A missed opportunity to study image-evoked emotional memories

This 2015 Ohio human study found that the:

“Hippocampus integrates distinct experiences, thereby providing a scaffold for encoding and retrieval of autobiographical memories.”

The researchers ignored the hippocampus’ role in emotional memories, although studies such as Emotional memories and out-of-body–induced hippocampal amnesia have shown emotional involvement to be desirable in order to properly study the hippocampus with human subjects.

The researchers missed quite a few good opportunities to advance science. Consider these opportunities:

  • All subjects were instructed during fMRI scans (here’s a video of one subject) to:

    “Try to remember the event depicted in each picture and relive the experience in their mind while viewing the photo for eight seconds.”

    The photos were taken during each subject’s day-to-day life by a smartphone hung around their neck. Following these instructions created an ideal situation for engaging the subjects’ emotions when they successfully remembered and relived. Although the experiment probably engaged the subjects’ emotions;

  • None of the subjects were asked anything that would lead the researchers to discover WHY the subjects remembered! The researchers had a perfect setup to make even a bare-bones inquiry, or to ask the subjects to immediately rate the emotional impact of each remembered event/relived experience, or to have them identify what emotions were evoked. But the researchers didn’t use any emotional measures to help understand how and why events were remembered or not.
  • Wouldn’t it also have potentially helped the subjects to become somewhat aware of how they processed memories, of how they felt with each remembered event/relived experience? They probably wouldn’t have remembered personally unimportant events, or forgotten personally significant ones.
  • “One subject recalled all of the items presented” and another had “very few unrecalled items.”

    Why? Weren’t the researcher interested in what was potentially the same between these two and different from the other subjects?

The researchers instead focused on rodent studies with statements such as:

“Validating the relevance of decades of rodent studies for human memory.”

They lost track of the reason rodent studies exist: to help humans.

In order for the research to help humans, move forward on the evolutionary scale, not backward! A rat or mouse can’t define and describe the emotional impact of an image of their life that evokes a memory.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/35/11078.full “Human hippocampus represents space and time during retrieval of real-world memories”

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