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"Brain Train" -- The Discovery Files

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For the first time, scientists at USC have unlocked a mechanism behind the way short- and long-term motor memory work together and compete against one another. The research could potentially pave the way to more effective rehabilitation for stroke patients.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

A Walk Down Memory Lane.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: race car sound) Motor memory--no, we're not talking car engines here, human muscle-skills memory. New research from USC has uncovered a mechanism behind the way short- and long-term memory work together, and against each other, to form those memories.

Let's say you want to learn some simple motor skills like two different ways of throwing a ball overhand: One way is to learn each throw individually. The other way is to learn the two throws together switching back and forth between them. Question: Which way will help you remember both for a longer time? According to the research, it's the one where you learn both together.

Your brain sees a single motor skill as a short-term assignment, no need for long-term memory to get involved. But splitting your time learning two skills continually wipes out short-term memory and engages and helps update long-term memory. It takes more time to learn both skills, but you will remember them longer.

The team came upon its findings during spatial memory tests with patients who had suffered a brain stroke. The scientists believe their research could lead to computer programs that provide individualized rehabilitation training for stroke victims.

Training the brain, I just sent mine to the showers.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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