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Michael Kahana wins the 2018 Howard Crosby Medal

Posted on April 23, 2018

The 2018 Howard Crosby Warren Medal is presented to:

MICHAEL J. KAHANA – University of Pennsylvania

The Society of Experimental Psychologists awards the Howard Crosby Warren Medal annually for outstanding achievement in Experimental Psychology in the United States and Canada. The award was initiated in 1936.

Citation: “for his fundamental contributions to the formal modeling of retrieved context information in memory and his remarkable discoveries in the human neuroscience of memory.”

Michael Kahana has made profound contributions throughout his career to the development and testing of formal mathematical models of human memory as well as to human neuroscience research on memory.   His retrieved context theory of human episodic memory is the leading theory for explaining how representations of context information are integrated with representations of item information in determining the nature of recall and recognition.  In his early landmark papers, he introduced the idea that context information is bi-directionally associated with item information, allowing item cuing to retrieve past contexts, which in turn could be used as a cue for subsequent retrieval.   In response to new challenges, Kahana and his students developed systematic elaborations of the core model over the years, and it now provides an elegant account of an enormous body of findings, including: 1) contiguity effects in recall, 2) remote associations among items, 3) inter-response times among items as well as recall dynamics, 4) interactions of semantic and episodic memories during encoding and retrieval, 5) inter-list effects on memory, and 6) age-related differences in recall and recognition.

Kahana’s lab has also been at the forefront of human neuroscience research on memory.   He was a pioneer in the use of intracranial electrophysiology to uncover the neural correlates of memory and cognitive processes.  In his early work he identified a theta rhythm in human temporal cortex that exhibited striking parallels to theta activity previously studied extensively in the rodent literature.  In more recent work he reported the existence of human hippocampal place cells as well as parahippocampal view cells and goal cells in various cortical regions; as well as human path cells and more notably grid cells in human entorhinal cortex.  And in still other work he reported that neurons in human substantia nigra encode unexpected financial rewards.

Bringing together his work in formal cognitive modeling and human neuroscience, Kahana and his students asked whether ensembles of neurons exhibit dynamics consistent with his retrieved context theory.   In a series of ingenious experiments involving a “delivery person” game in a virtual environment, Kahana and his students demonstrated that spatial context “reinstates” prior to recollection of memories learned in a spatial environment, thus lending direct neural evidence to his retrieved context theory.

Today, for his numerous significant theoretical and empirical contributions to the study of human memory, the Society of Experimental Psychologists awards the Howard Crosby Warren medal to Michael Kahana.

Page last modified: April 23, 2018