Project P7

The interdependence of Episodic Memory and the Self-Model

Focusing on the narrative self we investigate its role in recall of episodic memories.

The leading questions of this philosophical project are: How is the self-model constituted by episodic memory recall and how is episodic memory recall shaped by the self-model? To describe the interdependence between episodic memory and the self-model (the integration unit for information about myself) we presuppose an embodied self (the human being) and the narrative self-model, i.e. the explicitly reported part of the self-model. On this basis, we want to answer the following open questions focusing on the narrative self-model: 1a. How is a self-model organized and how is a specific content selected and activated? 1b. What is the role of experiential features of recall of autobiographic episodes, especially of visual perspective? 1c. Can we distinguish different stances of episodic memory recall (identifying and distancing stance) and what is their function? 2. Which principles in addition to coherence of the self-model and demand for correspondence to reality determine how the self-model constrains episodic recall? 3. How intense is the influence of social expectations on the self-model and thereby on episodic recall? By answering these question, we aim to develop a fine-grained theory of the Self-Memory System.

These questions are addressed in the three parts which are worked out with a theoretical interdisciplinary methodology: This includes systematic analysis of previous empirical studies as well as a systematic interaction with relevant subprojects in the research group as a basis for theory formation. In the first part we want to establish the specific hypotheses that we have to presuppose two modes of activating a recall of autobiographic episodes, namely reliving and reconsidering, and also an identifying stance and a distancing stance of episodic recall. We use this framework to argue for two hypotheses: 1. The visual first-person perspective is strongly indicative of a mode of reliving an autobiographical episode. 2. The distancing stance of recall is typically activated by negative emotions and is a main source of triggering modifications of episodic memories. In the second part we uncover the role of the self-model by describing construction principles at work during the retrieval of autobiographic episodes. We characterize them by analogy to processes in self-deception. Candidate processes are those of selecting, rejecting or generating information in relation to an activated memory trace which is enriched by semantic information to generate a scenario. In the third part we aim to clarify the relation between the self-model and internalized social expectations. We hypothesize that social expectations do not fully determine the content of the self-model. For episodic recall this would mean that the modifications in constructive memory processes depend on the type of activated self-model, e.g. the ideal self-image or the socially expected self-image.

The research unit FOR 2812 "Constructing scenarios of the past: A new framework in episodic memory" is a project funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The research unit studies the cognitive and neuronal mechanisms underlying scenario construction in episodic memory. We employ and integrate approaches from Philosophy, Psychology, and Experimental and Computational Neuroscience.

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