Why is it that the sudden revelations, or ‘aha’ moments in our life seem to stick in our memories longer than other memories? When that light bulb goes off in your head and you are suddenly struck by a revelation that hadn’t occurred to you before, the image of that memory seems to be recalled after a single instance of exposure easier than lessons you may have worked on a few times. Why is that?
According to research student Kelly Ludmer, from the neurobiology department at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot, Israel, our sudden insights stick because, “Much memory research involves rote learning, but in fact, we regularly absorb large blocks of information in the blink of an eye, and remember things quite well after single exposures.
Does that mean our “Eureka!” or “Aha” moments aren’t any more memorable than most other memories?
Professor Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute and Professor Nava Rubin of New York University, along with Ludmer, designed a test with “camouflage images” to investigate inspiration gained from insight and how they are imbedded in our long-term memory. The images were degraded using inkblots, so when the volunteers first saw the images they had difficulty identifying what they were seeing.
After the camouflage was replaced with the original, undisturbed photo for a second the subjects would experience a realization of what the image actually was — or an “aha!” moment. The image actually appeared more clearly to the subject, even from the degraded image.
“Their perceptions,” says Ludmer, “underwent a sudden change — just as a flash of insight can instantly change our world view.” The exercise was repeated dozens of times with different images. At a later second session the subjects were given only the camouflaged imaged to identify, along with some they hadn’t seen before.
Although some of the memories disappeared altogether over time, the ones that remained for the first week usually remained. The team found that some of the memories disappeared over time, but the ones that lasted for the first week were likely to remain. Overall, approximately half of the “insights” derived were consolidated into their memories.
In order to see what happens in the brain at the moment of insight, a functional MRI scan was done on the subjects’ brains. When viewing the result, the researchers were surprised to find the amount of activity that lit up in the amygdala, the brain’s center of emotion. Recent studies have found that the amygdala plays a role the consolidation of certain memories by attaching special attention to emotional events.
What was surprising was that the images projected in the experiment were not usually associated with an emotional response — like hot-air balloons, dogs, and people looking through binoculars. They observed that, not only was the amygdala lighting up in the fMRI, the activity actually predicted the subject’s ability to identify the image from the degraded photo long after the moment of induced insight.
“Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that the amygdala is important for creating long-term memories — not only when the information learned is explicitly emotional, but also when there is a sudden reorganization of information, for example, involving a sudden shift in perception,” says Ludmer. “It might somehow evaluate an event, ‘deciding’ whether it is significant and therefore worthy of preservation.”
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life.
The Jerusalem Post — New World’s ‘Aha’ Moment Can Last Forever: http://www.jpost.com/Sci-Tech/Article.aspx?id=227625