Have you ever traveled in time?

Before you say no, consider this; when you think of peanut butter, you probably also think of jelly, and then probably bread.

Or, when you remember the fun you had skiing last winter, you may then also think of the hot chocolate you had afterward, what clothes you were wearing on the slopes, the actual trip to the ski resort and so on.

As one memory connects with another, you eventually develop a scenario in your mind which takes you an event from your past.

Call it mental time-traveling.

But being able to explain this phenomenon, called linked memories or episodic memory, has proved difficult to pin down.

But now, Professor Michael Kahana, of the University of Pennsylvania,  believes his team of researchers has done just that.

According to Kahana, the newly published study provides the first neurobiological evidence that memories formed in the same context become linked.

The participants, all epilepsy patients, had between 50 and 150 electrodes implanted throughout their brains, allowing Kahana’s team to directly record brain activity.

While studying these brain recordings, researchers noticed that when patients recalled a word, they’d bring back – not only the thoughts associated with the word itself – but also remnants of thoughts associated with other words they studied nearby in time.

The scientists say their findings provide a brain-based explanation of a memory phenomenon that people experience every day.

Kahana points out potential benefits of the study’s findings.

If scientists understand the biological machinery behind recording and retrieving the memories of a person’s life events, they might be able to design devices – perhaps in the form of implantable chips – to help memory-impaired patients or those with anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This weekend on the “Science World” radio program, Professor Kahana tells us about the research and findings of his team’s study.

Listen to it here…

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include: