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EMBL Forum Lectures

Craig Stark, University of California at Irvine

Craig Stark, University of California at Irvine

Monday, 24 March 2014 at 14:00 in the Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Craig Stark, University of California at Irvine

The Neuroscience of True and False Memories


Although memory can be hazy at times, it is often assumed that memories of violent or otherwise stressful events are so well encoded that they are effectively indelible and that confidently retrieved memories are almost certainly accurate. However, findings from basic psychological research and neuroscience studies indicate that memory is a reconstructive process that is susceptible to distortion. In the courtroom, even minor memory distortions can have severe consequences that are partly driven by common misunderstandings about memory — for example, that memory is more veridical than it may actually be.


Dr. Craig Stark is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and Director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Learning and Memory at the University of California at Irvine. Research in his laboratory is concerned with the mechanisms that underlie memory. Memory is not a unitary function, but the result of multiple systems in the brain.  The central question guiding his research is:  How is it that we learn and remember information such that our past experiences influence our behavior and what in the brain supports this learning?

Using the techniques of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), traditional experimental psychology, neuropsychological studies of amnesic patients, and connectionist modeling, research in his laboratory is focused on how the neural systems supporting different kinds of memory operate and interact.  For example, within the medial temporal lobe, what is the role of the hippocampus and what is the role of the adjacent parahippocampal gyrus? Can we use our understanding of the mechanisms to teach memory-impaired individuals new information?  How does memory change as we get older and how do those memory changes map onto neural changes in the brain? Can we use false memories as “memory illusions” to understand the neural basis of memory as visual illusions helped us understand the neural basis of visual processing?   In addition to these memory-related projects, a portion of his research is aimed at further developing the techniques and methods of fMRI so that it might become an even more useful and powerful tool for cognitive neuroscience.