Research project Emotional Memory Associations

University of Amsterdam, Clinical Psychology
Emotional memory lab (prof Merel Kindt, dr. Vanessa van Ast, dr. Renée Visser)
Title of Project:
Emotional Memory Associations
Type of Project:
Dr. Vanessa van Ast
At least 6 months
Start date:
Flexible, but preferably autumn
End date:
Flexible, but before summer 2019
Application deadline:
December 2018 (at first come first serve basis)
Description of Research Project:

We all have experienced how a seemingly small cue can readily trigger vivid recollection: A piece of music that was the soundtrack of a holiday long-ago makes us vividly remember that specific time, or the smell of chicken-soup reminds us how our moms used to make such soup for us when ill. Indeed, memories are associative in nature. But how does our associative memory system ‘know’ what experiences to store into memory, and what other experiences to just leave and be rapidly forgotten? It is known that emotional experiences are well-remembered, but what if a seemingly neutral experience –bound to be forgotten – becomes later on linked with an emotional event? Will the original experience be retrospectively affected, and as a consequence, be remembered differently? Will it become more emotional? An influential neurobiological theory of memory labelled the “synaptic tagging and capture hypothesis” predicts that weak initial memories can be retroactively strengthened by subsequent emotional experiences, that are relevant for this initial experience. This theory however is based on animal research, and so far, it is unclear whether a similar mechanism exists for human associative memories.



The student’s role in the project:

In this thesis project, the above hypothesis will be tested with an associative memory task, in which some associations are later on paired with an emotional event (i.e., fear conditioning). After learning, different types of associative memory are tested, and the emotional expression of these memories is measured using psychophysiology such as heart rate and pupil dilation. Within their thesis, students can choose which sub-question (out of several) they find most interesting to focus on. Students are responsible for writing a research proposal, programming the task, recruiting participants, collecting and analysing the data, interpreting the data and ultimately, writing a scientific report. The student will be part of the lab (5 senior researchers, about 12 PhD students), e.g., attending lab and research meetings, etc.

This project is part of a bigger ongoing scientific project (as part of an NWO-veni grant). Within this context other projects are also available, please inquire for possibilities. No matter what, it is essential that partaking students are intrinsically interested in the study of emotional memory (with a strong focus on psychoneurobiology), are motivated to learn and work hard, and are conscientious in their lab work. In return, students will learn several new skills such as how to design an experiment in the realm of experimental psychopathology, and how to assess and analyse psychophysiological assessments like heart rate and pupil dilation under close supervision.



Contact Person:
Dr. Vanessa van Ast
Contact Information:
-Dunsmoor, J.E., Murty, V.P., Davachi, L., Phelps, E.A., 2015. Emotional learning selectively and retroactively strengthens memories for related events.
-Redondo, R.L., Morris, R.G.M., 2011. Making memories last: the synaptic tagging and capture hypothesis.
-Dolcos, F., Katsumi, Y., Weymar, M., Moore, M., Tsukiura, T., Dolcos, S., 2017. Emerging Directions in Emotional Episodic Memory

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