Chair: Joseph E. Steinmetz
The Ohio State University
For well over a century, a major topic of research for psychological scientists has been the psychological and biological and processes associated with how we learn and remember everything from simple behaviors to complex information. In this Presidential Symposium, four distinguished psychological scientists will present how learning and memory is studied from different perspectives and different levels of analyses. Ted Abel will provide a summary of his work on cellular/molecular mechanisms of long-term memory storage. Michael Fanselow will speak about how fear is learned and how fear memories are stored in the brain. Elizabeth Phelps will present her work on using a multi-pronged cognitive neuroscience approach to explore the neural systems involved in human learning and memory and their relation to emotion. Elizabeth Loftus will present her work on human memory and how memories can be modified by facts, ideas, suggestions, and other post-event information.
Epigenetics of Memory Storage
University of Pennsylvania
Long-term memories are formed through a process involving distinct stages of acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval. Short-term memories are converted to long-term memories through the activation of gene expression. This regulation of gene expression is controlled by epigenetic mechanisms involving the post-translational modification of histone proteins that form the nucleosomes bound to DNA and the methylation of DNA itself. These histone modifications provide a novel mechanism of information storage in the brain and define how “nurture” may interact with “nature.”
Neural Circuits for the Formation, Expression, and Inhibition of Fear
University of California, Los Angeles
Survival critically depends on the rapid learning of fear and the later expression of fear proportional to the degree of threat. Once formed, fear memories are usually permanently maintained, but over time their characteristics can change such that they incubate and overgeneralize. By imaging activity-regulated gene expression, direct brain manipulations, and behavioral testing, I will examine how these processes arise from interactions among the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.
Elizabeth A. Phelps
New York University
One drawback of many techniques used to control fear is that they are inhibited and can return. Phelps will present evidence that targeting the fear memory itself through the interference of reconsolidation in humans leads to persistent fear control and diminishes involvement of the prefrontal cortex inhibitory circuitry.
The Memory Factory
Elizabeth F. Loftus
University of California, Irvine
I study memory distortion. Sometimes memory distortion involves changing small details of events that were actually experienced. Other times it involves planting entire memories of events that never happened — “rich false memories.” Most recently, I have shown that, once planted, false memories have consequences for people, affecting their later thoughts, intentions, and behaviors. Once planted, they look very much like true memories in terms of behavioral characteristics, emotionality, and neural signatures.