Prof. Vakil's Lab
Head - Memory and Amnesia Lab
Prof. Eli Vakil is the Head of the Memory and Amnesia Lab (in memory of Jacob Ballas) at the Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center.
Research in Vakil’s lab focuses on elucidating human memory processes, delineating their brain substrates, and developing evidence-based therapeutic interventions to benefit memory-impaired individuals.
Experiments in his lab track both normal memory processes in healthy individuals as well as memory impairments and pathologies caused by injuries and other biological processes such as development and aging.
Cognitive Science: Rehabilitating the Brain
Vakil’s team studies the effects of brain damage on memory abilities and memory systems, and the various ways in which head-injured patients relearn specific skills.
By contributing to our understanding of the nature of memory, and of the neural structures that support memory-related tasks, Vakil’s work is helping to identify new strategies for diagnosis and rehabilitation.
The Impact of Context on Memory Processes
Through employing a number of experimental paradigms in a range of populations, Vakil and his researchers study the effects of contextual change on remembering. Their work has shown how the implicit effects of contextual information on memory for target information are dissociable from direct access to such contextual information, findings that have special importance for understanding the role of frontal lobe-based processes in remembering.
Vakil and his team also study context effects on unconscious expressions of memory using eye movement recordings, and compare the relative effects of spatial and temporal context on remembering.
Procedural Memory and Skill Learning
Procedural learning involves both motor and cognitive aspects. Vakil’s lab examines these different underlying cognitive processes in the general population, traumatic brain injury patients with basal ganglia stroke and Parkinson’s disease, older populations, and children with mental retardation.
Their work has indicated that baseline performance and learning rate may reflect the contributions of different cognitive processes and brain substrates. In addition, they are interested in the degree to which people are conscious of learned information that is expressed in performance. Their studies of skill learning utilize sophisticated mathematical models (developed in collaboration with Dr. Esther Adi-Japha) that enable fine-grained analyses of learning processes over time.
Developing Clinical Assessments
Vakil and his team developed the Hebrew version of the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), including novel subtests of temporal order memory not included in the original version, and have used it to collect and analyze norms for adults and developmental norms for children aged 8-17.
They have published factor analyses of RAVLT performance, developed new categories of analysis using the RAVLT instrument, and applied these categories in studies of brain-injured patients. Vakil’s team studies which aspects of performance measured by the RAVLT are most sensitive to brain damage in children. By applying advanced methods of analysis to the collected data, they can draw important conclusions regarding memory and attention abilities in various developmental populations.
Looking to the Future
Researchers in Vakil’s lab are currently working on a large-scale review and synthesis of ideas about context effects. They continue to examine the contextual effects on verbal and visual memory, as well as the dissociations between procedural memory and skill learning.
In addition, Vakil and his team are beginning a large-scale study to assess the long-term effects of memory in older individuals with traumatic brain injuries. Their work on understanding memory and memory disorders, especially in brain-damaged patients, will pave the way for new treatments for neurological disorders that impair memory.