David Clewett, PhD
New York University
Title: Arousal mechanisms shape the selectivity and structure of episodic memory
Date: Friday, December 7th, 2018
Location: Herklotz Conference Center, Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Memories are not arbitrary records of past events – they are highly selective. In particular, decades of research show that perception and memory tend to be biased towards emotionally arousing experiences, such as a car crash or the birth of a child. However, this focus on emotional representations has created critical blind spots in learning and memory research. Beyond simply enhancing processing of emotional stimuli, a surge in arousal also selectively influences which nearby information is committed to memory. Furthermore, spikes in arousal are happening all of the time and not just in response to emotional events. This suggests that physiological arousal might also be instrumental for organizing memories of everyday experiences. In this talk, I will describe behavioral, fMRI, and neurophysiological work showing that arousal and the release of neuromodulators, including norepinephrine and dopamine, may bias our memory systems to encode and consolidate meaningful neutral information. I will also discuss recent eye tracking work suggesting that fluctuations in arousal may help to transform continuous experience into memories of discrete events. Together, my lines of research suggest that, to truly understand memory, we must also understand how arousal mechanisms influence how and what we remember from past events.