Project P8

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

Was an event shameful? How is your memory of the event influenced by this fact?

Project P8 aims to investigate how scenario formation results from an integration between memory and the self-model. We establish and conduct novel experimental paradigms that elucidate the impact of the self-model on episodic memories. Eventually, we aim to develop a novel conceptual and empirical framework on this topic. We hypothesize that the integration of episodic memories with the self-model can be studied best in situations when this process cannot be exerted seamlessly and automatically. This is the case during self-model–incongruent episodes that elicit feelings of shame or guilt. We test whether and how memory of these episodes differs from memory of episodes that elicit negative emotions other than shame and guilt and of neutral episodes. In a first study, we collected reports of more than 3,000 autobiographical episodes across several months and analyzed them with artificial intelligence methods. Our results indicate that memories of shame-inducing episodes do not differ in their content from episodes that elicit guilt. However, they differ from memories of other episodes in their phenomenological characteristics, suggesting that they are specifically affected by the self-model. In a second study that was conducted in close collaboration with P4, we experimentally induced feelings of shame. We then tested whether and how memory of these episodes could be modified by subsequent manipulations that either affected the content of these memories or their relevance for the self-model. Finally, in close collaboration with other projects, in particular P7, we developed a comprehensive theoretical framework of self-memory integration and of the impact of self-incongruent emotions. In the second funding period, we will conduct a series of fMRI studies to investigate the impact of the self-model on scenario construction at the neural level. Building on experimental paradigms developed in the first funding period with P4, we will first test how the neural signature of memories for shame-related episodes differs from the memories of control episodes that do not induce shame. We will also test how these neural signatures relate to narrative features and phenomenological characteristics of these episodes. We will then study whether and how these effects can be altered by subsequent modifications of these memories. Additional studies will address the relationship between shame effects on scenario formation (i.e., memory retrieval) with neural activity patterns during encoding, and the relative impact of shame on episodic memory traces vs. semantic knowledge. The results from these studies will allow us to test (and possibly revise or update) our conceptual framework on self-memory integration that we developed in the first funding period. The success of P8 critically relies on close collaborations with both empirical research and conceptual analysis in other subprojects and will, in turn, inform philosophical and computational models.


  • Where was the toaster? A systematic investigation of semantic construction in a new virtual episodic memory paradigm
    Zoellner, C., Klein, N., Cheng, S., Schubotz, R. I., Axmacher, N., & Wolf, O. T.
    Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 174702182211166
  • Selfless Memories
    Millière, R., & Newen, A.
  • Trügerische Erinnerung
    Dings, R., & Newen, A.
    Der Allgemeinarzt
  • 2021

  • Biased memory retrieval in the service of shared reality with an audience: The role of cognitive accessibility
  • The memory trace of a stressful episode
    Bierbrauer, A., Fellner, M. -C., Heinen, R., Wolf, O. T., & Axmacher, N.
    Current Biology
  • Constructing the Past: the Relevance of the Narrative Self in Modulating Episodic Memory
    Dings, R., & Newen, A.
    Review of Philosophy and Psychology
  • 2020

  • Situated Mental Representations: Why we need mental representations and how we should understand them
    Newen, A., & Vosgerau, G.
    In J. Smortchkova, Dolega, K., & Schlicht, T. (Eds.), Mental Representation (pp. 178–212) Oxford: Oxford University Press

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.


Universitätsstr. 150,
44801 Bochum, Germany

Tel: +49 (0)234 32 27996
Fax: +49 (0)234 32 14210