Putting the 'episode' in 'episodic memory'
As time unfolds, even the simplest changes in the world, such as crossing through a doorway, can lead individuals to perceive a 'boundary' between adjacent events. Interestingly, these context shifts (e.g., spatial change) also have reliable consequences for how memories become organized later on. In the lab, we examine how the ebb and flow of experience - including changes in our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings - guide the creation of new 'episodes' in memory; that is, memories linked to a specific time and place. The role of context in memory may in part explain why our memories and subjective sense of time have melted away during the COVID-19 pandemic. While working from home on a daily basis, we lack the variety in contexts, novelty, and excitement that normally enable the brain to effectively acquire and store new memories. We use various neuroimaging tools, such as fMRI, to study the brain mechanisms that support these important memory processes, with an especially strong focus on the brainstem and a region known as the hippocampus.