Remembering and imagining alternative versions of the personal past.
ABSTRACT: Although autobiographical memory and episodic simulations recruit similar core brain regions, episodic simulations engage additional neural recruitment in the frontoparietal control network due to greater demands on constructive processes. However, previous functional neuroimaging studies showing differences in remembering and episodic simulation have focused on veridical retrieval of past experiences, and thus have not fully considered how retrieving the past in different ways from how it was originally experienced may also place similar demands on constructive processes. Here we examined how alternative versions of the past are constructed when adopting different egocentric perspectives during autobiographical memory retrieval compared to simulating hypothetical events from the personal past that could have occurred, or episodic counterfactual thinking. Participants were asked to generate titles for specific autobiographical memories from the last five years, and then, during functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scanning, were asked to repeatedly retrieve autobiographical memories or imagine counterfactual events cued by the titles. We used an fMRI adaptation paradigm in order to isolate neural regions that were sensitive to adopting alternative egocentric perspectives and counterfactual simulations of the personal past. The fMRI results revealed that voxels within left posterior inferior parietal and ventrolateral frontal cortices were sensitive to novel visual perspectives and counterfactual simulations. Our findings suggest that the neural regions supporting remembering become more similar to those underlying episodic simulation when we adopt alternative egocentric perspectives of the veridical past.
Project description:Autobiographical remembering can depend on two forms of memory: episodic (event) memory and autobiographical semantic memory (remembering personally relevant semantic knowledge, independent of recalling a specific experience). There is debate about the degree to which the neural signals that support episodic recollection relate to or build upon autobiographical semantic remembering. Pooling data from two fMRI studies of memory for real-world personal events, we investigated whether medial temporal lobe (MTL) and parietal subregions contribute to autobiographical episodic and semantic remembering. During scanning, participants made memory judgments about photograph sequences depicting past events from their life or from others' lives, and indicated whether memory was based on episodic or semantic knowledge. Results revealed several distinct functional patterns: activity in most MTL subregions was selectively associated with autobiographical episodic memory; the hippocampal tail, superior parietal lobule, and intraparietal sulcus were similarly engaged when memory was based on retrieval of an autobiographical episode or autobiographical semantic knowledge; and angular gyrus demonstrated a graded pattern, with activity declining from autobiographical recollection to autobiographical semantic remembering to correct rejections of novel events. Collectively, our data offer insights into MTL and parietal cortex functional organization, and elucidate circuitry that supports different forms of real-world autobiographical memory.
Project description:Episodic counterfactual thoughts (CFT) and autobiographical memories (AM) involve the reactivation and recombination of episodic memory components into mental simulations. Upon reactivation, memories become labile and prone to modification. Thus, reactivating AM in the context of mentally generating CFT may provide an opportunity for editing processes to modify the content of the original memory. To examine this idea, this paper reports the results of two studies that investigated the effect of reactivating negative and positive AM in the context of either imagining a better (i.e. upward CFT) or a worse (i.e. downward CFT) alternative to an experienced event, as opposed to attentively retrieving the memory without mental modification (i.e. remembering) or no reactivation. Our results suggest that attentive remembering was the best strategy to both reduce the negative affect associated with negative AM, and to prevent the decay of positive affect associated with positive AM. In addition, reactivating positive, but not negative, AM with or without CFT modification reduces the perceived arousal of the original memory over time. Finally, reactivating negative AM in a downward CFT or an attentive remembering condition increases the perceived detail of the original memory over time.
Project description:Considerable recent evidence indicates that angular gyrus dysfunction in humans does not result in amnesia, but does impair a number of aspects of episodic memory. Patients with parietal lobe lesions have been reported to exhibit a deficit when freely recalling autobiographical events from their pasts, but can remember details of the events when recall is cued by specific questions. In apparent contradiction, inhibitory brain stimulation targeting angular gyrus in healthy volunteers has been found to have no effect on free recall or cued recall of word pairs. The present study sought to resolve this inconsistency by testing free and cued recall of both autobiographical memories and word-pair memories in the same healthy male and female human participants following continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) of angular gyrus and a vertex control location. Angular gyrus cTBS resulted in a selective reduction in the free recall, but not cued recall, of autobiographical memories, whereas free and cued recall of word-pair memories were unaffected. Additionally, participants reported fewer autobiographical episodes as being experienced from a first-person perspective following angular gyrus cTBS. The findings add to a growing body of evidence that a function of angular gyrus within the network of brain regions responsible for episodic recollection is to integrate memory features within an egocentric framework into the kind of first-person perspective representation that enables the subjective experience of remembering events from our personal pasts.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT In seeking to understand the role played by the angular gyrus region of parietal cortex in human memory, interpreting the often conflicting findings from neuroimaging and neuropsychology studies has been hampered by differences in anatomical specificity and localization between methods. In the present study, we address these limitations using continuous theta burst stimulation in healthy volunteers to disrupt function of angular gyrus and a vertex control region. With this method, we adjudicate between two competing theories of parietal lobe function, finding evidence that is inconsistent with an attentional role for angular gyrus in memory, supporting instead an account in terms of integrating memory features within an egocentric framework into a first-person perspective representation that enables the subjective experience of remembering.
Project description:Previous research has shown that autobiographical episodic counterfactual thinking-i.e., mental simulations about alternative ways in which one's life experiences could have occurred-engages the brain's default network (DN). However, it remains unknown whether or not the DN is also engaged during impersonal counterfactual thoughts, specifically those involving other people or objects. The current study compares brain activity during counterfactual simulations involving the self, others and objects. In addition, counterfactual thoughts involving others were manipulated in terms of similarity and familiarity with the simulated characters. The results indicate greater involvement of DN during person-based (i.e., self and other) as opposed to object-based counterfactual simulations. However, the involvement of different regions of the DN during other-based counterfactual simulations was modulated by how close and/or similar the simulated character was perceived to be by the participant. Simulations involving unfamiliar characters preferentially recruited dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Simulations involving unfamiliar similar characters, characters with whom participants identified personality traits, recruited lateral temporal gyrus. Finally, our results also revealed differential coupling of right hippocampus with lateral prefrontal and temporal cortex during counterfactual simulations involving familiar similar others, but with left transverse temporal gyrus and medial frontal and inferior temporal gyri during counterfactual simulations involving either oneself or unfamiliar dissimilar others. These results suggest that different brain mechanisms are involved in the simulation of personal and impersonal counterfactual thoughts, and that the extent to which regions associated with autobiographical memory are recruited during the simulation of counterfactuals involving others depends on the perceived similarity and familiarity with the simulated individuals.
Project description:Humans can vividly recall and re-experience events from their past, and these are commonly referred to as episodic or autobiographical memories. fMRI experiments reliably associate autobiographical event recall with activity in a network of "default" or "core" brain regions. However, as prior studies have relied on covert (silent) recall procedures, current understanding may be hampered by methodological limitations that obscure dynamic effects supporting moment-to-moment content retrieval. Here, fMRI participants (<i>N</i> = 40) overtly (verbally) recalled memories for ?2 min periods. The content of spoken descriptions was categorized using a variant of the Autobiographical Interview (AI) procedure (Levine et al., 2002) and temporally re-aligned with BOLD data so activity accompanying the recall of different details could be measured. Replicating prior work, sustained effects associated with autobiographical recall periods (which are insensitive to the moment-to-moment content of retrieval) fell primarily within canonical default network regions. Spoken descriptions were rich in episodic details, frequently focusing on physical entities, their ongoing activities, and their appearances. Critically, neural activity associated with recalling specific details (e.g., those related to people or places) was transient, broadly distributed, and grounded in category-selective cortex (e.g., regions related to social cognition or scene processing). Thus, although a single network may generally support the process of vivid event reconstruction, the structures required to provide detail-related information shift in a predictable manner that respects domain-level representations across the cortex.<b>SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT</b> Humans can vividly recall memories of autobiographical episodes, a process thought to involve the reconstruction of numerous distinct event details. Yet how the brain represents a complex episode as it unfolds over time remains unclear and appears inconsistent across experimental traditions. One hurdle is the use of covert (silent) in-scanner recall to study autobiographical memory, which prevents experimenter knowledge of what information is being retrieved, and when, throughout the remembering process. In this experiment, participants overtly described autobiographical memories while undergoing fMRI. Activity associated with the recall and description of specific details was transient, broadly distributed, and grounded in category-selective cortex. Thus, it appears that as events unfold mentally, structures are dynamically reactivated to support vivid recollection.
Project description:Autobiographical memories of past events and imaginations of future scenarios comprise both episodic and semantic content. Correlating the amount of "internal" (episodic) and "external" (semantic) details generated when describing autobiographical events can illuminate the relationship between the processes supporting these constructs. Yet previous studies performing such correlations were limited by aggregating data across all events generated by an individual, potentially obscuring the underlying relationship within the events themselves. In the current article, we reanalyzed datasets from eight studies using a multilevel approach, allowing us to explore the relationship between internal and external details within events. We also examined whether this relationship changes with healthy aging. Our reanalyses demonstrated a largely negative relationship between the internal and external details produced when describing autobiographical memories and future imaginations. This negative relationship was stronger and more consistent for older adults and was evident both in direct and indirect measures of semantic content. Moreover, this relationship appears to be specific to episodic tasks, as no relationship was observed for a nonepisodic picture description task. This negative association suggests that people do not generate semantic information indiscriminately, but do so in a compensatory manner, to embellish episodically impoverished events. Our reanalysis further lends support for dissociable processes underpinning episodic and semantic information generation when remembering and imagining autobiographical events.
Project description:The dynamic and flexible nature of memories is evident in our ability to adopt multiple visual perspectives. Although autobiographical memories are typically encoded from the visual perspective of our own eyes they can be retrieved from the perspective of an observer looking at our self. Here, we examined the neural mechanisms of shifting visual perspective during long-term memory retrieval and its influence on online and subsequent memories using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants generated specific autobiographical memories from the last five years and rated their visual perspective. In a separate fMRI session, they were asked to retrieve the memories across three repetitions while maintaining the same visual perspective as their initial rating or by shifting to an alternative perspective. Visual perspective shifting during autobiographical memory retrieval was supported by a linear decrease in neural recruitment across repetitions in the posterior parietal cortices. Additional analyses revealed that the precuneus, in particular, contributed to both online and subsequent changes in the phenomenology of memories. Our findings show that flexibly shifting egocentric perspective during autobiographical memory retrieval is supported by the precuneus, and suggest that this manipulation of mental imagery during retrieval has consequences for how memories are retrieved and later remembered.
Project description:Recent evidence suggests that our capacities to remember the past and to imagine what might happen in the future largely depend on the same core brain network that includes the middle temporal lobe, the posterior cingulate/retrosplenial cortex, the inferior parietal lobe, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the lateral temporal cortex. However, the extent to which regions of this core brain network are also responsible for our capacity to think about what could have happened in our past, yet did not occur (i.e., episodic counterfactual thinking), is still unknown. The present study examined this issue. Using a variation of the experimental recombination paradigm (Addis, Pan, Vu, Laiser, & Schacter, 2009. Neuropsychologia. 47: 2222-2238), participants were asked both to remember personal past events and to envision alternative outcomes to such events while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Three sets of analyses were performed on the imaging data in order to investigate two related issues. First, a mean-centered spatiotemporal partial least square (PLS) analysis identified a pattern of brain activity across regions of the core network that was common to episodic memory and episodic counterfactual thinking. Second, a non-rotated PLS analysis identified two different patterns of brain activity for likely and unlikely episodic counterfactual thoughts, with the former showing significant overlap with the set of regions engaged during episodic recollection. Finally, a parametric modulation was conducted to explore the differential engagement of brain regions during counterfactual thinking, revealing that areas such as the parahippocampal gyrus and the right hippocampus were modulated by the subjective likelihood of counterfactual simulations. These results suggest that episodic counterfactual thinking engages regions that form the core brain network, and also that the subjective likelihood of our counterfactual thoughts modulates the engagement of different areas within this set of regions.
Project description:A growing number of studies suggest the brain's "default network" becomes engaged when individuals recall their personal past or simulate their future. Recent reports of heterogeneity within the network raise the possibility that these autobiographical processes comprised of multiple component processes, each supported by distinct functional-anatomic subsystems. We previously hypothesized that a medial temporal subsystem contributes to autobiographical memory and future thought by enabling individuals to retrieve prior information and bind this information into a mental scene. Conversely, a dorsal medial subsystem was proposed to support social-reflective aspects of autobiographical thought, allowing individuals to reflect on the mental states of one's self and others (i.e. "mentalizing"). To test these hypotheses, we first examined activity in the default network subsystems as participants performed two commonly employed tasks of episodic retrieval and mentalizing. In a subset of participants, relationships among task-evoked regions were examined at rest, in the absence of an overt task. Finally, large-scale fMRI meta-analyses were conducted to identify brain regions that most strongly predicted the presence of episodic retrieval and mentalizing, and these results were compared to meta-analyses of autobiographical tasks. Across studies, laboratory-based episodic retrieval tasks were preferentially linked to the medial temporal subsystem, while mentalizing tasks were preferentially linked to the dorsal medial subsystem. In turn, autobiographical tasks engaged aspects of both subsystems. These results suggest the default network is a heterogeneous brain system whose subsystems support distinct component processes of autobiographical thought.
Project description:Personal identity critically depends on the creation of stories about the self and one's life. The present study investigates the neural substrates of autobiographical reasoning, a process central to the construction of such narratives. During functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning, participants approached a set of personally significant memories in two different ways: in some trials, they remembered the concrete content of the events (autobiographical remembering), whereas in other trials they reflected on the broader meaning and implications of their memories (autobiographical reasoning). Relative to remembering, autobiographical reasoning recruited a left-lateralized network involved in conceptual processing [including the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), inferior frontal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus and angular gyrus]. The ventral MPFC--an area that may function to generate personal/affective meaning--was not consistently engaged during autobiographical reasoning across participants but, interestingly, the activity of this region was modulated by individual differences in interest and willingness to engage in self-reflection. These findings support the notion that autobiographical reasoning and the construction of personal narratives go beyond mere remembering in that they require deriving meaning and value from past experiences.