Dr. Roland G. Benoit
Dr. Roland G. Benoit
Research group leader
Phone: +49 341 9940-114
Fax: +49 341 9940-2221

Independent Research Groups

Max Planck Research Group "Adaptive Memory"

Humans possess the remarkable capacity to vividly remember a plethora of experiences from their lives. They can voluntarily reminisce about cherished moments but also be haunted by intrusive memories of unpleasant experiences. At the heart of the research in the Adaptive Memory Group is the insight that memory is not merely a passive capacity but a constructive process. As such, memories, on one hand, are malleable to change and disruption but, on the other hand, can also be recombined into novel experiences. We seek to understand the nature of adaptive memory by using behavioral, fMRI, and neuromodulation methods. In particular, we focus on three intertwined research areas:

(i) Memory suppression

The work on voluntary forgetting seeks to understand the different neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the ability to suppress unwanted memories. We have reported evidence for two opposing mechanisms that can achieve memory suppression (Benoit & Anderson, 2012): one by effectively inhibiting hippocampal retrieval processes and the other by guiding hippocampal retrieval towards the recollection of alternative memories that then keep the unwanted memory out of awareness. Our research group examines how these mechanisms can be adaptively recruited to purge intrusive memories from consciousness (Benoit et al., 2015), and whether they may be compromised in people who suffer deficits in controlling unwanted thoughts (e.g., Kupper, Benoit, et al., 2014). In recent work, we have established that a mechanism akin to direct suppression can also be engaged to control persistent imaginings of future fears (Benoit, Davies, & Anderson, in 2016) (see also ii).

Key publications:

Benoit, R.G., Davies, D.J., & Anderson, M.C.
Reducing future fears by suppressing the brain mechanisms underlying episodic simulation.
Benoit, R.G., Hulbert, J.C., Huddleston, E., & Anderson, M.C.
Adaptive top-down suppression of hippocampal activity and the purging of intrusive memories from consciousness.
Benoit, R.G., & Anderson, M.C.
Opposing mechanisms support the voluntary forgetting of unwanted memories.

(ii) Episodic simulation

The work on episodic simulation examines the core brain network involved in recollecting the past and imagining the future (Benoit & Schacter, 2015), with an emphasis on medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus (Benoit, Szpunar, & Schacter, 2014). It also seeks to elucidate the mechanisms by which imagining the future can bias decisions towards more farsighted outcomes (Benoit, Gilbert, & Burgess, 2011). However, despite the clear adaptive value of episodic simulations, dwelling too much on the future may also have aversive consequences. We examine how, in such situations, the mechanisms involved in memory suppression get also engaged to effectively stop imagining (Benoit, Davies, & Anderson, 2016; see above).

Key publications:

Benoit, R.G., Schacter, D.L.
Specifying the core network supporting episodic simulation and episodic memory by activation likelihood estimation.
Benoit, R.G., Szpunar, K.K., Schacter, D.L.
Ventromedial prefrontal cortex supports affective future simulation by integrating distributed knowledge.
Benoit, R.G., Gilbert, S.J., Burgess, P.W.
A neural mechanism mediating the impact of episodic prospection on farsighted decisions.

(iii) Prefrontal cortex functioning

The work described above is an integral part of our research into prefrontal cortex (PFC) functioning. For example, our experiments on episodic simulation elucidate the constructive and affective processes supported by the medial prefrontal cortex (Benoit et al., 2011; 2014), and the research on suppression adds to our understanding of the lateral PFC by showing how its subregions influence processing in other parts of the brain, notably the hippocampus (Benoit & Anderson, 2012; Benoit et al., 2015). Further research is targeted at determining the functional organization of rostral prefrontal cortex, i.e., the most anterior part of the brain (e.g., Benoit, et al., 2010; 2012)

Key publications (in addition to those listed above):

Benoit, R.G., Gilbert, S.J., Frith, C.D., Burgess, P.W.
Rostral prefrontal cortex and the focus of attention in prospective memory.
Benoit, R.G., Gilbert, S.J., Volle E., Burgess, P.W.
When I think about me and simulate you: Medial rostral prefrontal cortex and self-referential processes.


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