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Scenarios of the past

Sen Cheng head of a new DFG research group

When we try to remember something, we rely on scenarios. Scientists assume those are being constructed while we’re thinking back. A simple question like: “Did I turn off the coffee machine at home?” triggers complex processes in our brain, which lead us to construct a scenario that involves the activity we are trying to remember. Whilst they are essential for our everyday lives, little research has been conducted on these processes. A new research group headed by Sen Cheng from the Institute of Neuroinformatics at Ruhr-Universität Bochum will now focus on these processes. The group will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for three years, starting July 1, 2019.

Memorizing lists

The episodic memory stores memories of specific, personally experienced events. It plays an important role in many different situations, such as memorizing a list or coloring autobiographical content. "To us, these two situations can be considered extreme cases of a wide spectrum activating episodic memory," Sen Cheng explains. To date, the research group focuses on situations in the middle of this spectrum, which haven’t been researched in detail, yet although they are highly relevant in everyday life and activate complex retrieval processes.

Goal: Theory of memory

The research group aims to develop a theory of episodic memory based on scenarios. The scientists seek to answer fundamental questions like: What is a scenario? How is information extracted from constructed scenarios? Which are the central properties of episodic memory that can be explained by scenario construction? Which are the basic cognitive and neuronal mechanisms? The group plans to investigate how scenario construction effects behavior and find out the underlying neural mechanisms using experiments and computer-aided models.

The background of scientists united in this effort ranges from neuroinformatics, brain research and psychology to philosophy.

>> Original press release of RUB (German text)