Brain's Memory Capacity Much Larger Than Believed

MONDAY Sept. 8, 2008 -- The capacity of human memory is much larger than previously believed, say Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who showed that given the right setting, the brain can absorb a huge amount of information.

The findings could help lead to a better understanding of memory disorders and may also have implications for artificial intelligence, the researchers said.

In this study, participants looked at almost 3,000 images, one at a time, for three seconds each. Later the same day, they were show pairs of images and asked to select the exact image they'd seen earlier. This portion of the test included three types of pairings: two totally different objects; an object and a different example of the same type of object (such as two different types of remote controls); and an object and slightly altered version (such as a cup that's either full or half-full).

Their recall rates on these three tests were 87 percent, 88 percent and 92 percent, respectively.

"To give just one example, this means that after having seen thousands of objects, subjects didn't just remember which cabinet they had seen, but also that the cabinet door was slightly open," study co-author and graduate student Timothy Brady said in a university news release.

The findings suggest that human visual capacity is several orders of magnitude higher than previously believed.

The study was published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

London's Science Museum has more about memory.

Posted: September 2008


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