Project P8

Modification of episodic memories due to integration with a self-model

This experimental project investigates how specific aspects of the self-model influence scenario formation during episodic memory recall.

One of the main functions of scenario formation during episodic memory recall is to support our self-model, i.e. an integrated view of ourselves with implicit and explicit aspects. Reversely, the self-model also constraints what we remember and how we remember it – i.e., which scenarios we build during episodic memory recall. This will be investigated in project P8. Importantly, the explicit self-model does not only involve descriptive aspects (how I think I am) but also normative aspects related to the ideal self-image (how I would like to be) and to assumed social expectations (how I feel I ought to be). Integrating episodic memories with these normative aspects of the self-model is particularly challenging for memories of self-incongruent episodes which conflict with the ideal self-image (and which induce feelings of shame) and/or with assumed social expectations (which induce feelings of guilt and/or embarrassment). We will investigate how activating these different normative aspects of the explicit self-model influences memory recall of self-incongruent episodes. Effects will be tested at 3 different levels: (1) The content of the remembered scenarios; (2) the neural representation of the scenarios (assessed via multivariate analyses applied to fMRI data); (3) the phenomenology of the scenarios (regarding vividness, emotional intensity and visual perspective). Self-incongruent episodes will be collected via diaries (Experiment 1) or will be experimentally induced in a virtual reality computer game (Experiment 2). Cue sentences referring to specific episodes will be presented in the MRI scanner during memory recall, and neural signatures of each episode as well as its content and phenomenological characteristics will be extracted. Participants will be tested twice with an interval of 1 week in between in order to test the effect of the crucial experimental manipulation occurring in that period on the transformation of self-incongruent episodic memories. For that manipulation, participants will be randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions. In condition 1, their explicit self-model will be activated and explicitly related to each episode. We hypothesize this to lead to changes in recall of shameful episodes which are incongruent with the ideal self-image. In condition 2, the explicit self-model will be activated in a social setting, i.e. by asking participants to describe the episodes to two experimenters. We hypothesize specific effects on guilt-related and embarrassing episodes which are incongruent with assumed social expectations. In the control condition 3, all episodes will be recalled without activating the explicit self-model. Together, the two experiments will provide important information on how specific aspects of the self-model influence scenario formation during episodic memory recall.

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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