The spatiotemporal dynamics of autobiographical memory: neural correlates of recall, emotional intensity, and reliving.


We sought to map the time course of autobiographical memory retrieval, including brain regions that mediate phenomenological experiences of reliving and emotional intensity. Participants recalled personal memories to auditory word cues during event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants pressed a button when a memory was accessed, maintained and elaborated the memory, and then gave subjective ratings of emotion and reliving. A novel fMRI approach based on timing differences capitalized on the protracted reconstructive process of autobiographical memory to segregate brain areas contributing to initial access and later elaboration and maintenance of episodic memories. The initial period engaged hippocampal, retrosplenial, and medial and right prefrontal activity, whereas the later period recruited visual, precuneus, and left prefrontal activity. Emotional intensity ratings were correlated with activity in several regions, including the amygdala and the hippocampus during the initial period. Reliving ratings were correlated with activity in visual cortex and ventromedial and inferior prefrontal regions during the later period. Frontopolar cortex was the only brain region sensitive to emotional intensity across both periods. Results were confirmed by time-locked averages of the fMRI signal. The findings indicate dynamic recruitment of emotion-, memory-, and sensory-related brain regions during remembering and their dissociable contributions to phenomenological features of the memories.





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Publication Info

Daselaar, Sander M, Heather J Rice, Daniel L Greenberg, Roberto Cabeza, Kevin S LaBar and David C Rubin (2008). The spatiotemporal dynamics of autobiographical memory: neural correlates of recall, emotional intensity, and reliving. Cereb Cortex, 18(1). pp. 217–229. 10.1093/cercor/bhm048 Retrieved from

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Roberto Cabeza

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

My laboratory investigates the neural correlates of memory and cognition in young and older adults using fMRI. We have three main lines of research: First, we distinguish the neural correlates of various episodic memory processes. For example, we have compared encoding vs. retrieval, item vs. source memory, recall vs. recognition, true vs. false memory, and emotional vs. nonemotional memory. We are particularly interested in the contribution of prefrontal cortex (PFC) and medial temporal lobe (MTL) subregions and their interactions. Second, we investigate similarities and differences between the neural correlates of episodic memory and other memory and cognitive functions (working, semantic, implicit, and procedural memory; attention; perception, etc.). The main goal of this cross-functional approach is to understand the contributions of brain regions shared by different cognitive functions. Finally, in both episodic memory and cross-function studies, we also examine the effects of healthy and pathological aging. Regarding episodic memory, we have linked processes differentially affected by aging (e.g., item vs. source memory, recall vs. recognition) to the effects of aging on specific PFC and MTL subregions. Regarding cross-function comparisons, we identify age-related changes in activity that are common to various functions. For example, we have found an age-related increase in bilaterality that occurs for many functions (memory, attention, language, perception, and motor) and is associated with functional compensation.


Kevin S. LaBar

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

My research focuses on understanding how emotional events modulate cognitive processes in the human brain. We aim to identify brain regions that encode the emotional properties of sensory stimuli, and to show how these regions interact with neural systems supporting social cognition, executive control, and learning and memory. To achieve this goal, we use a variety of cognitive neuroscience techniques in human subject populations. These include psychophysiological monitoring, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), machine learning,  and behavioral studies in healthy adults as well as psychiatric patients. This integrative approach capitalizes on recent advances in the field and may lead to new insights into cognitive-emotional interactions in the brain.


David C. Rubin

Juanita M. Kreps Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

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My main research interest has been in long-term memory, especially for complex (or "real-world") stimuli. This work includes the study of autobiographical memory and oral traditions, as well as prose. I have also studied memory as it is more commonly done in experimental psychology laboratories using lists. In addition to this purely behavioral research, which I plan to continue, I work on memory in clinical populations with the aid of a National Institute of Mental Health grant to study PTSD and on the underlying neural basis of memory the aid of a National Institute of Aging grant to study autobiographical memory using fMRI.

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