Zapping the brain helped awaken short-term memories that, from a scientific standpoint, seemed lost. "The information is still there," Rose told me. "It's not forgotten, it's still in working memory, but it's being represented in a different way than the current historical theory would suggest."
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For the study, which Rose worked on with University of Wisconsin–Madison psychology professor Brad Postle, each participant donned an intimidating looking but non-invasive electrode cap to record brain activity.
The researchers used a separate device to deliver transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS. A coil inside produces a strong electrical charge that in turn generates a powerful magnetic field, which passes through the scalp, scull and membrane that wraps around the brain. TMS instantaneously activates neurons in a specific, targeted section of the brain. A quick, painless zap.
While hooked up to the equipment, each participant sat in front of a computer screen that displayed pairs of items such as a computer-generated face, a word or a path of dots moving in a certain direction. Then they were given memory tasks based on those items. Each piece of information was carefully chosen because it actually activates unique patterns of brain activity, Rose explained.