Max Planck Research Group "Adaptive Memory"
(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).
(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).
(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):