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Title: The roles of hippocampal and neocortical learning mechanisms in the human brain
Author: Berens, Samuel Charles
ISNI:       0000 0004 5992 2480
Awarding Body: University of Sussex
Current Institution: University of Sussex
Date of Award: 2016
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Contemporary models of declarative memory state that when initially learned, all novel information is encoded by the hippocampal system before being consolidated or transformed to depend on neocortical structures subserving semantic memory. Based on observations with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), this thesis presents evidence that novel associations may be directly encoded by the semantic system in humans. While the hippocampus is often involved in information processing at the early stages of learning, the semantic system is seen to encode associative memory traces in the first instance (chapter 2). Furthermore, it is proposed that the hippocampus is not involved in learning when associative information is gradually accumulated across a series of ambiguous events. This is characteristic of cross-situational learning (xSL) which allows for the acquisition of word-object associations (i.e. nouns) during infancy. It is shown that xSL is not well accounted for by a prominent model of contextual learning - the temporal context model (chapter 3). Additionally, fMRI data suggest that neocortical structures rather than components of the hippocampal system are preferentially involved in xSL compared to traditional methods of training (chapter 4). Finally, it is suggested that rapid hippocampal learning mechanisms rely on specialised neuronal-microglial interactions. The administration of a microglial inhibitor (minocycline) was found to modulate hippocampal function and bias its use when other learning systems would have been more advantageous (chapter 5). Collectively, these findings suggest that the hippocampal system is specialised for rapidly encoding information that is explicitly provided, yet may not be recruited when associative information is collated across ambiguous events. At the same time, the neocortical semantic system may be able to learn new information at faster rates than previously thought. As such, it is hypothesised that amnestic patients may be able to acquire some forms of declarative material if presented in an appropriate manner.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF0309 Consciousness. Cognition Including learning ; attention ; comprehension ; memory ; imagination ; genius ; intelligence ; thought and thinking ; psycholinguistics ; mental fatigue