11 June 2009

Constructive memory: Remembering the past to imagine the future

29 June 2009, 18.30

Daniel Schacter (Harvard University)

“Constructive memory: Remembering the past to imagine the future”

Nota bene:
There will be an opportunity for doctoral candidates to meet and discuss with Daniel Schacter on Tuesday, 30 June, 10.00-11.00.

Venue: Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Luisenstraße 56, Room 220, 10117 Berlin

Abstract for talk: Memory is typically viewed as a process that is concerned with the past. One function of memory that has been largely overlooked until recently is its role in allowing individuals to imagine, envisage, or simulate possible future events. However, a rapidly growing number of recent studies show that imagining possible future events depends on much of the same cognitive and neural machinery as does remembering past events. The close linkage between remembering the past and imagining the future has potentially important implications for understanding the nature and function of memory. This presentation will consider recent neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies that reveal shared processes underlying remembering the past and imagining the future. Such findings have led us to advance the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis, which holds that imagining future events requires a system that allows the flexible combination of details from past events into novel scenarios. Human memory possesses these characteristics, which makes the system adaptive for simulating alternative future scenarios based on past experiences, though it also may make the system prone to memory errors. Consistent with the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis, one of the striking and consistent findings from neuroimaging studies is that the hippocampus shows robust activation both when individuals remember the past and imagine the future, and sometimes shows greater activation for future than past events. Such observations will be considered in relation to data from healthy and pathological aging that reveal additional common properties during construction of past and future events. A core network of regions will be considered that supports both remembering the past and imagining the future.

Daniel L Schacter is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

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