A psychology study at the University of Arizona is studying undergraduate students’ memories in an effort to refine techniques used in cognitive therapy.

The project, called Brain Changes Related to Navigation and Memory, has participants devote 27 hours over the course of two weeks to specialized training.

They will either try to memorize lists of random words or navigate a virtual cityabout the size of the San Francisco Bay Areaby using hacks provided by the team.

UArizona junior Kelly Maymayfrauzel has completed her third day of training and already has 40 words memorized.

“The way Im supposed to memorize them is I have a list of minor life events and try to correlate those words with a life event to try to memorize it a little easier, she said.

After her first week is over, she will go on to memorize a new list of words every day.

Lead of the project Professor Arne Ektrom said students are able to remember an average of 25 after each session in the latter half of the study.

“Its kind of like you learn how to learn how to put one puzzle together and now we have you do a different puzzle every day,” he said. “So we just kind of ramp up how challenging it is.

Before and after each process is repeated, the research team conducts MRI scans of the participants’ brains to see if there are any notable changes, structurally or neurologically.

But more what we think is likely to happen is the connection between brain areas are likely to change,” Ekstrom said.

“And so were conducting a different set of scans that allows to track blood flow in the brain to see how different areas of the brain interact with one another.

But in the long run, this isnt for students. It’s for those who struggle with memory decline, like the elderly or people dealing with the aftermath of a stroke.

But this is only the first step.

Having spoken already with many of our senior citizens in Tucson, they do feel like, in many cases, their verbal memory is not what it used to be, Ekstrom said. “And the training might be a way of helping to improve their memory. Its the same for navigation.

The team believes that by knowing the science behind the brain, not just why certain therapies work, they can make better recommendations on how to improve and prevent memory loss.

And Maymayfrauzel is hoping her contribution to the research gets them there.

I just hope that whatever data I have to offer is beneficial somehow to the life of older people,” she said.

So far, 35 students have completed the training, in addition to subjects from partnering school University of Florida, which is doing parallel research.

The teams hope to have 75 participants in total before they start analyzing their information.