Observing Students Watch ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Taught Neuroscientists New Things About the Human Brain

January 17, 2019, 9:16 PM UTC
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Neurobiologists at the University of California, Irvine, identified a new way to understand how the human brain tracks time by conducting an experiment that sounds prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good.

In the name of science, college students were asked to watch episodes of Larry David’s HBO hit Curb Your Enthusiasm while researchers used a high-powered functional MRI to observe how their brain captured, processed, and stored temporal memories of what happened in the show. Undergrads were then asked specific questions about what had occurred in the episode so that the neuroscientists could analyze how their brains reacted during their recall.

“We chose this show in particular because we thought it contained events that were relatable, engaging and interesting,” Michael Yassa, the study’s senior author and director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory, explained in a release. “We also wanted one without a laugh track.”

But while the study, which was published this week in Nature Neuroscience, sounds ideal to Curb die-hards, the opportunity might have been lost on the college kids.

“Interestingly, while the show is hilarious for some of us, it did not seem to instigate a lot of laughter among the college undergraduates we tested,” Yassa said, adding that the reaction (or lack thereof) was actually “excellent for us, as we needed to keep their heads inside the scanner.”

According to UCI’s release, “researchers found that when subjects had more precise answers to questions about what time certain events occurred, they activated a brain network involving the lateral entorhinal cortex and the perirhinal cortex.” They also observed activity in similar regions when the undergrads were asked to remember where objects had been located spatially, a phenomenon that the team hadn’t observed before.

The researchers hope that this new understanding of how the brain processes time-related memories could help scientists studying Alzheimers and dementia. Which is, once again, pretty, pretty, pretty good news.