Researchers from Cambridge University believe they have found an area of the brain, the paracingulate sulcus or PCS, that could be the variation that would account for real or imagined memories.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that people with a larger PCS were better at distinguishing between real and imagined memories. Discovering this variation may help to explain why some people have a better memory of reality than others, and could advance understanding of brain disorders like schizophrenia, scientists say.

“The memory differences we observed were quite striking. It is exciting to think that these individual differences in ability might have a basis in a simple brain folding variation,” said Cambridge’s Jon Simons, who led the research. The PCS is the last area of the brain to develop before birth. The findings may also help scientists understand more about schizophrenia, he said, because an inability to recognize what is real and what isn’t is a hallmark of the disease. Although 24 million people worldwide are afflicted with schizophrenia, according to the World Health Organization, very little is know of its causes.

Hallucinations are often reported whereby, for example, someone hears a voice when nobody’s there. Difficulty distinguishing real from imagined information might be an explanation for such hallucinations,” Simons said. “The person might imagine the voice but misattribute it as coming from the outside world.”

“We’ve found evidence that suggests this particular (brain) region might be reduced in people with schizophrenia, and that this could be the beginning of an explanation for why these people experience hallucinations,” Simons said in a telephone interview.

Brain scans were first given to the 53 volunteers in the study. The scans ascertained whether they had either a clear presence, or absence of PCS in the right or left brain. They were then shown well-know pairs of words – such as “Laurel and Hardy,” where the statement was complete or the second portion of the phrase was absent. They were then asked whether they had seen a completed pair or they had completed the pair in their own mind.

“What we’re interested in linking next is whether individuals with schizophrenia who also have that reduction in the PCS are definitely more likely to experience hallucinations,” Simons said. Further research is planned in the near future by his team.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion , memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker.



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