Dasa Zeithamova-Demircan

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Member, ION

Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin
M.A. Charles University in Prague

325 LISB


Research Interests: Cognitive-Neuroscience, Memory

Overview: Memory allows us to use past experiences to navigate novel situations and inform future decisions. Because every event is unique, we need to use memory flexibly, drawing upon multiple relevant experiences to anticipate future judgments. Brain and Memory Lab studies how memories are formed and how they are linked to each other to create internal representations of the world that can guide our behavior. We investigate how different memory systems are implemented in the brain, how they represent information, and how they interact. In the quest for discovery, we rely on computer-based experiments, cognitive models of behavior, and advanced functional MRI methods.

My research focuses on how we build complex knowledge representations—such as schemas, cognitive maps or concepts—from simple learning experiences. Stacking memories as building blocks, we form knowledge that transcend direct experience, allowing us to use the memory for the past to guide behavior in the future. I am especially interested how the hippocampus—a brain structure critical for memory for individual events in our lives—interacts with the prefrontal cortex and other memory systems to support the flexible use of experience. My primary research tools include computer-based experiments, formal models of behavior, and advanced functional MRI methods.


Choosing to regulate: Does choice enhance craving regulation?

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2018 Feb 15;:

Authors: Cosme D, Mobasser A, Zeithamova D, Berkman ET, Pfeifer JH

Goal-directed behavior and lifelong well-being often depends on the ability to control appetitive motivations, such as cravings. Cognitive reappraisal is an effective way to modulate emotional states, including cravings, but is often studied under explicit instruction to regulate. Despite the strong prediction from Self-Determination Theory that choice should enhance task engagement and regulation success, little is known empirically about whether and how regulation is different when participants choose (versus are told) to exert control. To investigate how choice affects neural activity and regulation success, participants reappraised their responses to images of personally-craved foods while undergoing fMRI. Participants were either instructed to view or reappraise ("no-choice"), or chose freely to view or reappraise ("yes-choice"). Choice increased activity in the frontoparietal control network. We expected this activity would be associated with increased task engagement, resulting in better regulation success. However, contrary to this prediction, choice slightly reduced regulation success. Follow-up multivariate fMRI analyses indicated that choice likely disrupted allocation of limited cognitive resources during reappraisal. While unexpected, these results highlight the importance of studying upstream processes such as regulation choice, as they may affect the ability to regulate cravings and other emotional states.

PMID: 29462475 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Abstract memory representations in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus support concept generalization.

J Neurosci. 2018 Feb 07;:

Authors: Bowman CR, Zeithamova D

Memory function involves both the ability to remember details of individual experiences and the ability to link information across events to create new knowledge. Prior research has identified the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the hippocampus as important for integrating across events in service of generalization in episodic memory. The degree to which these memory integration mechanisms contribute to other forms of generalization, such as concept learning, is unclear. The present study used a concept-learning task in humans (both sexes) coupled with model-based fMRI to test whether VMPFC and hippocampus contribute to concept generalization, and whether they do so by maintaining specific category exemplars or abstract category representations. Two formal categorization models were fit to individual subject data: a prototype model that posits abstract category representations and an exemplar model that posits category representations based on individual category members. Latent variables from each of these models were entered into neuroimaging analyses to determine whether VMPFC and the hippocampus track prototype or exemplar information during concept generalization. Behavioral model fits indicated that almost three quarters of the subjects relied on prototype information when making judgments about new category members. Paralleling prototype dominance in behavior, correlates of the prototype model were identified in VMPFC and the anterior hippocampus with no significant exemplar correlates. These results indicate that the VMPFC and portions of the hippocampus play a broad role in memory generalization and that they do so by representing abstract information integrated from multiple events.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTWhether people represent concepts as a set of individual category members or by deriving generalized concept representations abstracted across exemplars has been debated. In episodic memory, generalized memory representations have been shown to arise through integration across events supported by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and hippocampus. The current study combined formal categorization models with fMRI data analysis to show that the VMPFC and anterior hippocampus represent abstract prototype information during concept generalization, contributing novel evidence of generalized concept representations in the brain. Results indicate that VMPFC-hippocampal memory integration mechanisms contribute to knowledge generalization across multiple cognitive domains, with the degree of abstraction of memory representations varying along the long axis of the hippocampus.

PMID: 29437891 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]