Dr. Meg Schlichting
University of Toronto

Linking memories in the brain: Using neuroimaging to understand memory and its development

Much work in experimental psychology has ignored a complication of real-world memory: no event occurs in isolation. Rather, existing knowledge is brought to bear as we learn new content, allowing our knowledge to be iteratively updated to account for new information. My research seeks to understand how the brain supports our ability to link related experiences to give rise to meaningful memory networks, and how such networks inform our behaviour in new situations. Given that the ability to integrate across experiences is important even in childhood, I am also interested in how this process might unfold differently over development.

In this talk, I will discuss how hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex support an integration mechanism in which related memories are reactivated and updated to incorporate new experiences in the healthy young adult brain. I will then present emerging evidence for developmental differences in memory updating: In particular, protracted maturation of the hippocampal-medial prefrontal circuit might enable sustained reactivation across learning in adults but not adolescents or children. Finally, I will preview ongoing studies from my lab that investigate the interplay of attention, memory, representation, and development. Broadly, my work highlights memory in the mature system as much more than a veridical record of events—rather, memories are stored complex networks to support flexible behaviour. Moreover, age-related differences in memory go well beyond simple gains to include fundamental differences in what is extracted and stored from our experiences.