19 October 2010

Looking for memory traces in the mind and brain

Several neuroscientists, by making use of neuroimaging techniques (Cabeza & St. Jacques, 2007; Rubin, 2006; Squire, 2004; Svoboda, McKinnon, & Levine, 2006), have indicated that the process of remembering personally experienced past events is based on the interanimation of distributed neural networks. Considering the perceptual richness of the processes of autobiographical remembering, these neural networks are being directly influenced by the parts of the brain involved in sensory and emotional processing (Markowitsch, Thiel, Reinkemeier, Kessler, Koyuncu & Heiss, 2000; Markowitsch, Vandekerckhove, Lanfermann & Russ, 2003). Investigations using fMRI have shown the dynamic involvement of distributed brain regions during distinct periods of episodic remembering (Prince, Tsukiura & Cabeza, 2007). The patterns of connectivity between neurons, and between different neural networks, led several neuroscientists to claim that episodic remembering is a more constructive, rather than a reproductive activity. Some scholars (Schacter, Addis & Buckner, 2007) even maintain that episodic remembering needs to thought of as a process which does not represent, but rather “constructs reality”. The regulation of these processes of construction of reality may be both innate and acquired in early childhood and shaped by later experience (Schmidt, 2008: 192). Thus, episodic remembering conceived of as a function of the brain, which is distributed over neural systems, is determined by the connectivity of the neurons, which are interconnected in complex networks that are subject to experience and genome (Maturana, 2006, 2007). In the next post I present more evidence about the constructive traits of processes of episodic remembering. These constructive traits undermine some principles of traditional approaches to memory research driven the “storage metaphor”.


Cabeza, R., & St. Jacques, P. L. (2007). Functional neuroimaging of autobiographical memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 219-227.

Markowitsch, H.J. (2001). The neural bases of memory. In N.J. Smelser & P.B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences (Vol. 13: Behavioral and cognitive neuroscience; eds. R.F. Thompson & J.L. McClelland). Oxford: Elsevier Science. pp. 8593-8599.

Markowitsch, H.J., Vandekerckhove, M.M.P., Lanfermann, H. & Russ, M.O. (2003). Engagement of lateral and medial prefrontal areas in the ecphory of sad and happy autobiographical memories. Cortex, 39, 643-665.

Maturana H. R. (2006). Self-consciousness: How? When? Where? Constructuvist Foundations 1 (3), 91-102.

Maturana H. R. (2007). Systemic versus genetic determination. Constructivist Foundations, 3 (1), 21-26.

Prince, S. E., Tsukiura, T., & Cabeza, R. (2007). Distinguishing the neural correlates of episodic memory encoding and semantic memory retrieval. Psychological Science, 18, 144-151.

Rubin, D. C. (2006). The Basic-Systems Model of Episodic Memory. Perspectives on Psychological Science 1, 277-311.

Schacter, D. L., Addis, D. R. and Buckner (2007). The Prospective Brain: Remembering the Past to Imagine the Future. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8, 657-661.

Schmidt, S. (2008). Memory and remembrance: A constructivist approach. In A. Erll & A.Nunning (Eds.) Cultural Memory Studies. An Interdisciplinary Handbook (191-201). Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Squire, L. (2004). Memory systems of the brain: A brief history and current perspective. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 82, 171–177.

Svoboda, E., McKinnon, M. & Levine, B. (2006). The functional neuroanatomy of autobiographical memory: A meta-analysis. Neuropsychologia 44 (12), 2189-2208.

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