In the Kamp Memory lab, we examine human memory processes from multiple angles, including mechanistic, neuroscientific, developmental and clinical angles. The questions we ask include: Why do we successfully remember some pieces of information, but not others? How do the things we think about or do, or the emotional state we are in, while we learn new information affect whether and how we remember these things? How do memory processes interact with other cognitive functions such as attention and executive functions? What changes in memory performance and the underlying mechanisms occur throughout our life span? How and why do memory processes change in neurological or psychiatric conditions, and how can memory difficulties or decline be prevented, counteracted or compensated? Our research program can be broadly divided into the four lines of research illustrated in the schema below, which are closely intertwined with one another.
Figure from Forester, Kroneisen, Erdfelder & Kamp (2020), Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
While their EEG was recorded, participants imagined being stranded alone in a foreign grassland ("survival scenario") or moving to a foreign country ("moving scenario"), and subsequently rated a list of words according to their relevance in this scenario ("Survival Scenario"). Finally, participants were asked to list as many words that they could remember.
Participants recalled more words in the survival scenario - the "survival processing effect". The EEG activity during the relevance task clearly differed between the two scenarios, as illustrated in this figure, thus providing a mechanistic explanation of the memory enhancement in the survival processing scenario.
In this branch of our research, we examine experimentally how factors like psychosocial stress, emotional content of the to-be-learned material or the task that participants engage in during learning affect memory outcomes. Furthermore, we examine neural activity (with a focus on EEG/event-related potentials) during memory tasks to more directly capture the mechanisms that are engaged during learning (encoding) or during a memory test (retrieval).
One project within this line of research examines the neurocognitive mechanisms of the “survival processing effect” and the “animacy effect” in episodic memory. This branch of our research has been funded since 2018 by grants from the German Research Foundation, which Siri Kamp was awarded together with our collaborators Meike Kroneisen (University of Koblenz-Landau) and Edgar Erdfelder (University of Mannheim).
Memory is a cognitive function that rarely operates in isolation from other cognitive functions. For example, whether we pay attention to a piece of information influences whether and how the information is learned. Furthermore, monitoring processes as well as higher-level strategies, such as whether we attempt to connect two pieces of information by forming sentences or interactive images, can have a fundamental impact on memory. In our lab, we hence also examine cognitive functions related to memory, frequently using EEG. For example, one line of research examines properties of the P300 component of the event-related potential is elicited by infrequent, unexpected events and is thought to vary with attentional resources allocated to stimulus processing. A larger P300 component is also associated with events that are subsequently remembered compared to later forgotten events, underlining its relevance in memory processes.
Figure adapted from Kamp, 2020, Psychophysiology
Young and older adults completed a so-called oddball task while their EEG was recorded. In this task, squares and circles were shown in a random sequence, with one of the shapes occuring infrequently and requiring a response ("target"). In the upper panel of the figure, the waveforms in the event-related potential (within the EEG) are shown for two electrodes (Fz and Pz). The peak elicited by the targets, with a maximum around 400-450 ms is the P300 component. It is larger in young adults, which is a very typical result pattern. The bottom part of the figure shows the distribution of this activity over the scalp.
As people grow older, they often notice a decline in memory function. This development during adult aging is normal and not generally a reason to worry. Nevertheless, age-related changes in memory processes are an important topic for psychological research, because a thorough understanding of these changes can potentially help uncover ways to optimize memory function in older age, perhaps leading to significant advances in well-being and independence into high ages. On the other hand, understanding the way in which memory changes across the lifespan can contribute to a better mechanistic understanding of memory processes themselves. One interesting phenomenon is that older adults show relatively intact memory for individual information units (such as a face, this is called item memory), but show a decline in memory for the connections between different information units (such as a name-face connection; called associative memory).
In our group, we examine the role of memory strategies and attentional dynamics in the observed age-related memory decline. Furthermore, we study the neural correlates of age-related memory changes by using EEG and other psychophysiological measures.
This line of research is currently funded by a grant from the German Research Foundation awarded to Siri Kamp.
Figures adapted from Kamp, Forester, Henken, Vittinghoff & Knopf (2022), Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Young and older adults completed a memory task which is illustrated in the top figure. They were presented with object pairs and during learning were instructed to form mental images of the two objects interacting. Later they were tested for memory for the individual objects (item memory) and for the pairing (associative memory). Regarding memory for the objects themselves, there were no age differences. However, regarding associative memory, older adults demonstrated much lower performance than the young adults. This is a very typical finding.
We also examined the EEG correlates of this age difference in associative memory; the results of these analyses can be found in the original paper.
Results from a recent study in which healthy young and older adults, as well as stroke partients in a rehabilitation clinic, memorized words in a baseline task, in a task where they had to judge the words' relevance to a scenario in which they were stranded in a foreign grasslands, and in a relevance judgment task relative to a scenario of moving to a foreign country.
All groups recalled most words after the grasslands scenario task, the typical "survival processing effect". This effect was somewhat reduced in stroke patients, but this was due to the fact that generally very high performing patients did not show the effect. For the lower performing patients, the effect was as pronounced as for the healthy control groups.
The manuscript for this study is currently in preparation.
Changes in memory function are relatively common in patients with brain damage and neurological diseases, and can also occur in some psychiatric conditions. Interdisciplinary work in which findings from basic neurocognitive memory research are extended to these clinical populations, and in which knowledge from basic research is consulted to optimize diagnostic tools and develop effective interventions is therefore very important.
Although this is a more recent line of research for our group, we are currently conducting research projects in collaboration with the Median Rehabilitation Center in Bernkastel-Kues (Germany), in which we test basic experimental designs derived from our prior work in neurological and psychiatric patients, with the long-term goal to develop practical applications for clinical work.