The state of our pupils can tell a lot about the mood and emotions of a person. In a recent study, scientists discovered the link between someone's pupil size, neural activity, and the ability to remember or forget.
The study was published in the journal Nature describing memory failure as the consequence of lapses in attention and media multitasking. The authors wrote that today's digital culture is linked with scientific questions about why humans have fluctuating memory.
Generally, the pupils change size according to how much light enters the eyes. During social interactions, change in pupil size has been associated with attraction, medication, alcohol intake, and telling the truth versus a lie. Anxiety can also affect pupil sizes, such as the involuntary flight-or-fight response to a situation or feeling.
Pupil Dilation and Constriction
In a 2017 study, pupil dilation was linked to the brain's arousal system. Pupil-linked arousal was an indicator of not only attraction but processing information, decision-making, and attention to something or someone.
Professor Anthony Wagner said, "As we navigate our lives, we have these periods in which we're frustrated because we're not able to bring knowledge to mind, expressing what we know." However, modern scientific tools have enabled researchers to gain insight into why people fail to bring up stored memories.
In the new research by Stanford University and the University of California San Francisco, 80 young adults were measured for attention using electroencephalography (EEG) and pupillometry measures. Attention levels were also quantified based on task performance and questionnaires.
The EEG measured brain waves known as alpha power. The increase of alpha power explained Kevin Madore from the Stanford Memory Lab, which has been connected "to attention lapses, mind wandering, distractibility, and so forth." Simultaneously, pupil constrictions changing between new tasks have been linked to slower reflexes, increased wandering, and other failures of performance.
What it Takes to Retrieve Memories
The volunteers were also observed during media multitasking, such as using various media platforms like texting and watching a movie in an hour. As a result, heavier media multitaskers had lower scores on memory tasks and had shorter attention spans.
Professor Wagner explained that retrieving memories depends on goal-directed cognition, meaning that the brain has to be ready to remember with the goal and focus on retrieving a memory. Logically, a person's attention is important for learning and remembering. What happens before we begin to remember affects the ability to reactivate or retrieve a memory.
Moreover, we have control over many factors in retrieving memories, such as awareness, attentiveness, and readiness to remember. We can also limit our distractions, change our mindsets, and alter our environment to improve our attention and memory performance.
The results can help improve people's attention and overall memory. Scientists can now "explore and understand how interactions between the brain's networks that support attention, the use of goals and memory relate to individual differences in memory in older adults both independent of, and in relation to" neurological conditions such as dementia.
Check out more news and information on Memory on Science Times.