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The Neural Basis of Watching "Memento"

Memento (2000) is a formidable psychological thriller about a man incompetent to form long-term memories. The film is renouned among neuroscientists for its accurate depiction of amnesia. Now, in a splendidly “meta” paper, a organisation of neuroscientists report that they scanned the smarts of people examination Memento in sequence to study memory processes.

The paper’s called Brain mechanisms underlying cue-based memorizing during free observation of film Memento, and it’s published in Neuroimage, from Finnish researchers Janne Kauttonen and colleagues.

Kauttonen et al. showed n=13 adults the full chronicle of Memento during fMRI scanning. The participants had never seen the film before. The authors’ concentration was on 15 “key-events”, particular scenes in the film which are any shown twice.

These key-events are pivotal to bargain Memento because the film is told out of the normal sequential order: when a pivotal stage is shown for the second time, it helps the spectator to piece together the narrative. Specifically, Kauttonen et al. were meddlesome in the neural correlates of seeing the second, “key-frame” presentation, following the first “cue-frame” viewing.


The authors hoped to find a settlement of neural activity graphic to seeing the second, key-frame showing of the steady scenes.

We set onward to examine the memory functions quite compared to cued recalling of prior events in sequence to make clarity of the plot… we complicated if the key-frames could be compared with specific BOLD activation patterns (fingerprint patterns) at the moments they were presented.

Indeed, the fMRI results showed a common settlement of key-frame response. Representational likeness research (RSA) suggested that activity in the precuneus, bony gyrus and right frontal gyrus was identical when seeing a key-frame, despite the fact that the 15 key-frames were very opposite in terms of low-level visible facilities (i.e. what happens on screen). The right hemisphere was generally involved.


As a control condition, another n=14 adults saw an edited chronicle of Memento in which all the scenes were placed in sequential order. These participants didn’t show the same settlement of activity when observation the key-scenes – nonetheless we note that the edited chronicle only contained one display of any scene, not two, so it doesn’t control for the fact that that in the original, some scenes were repeated. The authors also acknowledge this.

Kauttonen et al. interpretation that

A common neural process, or a set of coexisting processes, is executed during key-frames… We were means to associate key-frames with a common “neural fingerprint” activity patterns. This network covered several frontal, higher-order parietal and subcortical regions, generally precuneus, bony gyrus, cingulate gyrus and frontal stick with right hemispheric lateralization bias. We disagree that the categorical routine pushing these regions was memory processing, generally cued recall, and followed by fast reformation of account schema.

This is a lovely study using a naturalistic stimulus. It competence be tough to extend this work to other stimuli, however, since there are not many cinema that follow the Memento narrative structure. Perhaps someone will need to win a extend to elect Christopher Nolan to make a sequel?

  • There is a ~1960s sf story about a jail whose bars are a drug preventing brief term memory over a very few minutes. The protagonist is eventually prisoner and dosed…but he has a secret arms dark within his mind, “Look around!” It plays well.

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