Cognitive and Neural Dynamics of Memory Across the Lifespan

© Philipp S. Neundorf


The brain operates and changes with age in a distributed and parallel fashion. Mechanisms related to maturation, learning, and senescence affect different regions of the brain on multiple and interacting levels, dimensions, time scales, and trajectories. Behavioral and neuronal evidence suggests that memory functioning requires oscillatory interactions in a distributed network comprising, among others, prefrontal (PFC), medio-temporal (MTL), and parietal regions. The overarching objective of the ConMem project is to provide mechanistic and process-oriented explanations for developmental changes in memory functions. We aim to advance knowledge about the dynamic structure–function dependencies underlying the interplay between memory processes and related neuronal mechanisms.

Minerva Group (led by Myriam C. Sander)

Minerva klein

Age Differences in Memory Representations

Established in 2016, Myriam Sander’s research group aims to track the life cycle of memories in both mind and brain to understand how aging affects memory representations and performance.

From a neuroscientific perspective, our memories are encoded in specific distributed patterns of neural activity, i.e., these patterns can be regarded as memory fingerprints. During encoding of memories, specific representational patterns are formed (e.g., meeting a person for the first time). These can be reactivated during later recall (when seeing the person again). The more similar the reactivated pattern is to the original pattern, the more likely we are to retrieve a specific memory (it is easier to recognize a person if you meet her again in a similar context). In order to achieve optimal memory performance, patterns of different memories should be as distinct as possible whereas patterns of the same memory should be as similar as possible. To render memories durable, our brain usually spontaneously reactivates and thus strengthens novel patterns during rest and sleep periods.

We investigate how aging affects the distinctiveness and similarity of memory representations during memory formation and retrieval. Specifically, we want to understand how changes in the quality of memory representations affect older adults‘ memory performance. A second line of research targets age differences in the spontaneous reactivation of memories during wakefulness and sleep.

Minerva Team

Myriam C. Sander (Leader)

Claudia Wehrspaun (Postdoc)

Anna Karlsson
Verena R. Sommer (Predocs)

Minerva Group 2012–2016 (led by Yee Lee Shing)

Delineating Environmental Effects on Brain and Cognitive Development

The overarching goal of this group to better understand the mechanisms through which environmental factors, such as school entry and stress-related social disadvantage, may affect neural and behavioral development. The HippoKID Study longitudinally followed children born close to the cut-off date for school entry who subsequently did or did not enter school that year. Schoolchildren displayed larger behavioral improvements in cognitive control than kindergarteners, and also showed increased activation in posterior parietal cortex, a region important for sustained attention, while performing an inhibitory control task. In contrast, longitudinally observed improvements in episodic memory did not differ reliably between the two groups, suggesting that formal school entry primarily promotes brain mechanisms that help children to focus on cognitively demanding tasks. The ongoing longitudinal Jacobs Study aims to elucidate the roles of glucocorticoid and inflammation signaling in mediating the effects of stress on neural and behavioral development while assessing moderators at multiple levels, including (epi-)genetic dispositions.

Recent Publications

Brod, G., Bunge, S. A., & Shing, Y. L. (2017). Does one year of schooling improve children's cognitive control and alter associated brain activation? Psychological Science. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0956797617699838

Brod, G., Lindenberger, U., & Shing, Y. L. (2016). Neural activation patterns during retrieval of schema-related memories: Differences and commonalities between children and adults. Developmental Science. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/desc.12475

Brod, G., Lindenberger, U., Wagner, A. D., & Shing, Y. L. (2016). Knowledge acquisition during exam preparation improves memory and modulates memory formation. Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 8103–8111. doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.0045-16.2016

Grandy, T. H., Garrett, D. D., Schmiedek, F., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2016). On the estimation of brain signal entropy from sparse neuroimaging data. Scientific Reports, 6: 23073. doi: 10.1038/srep23073

Shing, Y. L., Brehmer, Y., Heekeren, H., Bäckman, L., & Lindenberger, U. (2016). Neural activation patterns of successful episodic encoding: Reorganization during childhood, maintenance in old age. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 59–69. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2016.06.003

Shing, Y. L., & Brod, G. (2016). Effects of prior knowledge on memory: Implications for education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 10, 153–161. doi: 10.1111/mbe.12110


Garvin Brod, now German Institute for International Educational Research, Frankfurt/Main
Yana Fandakova, now with Mechanisms and Sequential Progression of Plasticity project
Thomas Grandy, now Vivantes Klinikum Am Urban, Berlin
Roman Freunberger, now BIFIE, Salzburg

Looking for Volunteers in Berlin

For our studies we are looking for German speaking participants between ages 20 and 30 as well as 65 and 75. Please contact us by phone at 030-82406-392 or make use of our contact form (cue in "Your Message": ConMem).

Key References

Sander, M. C., Lindenberger, U., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2012). Lifespan age differences in working memory: A two- component framework. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36, 2007–2033. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.06.004

Shing, Y. L., & Lindenberger, U. (2011). The development of episodic memory: Lifespan lessons. Child Development Perspectives, 5, 148–155. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00170.x

Shing, Y. L., Werkle-Bergner, M., Brehmer, Y., Mueller, V., Li, S.-C., & Lindenberger, U. (2009). Episodic memory across the lifespan: The contributions of associative and strategic components. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 1080–1091. doi: 10.1016/ j.neubiorev.2009.11.002

Shing, Y. L., Werkle-Bergner, M., Li, S.-C., & Lindenberger, U. (2008). Associative and strategic components of episodic memory: A life-span dissociation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 137, 495–513. doi: 10.1037/ 0096-3445.137.3.495

Werkle-Bergner, M., Mueller, V., Li, S.-C., & Lindenberger, U. (2006). Cortical EEG correlates of successful memory encoding: Implications for lifespan comparisons. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 30, 839–854. doi: 10.1016/ j.neubiorev.2006.06.009