Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin
M.A. Charles University in Prague
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.
Ventromedial prefrontal cortex is necessary for normal associative inference and memory integration.
J Neurosci. 2018 Mar 19;:
Authors: Spalding KN, Schlichting ML, Zeithamova D, Preston AR, Tranel D, Duff MC, Warren DE
The ability to flexibly combine existing knowledge in response to novel circumstances is highly adaptive. However, the neural correlates of flexible associative inference are not well-characterized. Laboratory tests of associative inference have measured memory for overlapping pairs of studied items (e.g., AB, BC) and for non-studied pairs with common associates (i.e., AC). Findings from functional neuroimaging and neuropsychology suggest the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) may be necessary for associative inference. Here, we used a neuropsychological approach to test the necessity of vmPFC for successful memory-guided associative inference in humans using an overlapping pairs associative memory task. We predicted that individuals with focal vmPFC damage (N=5; 3F, 2M) would show impaired inferential memory but intact non-inferential memory. Performance was compared to normal comparison participants (N=10; 6F, 4M). Participants studied pairs of visually-presented objects including overlapping pairs (AB, BC) and non-overlapping pairs (XY). Participants later completed a three-alternative forced-choice recognition task for studied pairs (AB, BC, XY) and inference pairs (AC). As predicted, the vmPFC group had intact memory for studied pairs but significantly impaired memory for inferential pairs. These results are consistent with the perspective that the vmPFC is necessary for memory-guided associative inference, indicating that the vmPFC is critical for adaptive abilities that require application of existing knowledge to novel circumstances. Additionally, vmPFC damage was associated with unexpectedly reduced memory for AB pairs post-inference, which could potentially reflect retroactive interference. Together, these results reinforce an emerging understanding of a role for the vmPFC in brain networks supporting associative memory processes.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTWe live in a constantly changing environment, so the ability to adapt our knowledge to support understanding of new circumstances is essential. One important adaptive ability is associative inference - it allows us to extract shared features from distinct experiences and relate them. For example, if we see a woman holding a baby, and later see a man holding the same baby, then we might infer that the two adults are a couple. Despite the importance of associative inference, the brain systems necessary for this ability are not known. Here, we report that damage to human ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) disproportionately impairs associative inference. Our findings show the necessity of the vmPFC for normal associative inference and memory integration.
PMID: 29555854 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]
Decreased Prefrontal Activation during Matrix Reasoning in Predementia Progranulin Mutation Carriers.
J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;62(2):583-589
Authors: Alexander C, Zeithamova D, Hsiung GR, Mackenzie IR, Jacova C
We tested the potential of task-based functional neuroimaging as a biomarker of emerging prefrontal brain changes in progranulin (GRN) mutations carriers. Five GRN mutation carriers free of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and 11 non-carriers from families with FTD-GRN underwent functional MRI while solving matrix-reasoning problems. Mutation carriers displayed slower responses for more difficult problems and lower lateral prefrontal activation across all problems. Overall task-evoked posterior ventrolateral prefrontal activation predicted mutation status with 100% sensitivity and 91% specificity. Volumetric differences did not account for activation differences. Prefrontal activation may have utility as a biomarker in GRN mutation.
PMID: 29480174 [PubMed - in process]
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]