We study human memory and the cognitive and neural systems that let us access its rich contents. We ask questions such as how we can mentally re-experience an event from last weekend, how we remember facts we learned in class earlier today, and how we can recognize a friend we haven't seen in months or years. We also explore how we use memory constructively—that is, how we can make predictions about the future based on our past experiences. We ask our experimental questions using a combination of techniques from cognitive and systems neuroscience, focusing both on observable behaviors and their underlying neural substrates.
Humans have a potentially unique capacity to project themselves back in time to remember and re-experience events from our past. Exactly how we engage in this act of "mental time travel" is an area of active exploration in the Gilmore lab. Our research has explored how we search for, and make contact with, specific prior events, as well as how a given memory dynamically stitched back together as we let it play out in our mind's eye. Work in this are has also explored the impact of a memory's age on the role of the hippocampus in remembering specific events.
Memory and future thinking
Our memories can also help us plan for the future. By combining elements of specific past experiences with our general knowledge of the world, humans can imagine richly detailed hypothetical future experiences. Research in the Gilmore lab has examined the processes through which how hypothetical future events are generated and the neural signatures that separate the reconstruction of our autobiographical memories from the novel construction of imagined future scenarios.
Recognition memory and the parietal lobe
Orienting to novel and familiar aspects of our environment is critical for navigating the world around us. A "parietal memory network" has emerged as particularly important for this process. Activity in this network appears to automatically and obligatorily differentiate stimuli with which we've had prior experiences from those we're encountering for the first time. Ongoing work in the lab seeks to better understand how processing within this network, and its interactions with other functional brain systems, lead to its unique behavior.
Studies in cognitive neuroscience typically average results across several dozens or hundreds of participants. This provides a useful sense of general tendencies, but also limits the degree to which our results will describe any given individual and thereby limits the potential translational utility of many findings. To address this, some of our research shifts away from large groups and instead collects large amounts of data from a small number of individual participants. To date, work in this area was conducted in collaboration with other members of the Midnight Scan Club project, where several dozen hours of multi-modal MRI data were collected in each of 10 healthy young adults. This work has provided high fidelity, individual-specific maps of the functional brain networks for each participant.