When less is more – alleviating forgetting by reducing interference

Year of award: 2016


  • Dr Michaela Dewar

    Heriot-Watt University

Project summary

During wakefulness our memory system encodes memories of sensory input and strengthens recently formed memories. For example, while reading this your memory system is encoding memories and attempting to consolidate memories formed earlier. Since encoding and consolidation have overlapping neural pathways, the memory system must minimise interference between encoding and consolidation. The mechanisms by which this is achieved are poorly understood. However, we need to identify them, both because of their fundamental importance in memory processing and because their malfunction could play a key role in amnesia.

We hypothesise that the healthy memory system minimises interference by switching between encoding and consolidation, and amnesia can be caused by defective switching, leading to heightened memory processing and interference. This deviates from the view that memory processing in amnesia is underactive. We will develop human neuroimaging protocols to test our hypothesis and conduct preliminary testing of our hypothesis in healthy people and establish the cognitive factors that determine the switch between encoding and consolidation.

This project will steer an interdisciplinary research programme that will shift our understanding of consolidation and reveal new avenues for memory therapeutics.