How memories are formed in the brain: A new role for the internal compass

How memories are formed in the brain: A new role for the internal compass

The Intricate Connection between Memory Formation and the Internal Compass

Memories are an essential part of our lives, shaping our identities and influencing our decisions. For years, scientists have been studying the brain to understand how memories are formed and stored. Recent research has uncovered a surprising new role for the internal compass in memory processes.

The Internal Compass: Beyond Navigation

The internal compass, also known as the brain’s sense of direction, has long been associated with navigation and spatial awareness. It helps us find our way in unfamiliar environments and navigate complex mazes. However, recent studies have revealed that the internal compass plays a crucial role in memory formation as well.

Memory and Spatial Context

Our memories are not isolated fragments but are intricately linked to the spatial context in which they were formed. When we recall a memory, our brain reconstructs the spatial environment associated with that memory. This spatial context provides important cues that help us retrieve and relive past experiences.

Researchers have discovered that the internal compass is involved in encoding and retrieving memories by providing spatial information. The brain’s navigation system, which includes the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, interacts with other memory-related brain regions to form and consolidate memories.

How the Internal Compass Influences Memory Formation

Studies using animal models have shown that manipulating the internal compass can affect memory formation. For example, when the internal compass is disrupted, animals struggle to form new memories or recall existing ones. This suggests that the internal compass is not only responsible for navigation but also contributes to the encoding and retrieval of memories.

Furthermore, neuroimaging studies in humans have demonstrated that the brain’s navigation system is active during memory tasks. When participants navigate virtual environments or recall spatial memories, the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex show increased activity. This indicates that the internal compass is engaged in memory processes in humans as well.

Implications for Understanding Memory Disorders

Understanding the role of the internal compass in memory formation has significant implications for studying memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s patients, the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are among the first brain regions to be affected, leading to memory impairments.

By unraveling the intricate connection between the internal compass and memory processes, researchers hope to develop new strategies for early detection and intervention in memory disorders. Targeting the brain’s navigation system could potentially slow down or prevent memory decline in individuals at risk.


The discovery of the internal compass’s involvement in memory formation adds a new dimension to our understanding of how memories are created and stored in the brain. By recognizing the role of spatial context and the brain’s navigation system, we can gain valuable insights into memory processes and potentially develop new approaches to enhance memory function.