Researching learning and memory in the human brain

The Memory Systems Lab uses converging cognitive neuroscience methods to study the nature and the organization in the brain of human learning and memory. We conduct neuropsychological studies of patients with memory disorders, together with functional neuroimaging, human electrophysiological, and eye tracking studies, as well as computational modeling of memory. We also do intervention studies, examining the effects of exercise and or nutrition in individuals of various ages, across the lifespan, as well as conducting cognitive interventions in the elderly. Much of our research is in collaboration with other investigators, including Professors Art Kramer, Chuck Hillman, Gabriele Gratton, Monica Fabiani, Brian Gonsalves, and Renee Baillargeon at the University of Illinois, Professor Joel Voss at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Professors Daniel Tranel, Melissa Duff, and Michelle Voss at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and Professor David Balota at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Memory Systems Lab is funded by the following sources:

National Institute of Mental Health (NIH/NIMH)

National Institute on Aging (NIH/NIA)

National Institute of Child Health and Development (NIH/NICHD)

Abbott Nutrition

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA)

Institute of Educational Sciences (IES)

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In this project we, use behavioral, eye-position, fMRI, volumetric, and connectivity measures to evaluate the relative contribution of both specific leaned associations and underlying contextual-rules in support of relational memory. We investigate performance in both healthy younger and older adults as well as patient populations with damage to medial temporal and prefrontal cortical structures

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This innovative study is designed to establish and validate a comprehensive and rigorous brain training program that incorporates cognitive neuroscience, fitness, and nutritional interventions for the enhancement of complex, real world judgment and reasoning. Visit the INSIGHT website for more details.

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Context in Episodic Memory

Episodic memories are often conceptualized as having items that are remembered with additional details that provide a setting or "context" to the memory experience. Studies investigate the informational nature of contextual representation and its neural substrates through the use of reconstructive recall tasks and fMRI.

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Differentiating the earliest stages of dementia from healthy aging

In this study, we are developing cognitive tasks that are highly sensitive to the earliest pathological changes that occur in the brain of dementia patients. This early detection will allow for patients to begin receiving treatment earlier in an effort to slow the progression of dementia.

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Emotion and Relational Memory

Emotional information can have enhancing and impairing effects on remembering. Emotional information can have enhancing and/or impairing effects on remembering, depending which aspects of a memory episode is being examined. This project explores the effects of emotional stimuli on relational memory using eye movement measures.

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Eye movement Studies of Memory

This project uses eye movements to explore the processes that take place during retrieval of memory, both conscious and unconscious

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This study investigates what aspects of fitness, diet, and other health measures affect memory development across a nine-month fitness intervention in children.

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Hippocampal Contributions to Common Ground Representations

This study investigates the ability of hippocampal amnesics to form and express partner-specific associations, which are critical to common ground representations, during a picture naming task with different conversational partners.

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Hippocampal Contributions to Comprehension of Referencing Expressions

This study investigates on-line comprehension of referencing expressions in hippocampal amnesics by monitoring eye-movements as they interpreted referencing expressions in the visual world paradigm.

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Hippocampus and Relational Memory

We are developing novel techniques and measures to better understand the functional role of the hippocampus in memory. These techniques permit deeper insights into hippocampal function, and are sensitive to even very subtle differences in relational memory that accompany mTBI, aging, health and nutrition, alloiwng earlier diagnosis of deficits, insights into underlying changes, and more appropriate responses.

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Infant Nutrition Study

This study investigates what aspects of dietary intake are related to relational memory development during the second year of life.

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Lifestyle factors that promote healthy brain and cognitive aging

Focusing on lifestyle factors such as physical activity and exercise, nutrition, and social activity, we are working towards delineating the environmental aspects that preserve brain health and promote cognition in late adulthood.

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Mental Arrangements

Everyday cognition requires holding, tracking and manitupulating complex mental objects such as scenes, sequences, conversations and plans. Properly representing these elements requires arranging new and existing knowledgte into a useful framework for the task at hand. We examine the rules for binding together these elements by studying how people reconstruct memories, imagine scenarios and work through complex, multi-step tasks.

young adult male and female running on treadmills.

Nutrition & fitness effects on memory in healthy young adults

This study investigates how aerobic fitness and nutritional intake affect eye movement measures of various types of memory.

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Reactivation of relational representations in the cortex

In this study, we are extending our research out beyond the hippocampus to look at the consequences of relational memory in the cortex using the event-related optical signal (EROS). Specifically we are looking at the ability for relations to be used to reactivate memory representations.

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The impact of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) on brain and cognitive aging

We are currently investigating how a history of mTBI in one's life interacts with the aging process to produce premature and larger-than-expected deficits in brain health and cognition later in life, with an emphasis on memory and the hippocampal system.

toddler girl eating yogurt with a spoon to her mouth.

Toddler Nutrition Study

This study investigates what aspects of dietary intake are related to various measures of cognitive development in toddlers.

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Understanding the changing role of context in relational memory

In this project we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the importance of temporal coherence in context vs. item processing.

man with visual image of forgetfulness.

What Memory Errors Tell Us

No one's memory is perfect, but when we forget or err, our memories usually fail gracefully. When we misremember a colleague's name, we're unlikely to call her "Joan of Arc," and even less likely to call her "an elevator". The plausibility of our errors reveal a structured usuable knowledge base that guides our behavior, and by studying such mistakes, we can understand the organizational systems of our memories. Rather than discard memory erros as "noise" we try to find metrics and methods that give the maximum of partial credit

Want to get involved with our research?

If you are interested in gaining research experience and earning psychology course credit, we offer courses in which you will receive credit hours for your work in our lab. We also are currently looking for participants for our studies from a variety of populations.

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