In the ME Lab we take a cognitive neuroscience approach to investigate memories for events, including autobiographical memories for events from our personal past and immersive events that we create in an experimental setting (e.g., controlled encoding of real-world events, virtual reality). Current research in the lab is focused on the following topics:
Reshaping Memories during Retrieval
Memories for the events from our lives are not static, but are prone to changes overtime and due to retrieval. It is this dynamic property of memory for events that contributes to our sense of self over time, allows us to share our memories with others in novel ways and to understand their point of view, enables us to connect the past with the present in order to inform the future, and even to consider what might have or could have been. A main focus in the ME Lab is understanding the neural mechanisms of reactivation-related updating processes in autobiographical memories. In order to examine questions about the accuracy and distortion of naturalistic memories we have created novel paradigms that control for the encoding of events in the real-world using wearable cameras (see below).
Our research has shown that memory reactivation plays a key role in modifying memories (St. Jacques & Schacter, 2013), and is an effective strategy for producing long-lasting modifications in the negative affect associated with memories (De Brigard, Hanna, St. Jacques, & Schacter, 2019). We have also found that reactivation-related modification in memories is reduced in older adults as the result of age-related decreases in the quality of memory reactivation (St. Jacques, Montgomery, & Schacter, 2015). In an fMRI study, we further demonstrated that neural recruitment in a posterior medial network supports both enhancements and distortions in later memories for real-world events, thereby illuminating how memories change over time as a consequence of reactivation (St. Jacques, Olm, & Schacter, 2013). Together these empirical findings provide support for the proposal that adaptive processes that enable memories to be updated with new information can also contribute to distortions in memories (Schacter, Guerin, & St. Jacques, 2011). More recently, we have investigated how memories are reshaped when shifting visual perspective during retrieval.
Visual Perspective in Memories for Events
Having a particular visual perspective or vantage point is an integral aspect of memories for immersive experiences. It is well know that memories for events can be retrieved from multiple visual perspective (i.e., own eyes, observer-like viewpoints), and recent research in our lab using immersive virtual reality has shown that memories can also be formed from multiple visual perspectives (Iriye & St. Jacques, 2021). Adopting alternative visual perspectives when remembering influences early stages of retrieval by increasing the functional connectivity between the anterior hippocampus and precuneus (Iriye & St. Jacques, 2020; see image below).
Our behavioral research has shown that shifting visual perspective can alter the phenomenology and accuracy of subsequent memories (Marcotti & St. Jacques, 2018). These multiple ways that we can retrieve the personal past are supported by common brain regions that contribute to the ability to simulate counterfactual scenarios of how the past could have occurred differently (St. Jacques, Carpenter, Szpunar, & Schacter, 2018), but there are also unique regions that contribute more to perceptual changes to the past that occur when shifting visual perspective (Faul, St. Jacques, De Rosa, Parikh, & De Brigard, 2020). In particular, neural recruitment of the precuneus and angular gyrus support the ability to shift to alternative visual perspectives during remembering (St. Jacques, Szpunar, & Schacter, 2017; see image below). These findings demonstrate that memories are reconstructed in different ways depending on the particular visual perspective adopted, as highlighted in a recent conceptual framework to understand visual perspective in memories for events (St. Jacques, 2019).
Research questions we’re currently excited about!
- What individual differences support the tendency to naturally adopt an own eyes or observer-like perspective, and the the ability to shift between different visual perspectives?
- How do the precuneus and angular gyrus uniquely contribute to visual perspective during memory retrieval?
- What is the nature of observer-like perspectives in memories? Under what circumstances do we form observer-like perspectives in memories in the real-world?
- How does shifting visual perspective during memory retrieval impact the accuracy of memories? Does shifting visual perspective introduce distortions in memories? Can shifting our viewpoint enable us to retrieve additional information about events?
- What is the relationship between visual perspective and emotional regulation?
If these questions and others like them excite you too, then you can earn more about joining our research team!
Discover more about our research on our publications page.