Psychophysical and neurophysiological studies have suggested that memory is not simply a carbon copy of our experience: Memories are modified or new memories are formed depending on the dynamic structure of our experience, and specifically, on how gradually or abruptly the world changes. We present a statistical theory of memory formation in a dynamic environment, based on a nonparametric generalization of the switching Kalman filter. We show that this theory can qualitatively account for several psychophysical and neural phenomena, and present results of a new visual memory experiment aimed at testing the theory directly. Our experimental findings suggest that humans can use temporal discontinuities in the structure of the environment to determine when to form new memory traces. The statistical perspective we offer provides a coherent account of the conditions under which new experience is integrated into an old memory versus forming a new memory, and shows that memory formation depends on inferences about the underlying structure of our experience.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Computational Theory and Mathematics