It will be a study they’ll hopefully never forget.
UNM Professor and Psychology Clinical Neuroscience Center Director Vincent Clark is heading up new memory research in partnership with Santa Fe company NeuroGeneces, Inc.
Thanks to a combined $300,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation and the Air Force, the two will uncover how a simple 50 millisecond speck of sound will impact memory storage and retrieval.
“During the daytime you experience a lot of events. Things happen and they sit around in your consciousness without anywhere to go until you figure out how to pack them away,” Clark said. “The idea is these brain waves help you to organize and pack recent memories into long term memory
Clark is utilizing NeuroGeneces’s technology involving tone pips. With a band strapped across a participant’s forehead, the tone pips are timed to slow brain waves that organize the memory consolidation process during sleep.
The tone pips are a certain type of noise that sounds like a puff of air. He says over the course of the night, if this pip is presented right before each slow brain wave’s peak, learning and memory retention increases.
“From the time you're born to the time you die, memory is one of the most important things in our lives,” Clark said. “When you're in school, the better your memory is, the better you do. When you're in a job, the better you can learn new things, the farther you go in your career.”
Early results show there is a 18% improvement in what people remember in the morning if they received auditory stimulation overnight, timed exactly right.
“With a little device, they can learn things more easily, and maintain them for longer,” he said. “You want to remember as much as you can about something important that happens in your life. With devices like this, we’ll be able to help people do that.”
This could prove extremely significant with the negative relationship between age and memory. Clark hopes eventually to expand his research to seniors, and older people at risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“As you get older, you start to lose your memory, which is really one of the most difficult parts of getting older,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to make this better for people as safely and easily as possible.”
Still, there is more to uncover with a healthy population first. That’s why Clark is recruiting 60 to 90 sleepers to join in on two future studies, set to begin next month.
The first study involves six nights of sleep within the Logan Hall lab in a bed, under guarded supervision. The second study will involve nine nights at home.
Psychology students will also get experience lending a hand with the research in the lab.
“I try to train people and help students understand what it's like to work in a laboratory,” Clark said.
In both safe, non-invasive studies, participants must be between the ages of 18 and 40, neurologically healthy, and good at speaking English. They must also have normal hearing and vision and no sleep disorders.
“Everyone benefits from having a better memory even if you don’t have dementia,” Clark said. “Once we work out the best way to do this in healthy young people, then we can try it in people with memory impairments like Alzheimer’s disease.”
Financial compensation will be offered. Sign up as soon as possible by emailing Vincent Clark’s laboratory or calling 505-226-0649.