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Congratulations to Dr Jon Simons on being awarded prestigious grant from James S McDonnell Foundation

Cambridge Neuroscience would like to congratulate Dr Jon Simons (pictured right), a University Senior Lecturer from the Department of Psychology, on the award of a 21st Century Science Initiative Grant on Understanding Human Cognition from the James S McDonnell Foundation. The grant entitled ‘Getting a Grip on the Subjective Experience of Remembering’ is worth $600,000 over 6 years. Please click here to visit Jon's research website.

Founded in 1950 by aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, the Foundation was established to "improve the quality of life," and does so by contributing to the generation of new knowledge through its support of research and scholarship. The Foundation awards grants via the Foundation-initiated, peer-reviewed proposal processes described in the 21st Century Science Initiative.


‘Getting a Grip on the Subjective Experience of Remembering’

The ability to remember personally experienced events in vivid, multisensory detail makes an immensely important contribution to everyday life, allowing us to re-live each moment of a previous encounter and providing us with the store of precious memories that form the building blocks of who we are. Such recollection is considered to involve reactivating sensory and perceptual details of an event, and the thoughts and feelings we had at the time, and integrating them into a conscious representation during retrieval. It makes possible a number of critical decision making abilities, such as distinguishing real experiences from those we might have imagined or been told about. However, although scientists have discovered a great deal about the cognitive and neural processes that enable us to recall a word list or discriminate studied from novel words, considerably less is known about the processes underlying the subjective phenomenological experience of remembering. The aim of Jon’s research programme is to develop a detailed neurocognitive characterization of subjective memory, to better understand the way it may be impaired in health and disease, and to develop rehabilitation strategies to help those who may have reduced ability to re-experience the past.

Subjective experiences associated with memory retrieval are complex and difficult to disentangle. The thrust of his theoretical and experimental work has been to attempt to understand them in terms of their constituent cognitive processes and to explore the extent to which predicted dissociations emerging from psychological theorizing are observed at the behavioural and neural levels. His work uses a variety of approaches (behavioural, neuroimaging, electrophysiology, clinical studies, brain stimulation, cognitive remediation) in complementary and creative ways to scrutinize and dissect the cognitive processes that give rise to the multifaceted properties of subjective experience. In pursuing this, he has begun to identify dissociable cognitive and neural responses associated with aspects of subjective memory across regions of prefrontal, medial temporal, and parietal cortices. He has shown that these separable patterns of structure and function can be directly related both to inter-subject variability in the general population and to clinical conditions in which the processes appear to be disturbed.

Jon’s research programme will take this work forward using a combination of neuroimaging and electrophysiological methods to investigate the performance of healthy volunteers on memory tasks that emphasize a number of aspects of subjective remembering. He will examine the effect on neurocognitive retrieval measures of organic lesions in neuropsychological patients and temporary "lesions" in healthy volunteers induced using transcranial magnetic stimulation, as well as of naturally occurring variability in cortical folding patterns. The results from these different techniques will enable me to develop a comprehensive theory that explains the contribution of cognitive mechanisms subserved by frontal, medial temporal, and parietal regions to subjective memory. He will then seek to apply this knowledge to develop memory-related cognitive training techniques and rehabilitation therapies that could produce potentially long-lasting enhancement of the subjective experience of remembering in both patients and healthy individuals.

Posted on 04/10/2012

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