Although humans encounter countless novel experiences, many of these are not retained. This leads to an important question: Why are some experiences remembered, whereas others are forgotten? My research focuses on neural and behavioural factors that are associated with how we form and retain episodic memories. A branch of this research explores how episodic memory varies across individuals. More specifically, I investigate the factors that relate to being a relatively ‘good’ versus ‘poor’ rememberer and the underlying neural correlates of this variability in healthy people and individuals exposed to traumatic events. I approach this topic in a multifaceted manner, combining structural and functional neuroimaging with genetic techniques. Moreover, my collaborators and I recently launched an online memory survey (click here) to explore individual differences in memory.
The observation that humans remember some experiences better than others leads to a second question: What is the adaptive value of memory? Preliminary research suggests that remembering our past does not just service memory in its own right, it is also critical to our ability to predict and make decisions about future outcomes. I am currently seeking to better understand the cognitive and neural mechanisms by which memory may influence non-mnemonic functions, with a primary focus on imagination and decision making. One approach to this question is to examine the functional consequences of damage to the medial temporal lobe (MTL) –a critical hub region involved in supporting memory. This line of work is being pursued in my postdoctoral research, through the Boston University School of Medicine within the Memory Disorders Research Center at the Veterans Affair Boston Healthcare System. This research is further explored through ongoing neuroimaging projects via my affiliation with the NeRVe (Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center). For example, functional neuroimaging has allowed me to explore how the MTL interacts with other brain regions to support the interplay between memory and decision making. I will continue to pursue this work when I join the Psychology Department as Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia in July 2018. (If you are interested in working with me, please feel free to email me daniela.palombo “at” ubc.ca! I am accepting graduate students for Fall 2018.)
As much of my research focuses on the MTL, I am also interested in methodology related to anatomical segmentation and labeling of MTL structures on MRI. I am part of a recent initiative to harmonize hippocampal and MTL cortical regions on high-resolution MRI at the level of hippocampal subfields. Improvement of this methodology has far reaching implications for characterizing the functional neuroanatomy of these structures.