Jessica K. Stanek, Ph.D.


Alison Adcock

Dissertation Title

Expectation Modulates Episodic Memory Formation via Dopaminergic Circuitry

Dissertation Abstract
Events that generate, meet, or violate expectations have the capacity to influence episodic memory formation. However, clarification is still required to illuminate the circumstances and direction of memory modulation. In the brain, the mechanisms by which expectation modulates memory formation also require consideration. The dopamine system has been implicated in signaling events associated with different states of expectancy; it has also been shown to modulate episodic memory formation in the hippocampus. Thus, the studies included in this dissertation utilized both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral testing to examine when and how the dopaminergic system supports the modulation of memory by expectation. The work aimed to characterize the activation of dopaminergic circuitry in response to cues that generate expectancy, during periods of anticipation, and in response to outcomes that resolve expectancy. The studies also examined how each of these event types influenced episodic memory formation.

The present findings demonstrated that novelty and expectancy violation both drive dopaminergic circuitry capable of contributing to memory formation. Consistent with elevated dopaminergic midbrain and hippocampus activation for each, expected versus expectancy violating novelty did not differentially impact memory success. We also showed that high curiosity expectancy states drive memory formation. This was supported by activation in dopaminergic circuitry that was greater for subsequently remembered information only in the high curiosity state. Finally, we showed that cues that generate high expected reward value versus high reward uncertainty differentially modulate memory formation during reward anticipation. This behavioral result was consistent with distinct temporal profiles of dopaminergic action having differential downstream effects on episodic memory formation.

Integrating the present studies with previous research suggests that dopaminergic circuitry signals events that are unpredicted, whether cuing or resolving expectations. It also suggests that contextual differences change the contribution of the dopaminergic system during anticipation, depending on the nature of the expectation. And finally, this work is consistent with a model in which dopamine elevation in response to expectancy events positively modulates episodic memory formation.

Department, Year
Psychology & Neuroscience, 2016
Current Position
Clinical Research Study Manager
Current Location
Institute for Trauma Recovery, Department of Anesthesiology, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill