A University of Arizona psychology study made new discoveries about the human brain and memory.

The research, in partnership with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, aimed to identify what drives electrical activity in the brain, which is measured by neuron patterns called “theta oscillations.”

Previously, it was thought that a person experiencing an eventlike sleep, navigation, and explorationwould produce more powerful oscillations. But the study proved that remembering an event has more influence on brain waves.

The team of four used virtual reality simulations to help conduct the study for 13 participants who were getting ready for epilepsy surgery at the UT Medical Center.

Senior Author of the study Arne Ekstrom said the reason for sourcing epileptic patients as test subjects is because it is the only ethical way to directly track neurological activity through surgical means.

“The way we try to deal with that is that many of the recordings occur in both healthy and seizure-damaged tissue. So we take more of an interest in the healthy tissue,” he said.

“We can compare left and right. One of [the sides] has seizures, one of them doesn’t. Then we can make sure it’s not seizures that are confounding the results.”

Each participant had electrode brain implants that would track the neurological activity while they completed a task: Find the right building in a virtual city simulation.

The participants were given a joystick to navigate through the shops using VR. Once they arrived at the correct location, the simulation was paused.

The team then asked them to remember the path they took to get to the correct building.

After comparing the oscillations measured during the simulation and while participants remembered the experience, researchers found in the latter portion the waves were faster, more frequent and more powerful.

Ekstrom said these findings can potentially be used to refine cognitive training and rehabilitation which helps improve memory over time, like exercise for the brain.

This kind of therapy can be useful to people struggling with effects of seizures, strokes or simply old age.

“This would provide an important lead by saying that memory can drive some of these signals which could be important in clinical context for restoring memory impairments, helping to deal with memory impairments,” Ekstrom said. “And potentially just from the fitting the pieces of the brain together perspective.

Going forward, Ekstrom said he plans to conduct a related experiment, but this time with participants standing instead of sitting to see how physical movement links to brain activity.