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Rik Henson
Deputy director

Programme leader, Memory and Perception group

rik.henson@mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk
01223 355294 x.501

Everyday Description of our research:

We are trying to understand how our brains support different types of memory, which is important to understand the type of memory problems that follow brain damage or disease, or following normal ageing. Our memories express themselves in different ways. For example, sometimes you see a face in a crowd and immediately remember who it is, and when you last saw them. On other occasions, the face might seem familiar, but you can't for the life of you remember who they are. These are two expressions of conscious memory. On yet other occasions, you may insist you have no memory for the person, even though other aspects of your behaviour, such as your attitude towards them, can be shown to be biased by the fact that you have, in fact, seen them before. This is a type of unconscious memory. Recent research suggests that these different expressions of memory reflect the operation of distinct neural systems in our brains. The aim of our research is to explore the differences between these types of memory, and their neural bases, using functional neuroimaging techniques that measure brain activity while people are remembering things. Understanding conscious and unconscious memory is important not only for helping people who suffer from memory problems following brain damage, such as strokes, or following disease, such as Alzheimer's, but for all of us who experience memory problems as we grow older.

Scientific Description of our research:

One of the most important developments during the last two decades of cognitive neuroscience has been the realisation that human memory is not a monolithic entity, but is best viewed as a collection of distinct types. This realisation was originally based on the memory impairments following brain damage or dementia, in which some types of memory are impaired while others are spared, suggesting that these different types of memory are supported by different neural systems. More recently, this evidence has been bolstered by dissociable patterns of activity found in the brains of healthy volunteers while they perform various memory tasks, as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) or electro- or magneto-encephalography (E/MEG). These data not only inform us about the neural bases of memory, but also help characterise further the theoretical distinctions between each type of memory. Our research programme uses fMRI and E/MEG, in conjunction with computational modelling, to investigate further the theoretical and neural distinctions between two types of conscious memory (recollection and familiarity), and between conscious and unconscious memory (priming), in healthy volunteers. The better theoretical understanding of normal memory that is provided by this research is not only vital for understanding the memory problems associated with brain damage or disease, and their rehabilitation, but also those problems associated with normal ageing of the healthy brain.

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CBSU publications
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