banner4

We are interested in memory in human health, ageing and disease. You can read about some of our different areas of research below. Please see our publications page for further information.

1. Memory consolidation in human health and disease
Our main stream of research explores forgetting and memory consolidation in healthy people as well as in patients with amnesia (memory impairment). Memory consolidation is the process that strengthens newly formed memories over time. We are particularly interested in the effect of behavioural/cognitive state on the consolidation of new memories: our research indicates that new memories are consolidated better when people rest wakefully immediately after new learning than when they attend to other information immediately after new learning. 

We have demonstrated in several studies that wakeful rest can be especially beneficial for patients with amnesia (including mild/moderate Alzheimer's Disease), some of whom show remarkable improvements in memory retention under such condition (see figure below). This suggests that some people with memory impairment have a preserved ability to retain new memories if the behavioural conditions that follow new learning are conducive for consolidation. 
Dataplot

Current/forthcoming projects:
With the generous support from the Alzheimer's Society, the Wellcome Trust and ARUK Scotland, we're about to kick off some exciting new collaborative behavioural, Virtual Reality, fMRI and EEG studies to examine memory consolidation and memory consolidation deficits.

 

2. Spatial memory and navigation
Using virtual reality methods we have shown that the accuracy of cognitive maps (mental representations that allow for felxible navigation, e.g. taking shortcuts) for a recently experienced spatial environment can be improved if we rest in the few minutes that follow a novel spatial experience. Moreover, we have shown that despite age-related declines in cognitive map accuracy, the benefit of post-navigation rest is comparable in younger and older adults. This work is part of an ongoing collaboration with Professor Thomas Wolbers and his team in Magdeburg, Germany. We are currently investigating the timeline of the development of cognitive maps during wakefulness and will shortly be using immersive virtual reality methods to examine the formation of cognitive maps. 

cogmap

We are also interested in the consolidation of memories for the spatial location of specific items. We have a number of ongoing research projects that use computerised taks with touch screen computers to examine how memory for spatial locations of items changes over time, and how the conditions that follow a learning experience influence memory for spatial locations.

3. Exploring the roles of sleep and wakefulness in memory
Sleep is known to play a positive role in memory and is strongly associated with consolidation. As noted above, consolidation is not restricted to sleep, but also occurs during periods of wakefulness, and especially quiet resting. We are interested in the contributions of sleep and wakefulness to memory and consolidation, and how differing behavioural/cognitive states can influence consolidation. This work is part of an ongoing collaboration with Professor Gareth Gaskell of The University of York. 

 

4. Aphantasia - A life without visual imagery
Aphantasia is the name for a condition where someone does not possess the ability to generate visual imagery in their 'mind's eye'. For example, if you asked someone with Aphantasia to think about one of their previous holidays, they would not be able to generate imagery of the holiday and mentally 're-experience' the event, yet they would likely be able to remember different things that happened during the holiday.

aphantasia

As things stand we know very little about this recently reported condition and exactly how many people it affects. Memory Lab researchers Dr Michaela Dewar Dr Michael Craig are collaborating with Professor Adam Zeman and his team at the University of Exeter Medical School to to investigate this phenomenon in depth, with the aim of  learning more about what causes Aphantasia and how it affects people's daily lives, including their memory. 

You can contribute to this work
For more information on our collaborative research on aphantasia please see here and here
If you would like to contribute to a collaborative research study led by our University of Exeter Medical School colleagues, then please follow the links below to the Vividness of Vivid Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) and the Imagery Questionnaire where you can expand on your experiences of visual imagery and also calculate your imagery score. 

Questionnaire 1: VVIQ
Questionnaire 2: Imagery Questionnaire