This article originally appeared and was published on AOL.com
Déjà vu is the feeling that we already experienced what’s happening in the present. It can be unsettling — if not frightening — and the explanation of why it occurs has longtime stumped scientists.
Now, researchers at the University of St. Andrews in the UK may have solved the mystery — and it has nothing to do with Hollywood explanations like in The Matrix or Inception.
Déjà vu had been thought to merely be false memories, but this research suggests otherwise. It may actually be a way the brain tries to resolve conflicts.
Researchers attempted to trigger the feeling in volunteers by giving them a false memory. They gave them a list of words related to sleep — bed, pillow, night and dream — but not the word “sleep” itself. They then asked if volunteers heard a word beginning in “s.” Volunteers said no.
Later, researchers asked if they heard the word “sleep.” They knew they could not have, because it begins with “s,” but the word felt familiar to them — they had a sense of déjà vu.
“They report having this strange experience of déjà vu,” said lead researcher Akira O’Connor.
O’Connor and his team used fMRI scanning to see what kind of brain functions were going on when this “strange experience” happened. Frontal regions of the brain, the part responsible for decision-making, showed activity. This does not include the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with memories.
According to Stefan Köhler at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, this suggests that there may be “some conflict resolution going on in the brain during déjà vu.”
O’Connor, however, acknowledged that this is just the start of research.
Furthermore, his team’s findings need to be peer reviewed. Should it be approved, though, it opens up even more questions, such as how déjà vu affects older people and if it’s beneficial to humans.
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