Philosopher and psychologist William James once wrote „My experience is what I agree to attend to.”: Human perception is under voluntary control of attention, which is directed to specific aspects of our environment.
Research in the memory lab at the University of Trier is inspired by an adaptation of this thought: „My experience is what I remember.“ Our perception of the world in any moment is never detached from our past experiences. Rather, it is shaped and guided by our memories of our past – consciously or unconsciously. Memories influence our thoughts and ideas, bias how we perceive our surroundings and view ourselves, and guide our decisions. Our memories are also a key factor in the plans, goals and visions we develop for the future. At the same time, our memory does not merely mirror reality, but it is influenced by attentional processes, the type of content to be memorized (for example the emotionality), and our subjective interpretation of our surroundings. Old memories can also be modified over time and with newer experiences. Since learning and memory processes play such a key role in human cognition, they have been in focus of a large body of psychological and neuroscientific research for decades, and although this research has led to important advances, the complexity of memory processes and its interactions with other cognitive functions have remained enigmatic.
In the memory lab led by Dr. Siri-Maria Kamp at the Trier University, our research focuses on human learning and memory processes. In a branch of basic research, we study the cognitive mechanisms that are responsible for changes in memory function due to the nature of the information to be learned or memorized (for example, positive or negative vs. neutral information), the memory task itself, the processing context (for example “survival processing”: imagining that one is stranded in a foreign grass lands) and one’s affective state (for example, the experience of stress induced by the so-called Trier Social Stress Test). In this branch of research, and in a second one that examines related cognitive and brain functions involved in attention and cognitive control and their interactions with memory, we frequently utilize event-related potentials derived from EEG activity to “observe” brain activity while memories are being formed or retrieved. Another branch of our research examines changes to the neurocognitive mechanisms subserving learning and memory across the life span, with a main focus on older adulthood. Finally, in a newer line of research we examine memory process in patient groups which exhibit clinical syndromes that are often accompanied by a decline or difficulty with memory function, such as neurological insult (i.e., stroke) or psychiatric conditions (i.e., depression). A main motivation of this latter branch of research is the goal to transfer the extensive knowledge base from basic psychological research to clinical settings with the long-term goal to improve diagnosis and rehabilitation of patients with memory difficulties.