A memory pill? Cognitive neuroscience’s contributions to the study of memory
In 1949, Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb proposed the theory of Hebbian learning to explain how a learning task is transformed into a long-term memory. In this way, healthy habits become automatically retained after their continual repetition.
Learning and memory are a consequence of how our brain cells (neurons) communicate with each other. When we learn, neurons communicate through molecular transmissions which hop across synapses producing a memory circuit. Known as long-term potentiation(LTP), the more often a learning task is repeated, the more often transmission continues and the stronger a memory circuit becomes. It is this unique ability of neurons to create and strengthen synaptic connections by repeated activation that leads to Hebbian learning.
Memory and the hippocampus
Understanding the brain requires investigation through different approaches and from a variety of specialities. The field of cognitive neuroscience initially developed through a small number of pioneers. Their experimental designs and observations led to the foundation for how we understand learning and memory today.
Donald Hebb’s contributions at McGill University remain the driving force to explain memory. Under his supervision, neuropsychologist Brenda Milner studied a patient with impaired memory following a lobectomy. Further studies with neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield enabled Milner to expand her study of memory and learning in patients following brain surgery.