Project - “In the mind’s eye” – Exploring the interaction between oculomotor behaviour and memory in neurodegeneration
Dementia, AD, Ageing
Research Project Description
Memory represents the cornerstone of much of our everyday functioning. Despite significant advances in the field, the mechanisms driving complex expressions of memory remain poorly understood. Given that memory is predominantly experienced in the visual domain, the visual system and related oculomotor behaviour likely play a pivotal role in supporting memory function. Mounting evidence indicates the utility of eye movements as a potentially powerful tool to understand cognitive function. Eye movements provide an online, ecologically cheap yet accurate measure to track how memory-related processes unfold in not only healthy individuals, but also in clinical populations with diminished language capacity. Recent studies reveal that past- and future-oriented expressions of memory rely on the same underlying neural system and both processes are negatively affected in aging and dementia.
But how exactly does oculomotor behaviour interact with complex facets of human memory? Can eye movements be exploited to predict the onset of a neurodegenerative disease or age-related memory decline? These are the fundamental questions that I am seeking to address.
I recently put forward my novel perspective in an Opinion Piece in the flagship journal Trends in Cognitive Science (Conti & Irish, TiCS 2021), where I proposed a clear pathway to address current gaps in the literature by formulating a novel integrative framework to accommodate the specific role of visual mental imagery in past- and future-oriented thinking. My major aim is now to better understand this dynamic interaction, and elucidate how these processes are compromised in neurodegenerative disorders with a view to establishing a potential biomarker for pathological ageing.
By harnessing state-of-the-art experimentally-derived oculomotor variables to investigate these processes in healthy ageing and dementia, my project sits at the cutting-edge of human memory research. From a clinical perspective, my work stands to transform how we approach the diagnosis and early detection of dementia. Eye tracking has immense potential to constitute an ecologically cheap yet powerful biomarker, and thus offer a powerful non-invasive means to screen for subtle early warning signs of underlying pathology.
Key Publications from this project
- Conti F. & Irish M. 2021, Harnessing Visual Imagery and Oculomotor Behaviour to Understand Prospection, TiCS, in press.