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