4 science & n , :ci iinology
ffiesday. lit September. 21X17 • wvvw.lhe&ilevvavttnline.Crt
Cats—like humans—rely on movement for memory
I HAS A MUSCLE MEMORY Cats show researchers how humans learn.
Cals may seem unappreciative to their
owners, but the advances made by a
University of Alberta researcher sug¬
gest that their memory is influenced
not by sight but action, a breakthrough
that humans should appreciate.
U of A professor of Physiology
Keir Pearson studies the way that our
brains control how we know where
an object is in relation to our bodies.
The experimental concept of testing
whether or not an animal needs to
perform an action or can merely see
an object to remember it is one of the
main focuses of Neurophysiology.
Pearson's field of study.
“I’m interested In how the brain
controls behaviour." Pearson said.
"It you move, you still know where
objects are relative to your body, so
tliat means there has to be some sort
of remapping in your brain to keep
crack of where chose objects are as you
The first experiment that Pearson
performed conasted of a cat stepping
over an obstacle with its front legs.
The cat was then distracted with food
for as long as possible while straddling
the barrier. Pearson removed the object
while the cat was feeding, and then got
the cat to continue to move forward.
Every time the test was performed, the
cat moved forward by raising its hind
legs as if stepping over tlie obstacle.
"The surprising result there was
dial this memory lasts for a long,
long time." Pearson said. “[Possibly]
seeing the obstacle would be enough
to tell the animal it’s there."
However, lie inferred iliai that infor¬
mation could also have been sent to the
brain from the cat's forelegs to stimu¬
late memory, and that the sight of the
object wasn’t the only factor that cre¬
ated tlie cat's long-term memory.
"[The] paper that we published just
recently was to determine what fac¬
tors would establish this memory,"
Pearson said. He explained that there
were two factors possibly involved:
the first being the sight of the object,
and the second being the possibility
that the movement of die cat's forelegs
sent a mesage to the brain to remem¬
ber tlie obstacle.
To test this, die cat was brought to the
obstacle so tliat it could see it but not
step over it. If tlie cat was distracted for
a much shorter period of rime, it would
remember the obstacle and lift ils hind
legs as done in the first experiment.
"if it is more than a few seconds,
[the cat] completely forgets, so the
visual signal by itself is not sufficient,"
Pearson said. “This indicated to us
tliat it was the actual movement of the
from legs over the obstacle that actu¬
ally established die memory."
Because of the results found in
Pearson’s tests, researchers have fur¬
ther ideas on how these discoveries
will benefit people. Pearson explained
that this study helps us understand
little things about human behaviour,
from how we can go down stairs with¬
out actually needing to see the stairs,
to being able to find where we parked
our cars in a iarge parking lot—even if
it takes some of us slightly longer.
More import am are the possibilities
of what this research can do for our
health. Pearson said that people with
Alzheimer's, dementia. Parkinson’s,
or other cognitive disorders can’t keep
track of objects in their environment.
"[Researchers] might be able
to develop some son of test to see
whether there's a memory decline in
these patients to do with knowledge of
where objects are.” lie said.
Have you heard of it?
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