Drawing parallels with digital communication and the Internet, the research group behind the study draw on the analogy that human brains work in a similar way to Internet search engines, drawing on strategies in order to remember words and memories of past experiences. This process is successful with some words and more challenging with other phrases and sayings.
There is a serious medical underpinning to this line of inquiry, focused on helping patients to recovery from stokes and other serious illnesses. The research is sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The core finding is that human brains can our brains effectively recall some common words, such as 'pig,' 'tank,' or 'door,' far more easily than with the recall of other seemingly simple words, such as 'cat,' 'street,' or 'stair.' Why would this be so?
This relates to one strand of linguistics that maintains that the structure of the English language is stored in everyone's brains. It follows that recall of words, especially the pairing of words, is connected with past experiences and how easily a person can recall these experiences. This approach holds that at least some knowledge about language exists in humans at birth.
In terms of how the research was conducted, this was by using a mix of memory tests and brain wave recordings, together with an array of surveys of the billions of words published in books and on digital media,, the scientists were able to demonstrate how the human brains not only recalls words and additionally memories of our past experiences.
The process governing this is described as the Search for Associative Memory (SAM) model. By using a computer modeling program to look for patterns as to how words are connected the researchers discovered that the more memorable words were more semantically similar, and also connected to meanings of other words used in language. In all cases the words recalled most often were linked with the highest trafficked hubs located within the brain's memory networks.
The next phase of the research is to attempt to see how the findings can inform with memory tests designed to track Alzheimer's disease.
The research has been published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour
, with the research paper titled "Memorability of words in arbitrary verbal associations modulates memory retrieval in the anterior temporal lobe."