Alexa Tompary, University of Pennsylvannia
How memories are combined and transformed over time
Our everyday experiences accumulate to become a rich store of knowledge. At the same time, we acquire new memories against the backdrop of what we already know. How do memories become integrated with each other and with the knowledge that we have built up over time? My research investigates the bidirectional interactions between memory for specific events and general knowledge. First, I will present fMRI findings suggesting that changes in the neural representation of episodic memories are linked to changes in their behavioral integration over time. Second, I will describe a series of experiments that characterize memory retrieval as a reconstruction of both event-specific details and general knowledge, demonstrating that the organization of prior knowledge can explain variations in how it distorts newly learned information. Together, these studies provide novel insight into how old and new information is combined and transformed, and how this process changes the way that memories are expressed over time. This body of work promotes a deeper understanding of how we flexibly use both highly detailed and generalized memories to adaptively update our knowledge about the environment and guide future behavior.