June 12, 2007
Safety Meeting Déjà Vu: Could It All Be In Your Head?
By Michael D. Shaw
Have you ever been in a safety meeting, bored to tears because you think you’ve heard it all before? Maybe it was déjà vu.
Now, we may have a truly scientific explanation for this phenomenon.
Researchers at MIT and the University of Bristol (UK) were able to look deep into the brain’s hippocampus, and discovered that learning—in a portion of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus—is crucial in rapidly recognizing and amplifying the small differences that make each place or experience unique.
Dr. Matthew Jones, of the University of Bristol, noted that:
“We constantly make split-second decisions about how best to behave at a given place and time. To achieve this, our nervous system must employ highly efficient ways of rapidly recognizing and learning important changes in our environment. This paper demonstrates that a particular protein-signaling molecule…is essential for these rapid discrimination processes, hopefully paving the way for therapies targeting learning and behavioral disorders.”
Scientists believe that certain neurons called “place cells” fire to create a kind of blueprint for any new space we encounter, so that the next time we go there, it seems familiar. The problem is that similar spaces or experiences may activate overlapping blueprints, creating the confusion of déjà vu.
Further work along these lines could help tune up the brains of elderly individuals…and maybe safety meeting attendees.