What Happens When We Remember?
When we retrieve memories, they become vulnerable: for example, an interrogator’s leading questions can alter details in an eyewitness’s memories. Retrieved memories also help build new ones: key details from course prerequisites make it easier to learn new material. These examples show how the act of remembering can change us.
Researchers’ ability to investigate the cognitive processes influenced by retrieving memories has been slowed by volunteers’ limited ability to accurately describe their own experience of doing so, and by the fact that their doing so intrinsically changes the retrieval dynamics being studied. But emerging functional neuroimaging technologies make it possible for researchers to covertly observe memories as they become active in the brain, making new insights possible.
As Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, Dr. Jordan Poppenk is examining the consequences of bringing memories to life. His experiments measure how memory retrieval affects cognitive processes, such as forming new memories and planning for the future, as well as the neural systems involved in these processes. His work also probes how neuroanatomy may predispose some people to use their memories differently than others.
Poppenk’s research may help clinicians better predict the specific impacts of brain injuries that affect memory systems and offer better treatments for intrusive memory disorders. It may also help educators design better courses for long-term retention.