to the subsequent memory task. This suggests that the transfer of learning across diverse tasks is due to a high-level representation that can only be formed when a memory is unstable. Our work has identified an important function of memory instability.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Robertson, Professor Edwin
Authors: Mosha, N., and Robertson, E. M.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Journal Name:Current Biology
ISSN (Online):1879-0445

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