Come to Think of It—or Not: How Memories Can Be Forgotten

May 25, 2016 by John Cramer

Context plays a big role in our memories, both good and bad. Hearing Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run on the car radio, for example, may remind you of your first love—or your first speeding ticket. Either way, a new Dartmouth- and Princeton-led brain scanning study may be of interest: The study shows that people can intentionally forget their experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.

The study, which appears in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, has a range of potential applications centered on enhancing desired memories, such as developing new educational tools, or diminishing harmful memories, including treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since ancient Greece, memory theorists have known that people use context—or the situation they’re in, including sights, sounds, smells, where they are, who they are with—to organize and retrieve memories. But the team of scientists wanted to know whether—and how—people could intentionally forget certain experiences.

Welcome Meghan Meyer!

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Meghan Meyer to the faculty.  Meghan completed her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton University.  Meghan will be moving to Hanover in July, 2017 to assume her position as an assistant professor. 

Face recognition and law enforcement

Professor Brad Duchaine discusses research demonstrating substantial individual differences in the ability to recognize faces and the implications of this variation in the June 2015 edition of the American Psychological Association's monthly newsletter Psychological Science Agenda.

Heidi Meyer Predoctoral Research Award

Heidi Meyer recently received a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award.  This award is part of a family of grants provided by the United States National Institutes of Health for training researchers in the behavioral sciences and health sciences. They are a highly selective and very prestigious source of funding for doctoral and postdoctoral trainees. This award will allow Heidi to pursue research related to the mechanisms underlying the development of inhibitory behavior in rats. In particular, the experiments to be carried out under this award will incorporate viral mediated gene delivery systems (Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs; DREADDs) as a mechanism for temporary modulation of targeted brain regions relevant to proactive inhibition. Additional experiments will also elucidate the behavioral factors that contribute to the delayed ability to withhold behavior observed during adolescence. Investigating the link between neurobiological and behavioral development may inform the identification and development of new treatments for addiction and neurodevelopmental disorders.


The Society for Social Neuroscience is delighted to announce the inaugural class of S4SN Fellows. The Board of Directors selected 12 Fellows who have made an outstanding contribution to the field of social neurosciences over their careers. The 2015 class of S4SN Fellows are:

Human Models of social neuroscience

  • Antonio Damasio, University of Southern California
  • Todd F. Heatherton, Dartmouth College
  • John T. Cacioppo, The University of Chicago
  • Ralph Adolphs, California Institute of Technology
  • Jean Decety, The University of Chicago
  • Patricia K. Kuhl, University of Washington

Animal models of social neuroscience

  • Stephen J. Suomi, NIH/NICHD
  • Michael J. Meany, McGill University
  • Bruce S. McEwen, The Rockfeller University
  • C. Sue Carter, The Kinsey Institute & Indiana University
  • Larry J. Young, Emory University
  • Carmen Sandi, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Dartmouth PBS PhD Graduate Holds New Endowed Chair in Marketing

Land O'Lakes, Inc., and the Land O'Lakes Foundation announced September 3 it will invest $25 million in University of Minnesota academics and Gopher Athletics. This is one of the largest single corporate commitments in the University's history and the largest commitment ever made collectively by Land O'Lakes, Inc. and the Land O'Lakes Foundation.

As part of the landmark gift, the organization pledges $2.5 million to establish the endowed Land O' Lakes Chair in Marketing, a position to be held by Professor of Excellence in Marketing Kathleen Vohs. In 2000, Kathleen Vohs earned her PhD while working in Todd Heatherton's Lab, Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences.

"Today's announcement underscores our commitment to educational excellence and further strengthens our investment in the pipeline of talent from the University of Minnesota," says Christopher Policinski, president and CEO of Land O'Lakes, Inc., and Carlson School of Management Board of Overseers member.

Alessandro Pizzo wins Neuroscience Fellowship

The Society for Neuroscience Professional Development Committee has selected Alessandro Pizzo as a Neuroscience Scholars Program (NSP) Fellow.  Alessandro is currently a graduate student in Professor David Bucci’s laboratory.  As an NSP Fellow, Alessandro joins 14 other graduate trainees from across the country who will participate in  career development and networking opportunities to promote their future success.  Fellows will be paired with a mentoring team consisting of a senior mentor, a peer mentor, and a seasoned neuroscientist to discuss  the fellow’s research, career plans, and overall experience.  As part of the program, each Fellow also receives two years of complimentary SfN membership and waived abstract submission fees as well as a travel award to attend the SfN annual meeting for two years.  Enrichment funds are also provide up to $1,500 to support allowed professional development activities for two years.  Funding for this program has been supported by  the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) for over 30 years.


An important aspect of memory is the ability to recall the physical place, or context, in which an event occurred. For example, in recalling emotionally charged events such as the September 11 terror attacks or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we remember not only the event but also where we were when it happened. Indeed, in discussing such events with others, we often ask, “Where were you when … ?” Processing “where” information is also important for mundane events such as remembering where you parked your car.