Elucidating the Neural Correlates of False Memories in Young and Older Adults

Project: Research project

Project Details


Historically, memory declines have been cited as the foremost cognitive deficit affecting older adults (second only to physical ailments, when considering age-related problems in general). However, while the vast majority of research in this domain focuses on the subjective experience of forgetting, false memories - memories for events that never happened - are also a significant contributing factor to age-related memory impairment. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Nancy Dennis, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, is carrying out research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to characterize the neural mechanisms mediating true and false memories in both young and older adults. Previous research suggests that both forgetting and false memories are the consequence of the same underlying shift in cognitive processing in aging, that is, an overreliance on familiarity or gist memory (i.e., memory for general features of an episodic event or memory) at the expense of item-specific processing (i.e., memory for specific details of the event or memory). This research project is examining the neural substrates mediating item-specific and gist processing as they relate to semantic, perceptual and conceptual episodic memories. The research is characterizing age-related changes in item-specific and gist processing, and developing a unified understanding of the common and unique neural mechanisms that support true and false memories in younger and older adults.

The research will also provide valuable insight into the ways in which the brain processes true memories. In this way, the research will clarify overall processing shifts in aging and the direct impact of these age-related changes on memory functioning. Furthermore, by increasing the understanding of how older adults encode, process, and retrieve information, the research is contributing to the enhancement of study and testing techniques designed to optimize memory processing across the lifespan. To facilitate this translational process, the research is being disseminated to others at both national conferences and community-attended lectures. Presentations are part of an extensive series aimed at educating seniors in the community about advances in cognition, nutrition, exercise, and other research on aging. This research project also offers educational opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students in the field of memory and the cognitive neuroscience of aging. Students are trained in both behavioral methods and advanced neuroimaging methodologies and analyses. Students learn the importance of integrating psychological theory with neuroimaging methods in order to gain insight into the neural processes mediating cognitive behavior across the lifespan. Experience with experimental design and multiple behavioral and fMRI analyses techniques lays a foundation for students' development as independent researchers.

Effective start/end date9/15/108/31/16


  • National Science Foundation: $618,285.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.