Memory is at the core of human identity. It underlies the ability to identify those we love and to tell stories. Our memory also allows us to understand the present, foresee our future, and make good decisions. However, we know that memory is not simply a veridical record of physical reality. Many things happen to us, and of those we remember some in details, some vaguely, some incorrectly, and some not at all.
Research in the Adcock laboratory focuses on the neural systems that allow what we desire to influence what we remember, for better and for worse. We use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) activation (increases in image brightness that reflect changes in the oxygen levels in the brain) to measure how changes in brain activity relate to both motivation and memory. By looking at activation of neural "pleasure" circuits before and during memory formation, we have shown that even before you have an experience (e.g.; seeing a picture), there are neural markers that predict whether or not you are going to remember it. The ability afforded by fMRI to look at an individual person's brain as it changes, moment-to-moment, allows us to return to decades-old but still unresolved questions about how motivation influences learning new information. We can now integrate these data with other psychological and biological data we collect prior to and during memory formation to identify the key antecedents of lasting memories. Our research program represents an approach guided by and aimed at understanding neurobiology, as well as psychology. This integrated approach may help us understand how our brains ensure that we remember what is important and useful, and help us capitalize on that understanding for our human advancement.
How do we preferentially remember what we want to remember? How does your brain selectively encode the memories that are more valuable? Our laboratory uses novel behavioral paradigms in conjunction with functional neuroimaging to understand the functional architecture underlying motivated memory.
state and trait differences
How are relatively stable predispositions of biological trait or psychological personality trait involved in the dopamine-modulated enhancement in receptivity to learning and memory? On the other hand, how does transitory and labile conative state differences induced by various experimental manipulations with respect to reward context account for the underlying mechanisms of reward-motivated memory formation? A series of projects in our lab is dedicated to exploring these state and trait differences.
In our laboratory we pursue a mechanistic neurobiological understanding of the phenomenon of motivated memory. Specifically, we study the effects of neuromodulatory neurotransmitter systems -- the neurochemistry -- on memory formation in the human brain, with a particular interest in the reward-driven neuromodulation of episodic memory formation that is likely to involve the dopaminergic system.
Expanding the definition of neurostimulation. Are there ways to directly stimulate neural pathways non-invasively? We are calling it behavioral neurostimulation; that is, using the environment or a mental strategy -- not an implanted device -- to target activity in neural circuits involved in emotion, motivation, and reward processing and thereby enhance learning and memory.
We often conflate novelty and expectancy violations and use these terms synonymously, even though, in the real-world, these can occur separately or together. This is further perpetuated by the fact that we tend to only study novelty and expectancy violations together in the laboratory setting. In our lab, we are seeking to dissociate novelty and expectancy violations in order to understand the unique neural networks that encode novelty, expectancy violations, and the combination of both.