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Our lab studies why we remember certain parts of our experiences, how stress and affect influence these memories, and how what we remember guides our behavior. Our interdisciplinary research integrates the cognitive neuroscience of memory with translational stress neurobiology. We leverage techniques including novel behavioral tasks, neuroendocrine assays, psychophysiology, advanced functional neuroimaging (fMRI), machine learning, computational modeling, clinical populations, and real-world behavioral monitoring to understand these processes in everyday life and neuropsychiatric disorders.

What are “multiple memory systems”?

Our experiences can be remembered in different ways, involving distinct computations and underlying brain circuits. For example, after a birthday party, you may integrate across the different parts of that experience (who was there, where you were, how you felt) into a holistic episodic memory; you may remember an individual cue and its outcome (like the taste of the cake) as a conditioned association; or, if you go to that restaurant often, you may form a rigid, automatic memory (like getting to the restaurant on autopilot) as a stimulus-response association. These memories can compete or cooperate to create the lasting representation that we have of this experience. We want to understand the mechanisms by which these and other types of memories are formed, the consequences of forming these memories, and the factors that determine how we remember our lives.

Sherman, B.E., Turk-Browne, N.T. & Goldfarb, E.V. (2023). Multiple Memory Subsystems: Reconsidering Memory in the Mind and Brain. Perspect Psychol Sci, Online ahead of print.

Goldfarb, E.V., Blow, T., Dunsmoor, J.E. & Phelps, E.A. (2021). Elemental and configural threat learning bias extinction generalization. Neurobiol Learn Mem, 180, 107405.

Goldfarb, E.V., Chun, M.M., & Phelps, E.A. (2016). Memory guided attention: Independent contributions of the hippocampus and striatum. Neuron, 89(2), 317-324.

How does stress transform our memories?

Although stress is known to change what we remember, these effects are complex and often contradictory. We want to understand how stress acts across memory systems: under what conditions does stress promote one type of memory over another? How does stress change the computations and mechanisms that give rise to these memories? When can stress, a fundamentally adaptive response, actually enhance our memories? This work integrates discoveries of behavioral and cellular mechanisms of stress effects in nonhuman animals with human research on memory mechanisms in the brain. We also flip this question to ask how memory circuits inform our responses to stressful experiences.

Sherman, B.E., Harris, B.B., Turk-Browne, N.B., Sinha, R. & Goldfarb. E.V. (2023). Hippocampal mechanisms support cortisol-induced memory enhancements. bioRxiv.

Goldfarb, E.V., Rosenberg, M.D., Seo, D., Constable, R.T. & Sinha, R. (2020). Hippocampal seed connectome-based modeling predicts the feeling of stress. Nat Commun, 11, 2650.

Goldfarb, E.V., Tompary, A., Davachi, L., & Phelps, E.A. (2019). Acute stress throughout the memory cycle: Diverging effects on associative and item memory. J Exp Psychol: Gen, 148(1), 13-29.

Applying the cognitive neuroscience of memory to understanding substance use

Memory plays a key role in substance use: people cannot relapse in a place where they used to use, or with individuals with whom they used previously, if they have no memory of having used before. Yet which types of memories are driving later use, and whether substance-related experiences are remembered in a fundamentally different way by individuals who engage in problematic substance use, is not clear. By taking approaches from cognitive neuroscience of novel task design and innovative analyses of behavioral and brain data, we are addressing this gap, ultimately helping inform memory-related treatments for these conditions.

Kang. S., Larrabee, G., Nair, S. & Goldfarb, E.V. (2023). Perceptual generalization of alcohol-related value characterizes risky drinkers. Psych Science, in press.

Goldfarb, E.V., Fogelman, N. & Sinha, R. (2020). Memory biases in alcohol use disorder: Enhanced memory for contexts associated with alcohol prospectively predicts alcohol use outcomes. Neuropsychopharmacology, 45, 1297-1305.

Goldfarb, E.V. & Sinha, R. (2018). Drug-induced glucocorticoids and memory for substance use. Trends Neurosci, 41(11), 853-868.