A common task structure links together the fate of different types of memories

Mutanen, T. P., Bracco, M. and Robertson, E. M. (2020) A common task structure links together the fate of different types of memories. Current Biology, 30(11), 2139-2145.e5. (doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.043) (PMID:32302588)

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Our memories frequently have features in common. For example, a learned sequence of words or actions can follow a common rule, which determines their serial order, despite being composed of very different events [1, 2]. This common abstract structure might link the fates of memories together. We tested this idea by creating different types of memory task: a sequence of words or actions that either did or did not have a common structure. Participants learned one of these memory tasks and then they learned another type of memory task 6 h later, either with or without the same structure. We then tested the newly formed memory’s susceptibility to interference. We found that the newly formed memory was protected from interference when it shared a common structure with the earlier memory. Specifically, learning a sequence of words protected a subsequent sequence of actions learned hours later from interference, and conversely, learning a sequence of actions protected a subsequent sequence of words learned hours later from interference provided the sequences shared a common structure. Yet this protection of the newly formed memory came at a cost. The earlier memory had disrupted recall when it had the same rather than a different structure to the newly formed and protected memory. Thus, a common structure can determine what is retained (i.e., protected) and what is modified (i.e., disrupted). Our work reveals that a shared common structure links the fate of otherwise different types of memories together and identifies a novel mechanism for memory modification.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:The authors are grateful to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR; VA, USA) (FA9550-16-1-0191) for supporting much of this work.
Keywords:Abstract structure, consolidation, declarative learning, grammar, memory, memory interference, motor skill learning, sequence learning, surface structure.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Robertson, Professor Edwin and Bracco, Dr Martina and Mutanen, Mr Tuomas
Creator Roles:
Robertson, E. M.Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Writing – original draft, Writing – review and editing, Visualization, Funding acquisition
Bracco, M.Methodology, Investigation, Writing – review and editing, Visualization
Mutanen, T. P.Formal analysis, Investigation, Writing – review and editing
Authors: Mutanen, T. P., Bracco, M., and Robertson, E. M.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Current Biology
ISSN (Online):1879-0445
Published Online:16 April 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc.
First Published:First published in Current Biology 30(11): 2139-2145.e5
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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