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Dr Aidan Horner from the University of York wins the Spearman Medal

Special Reports

An expert on one of the most mysterious and personal aspects of human cognition is to receive an important Society award.

Dr Aidan Horner from the Department of Psychology at the University of York is the winner of the 2018 Spearman Medal, which is awarded by the Society each year to someone who has produced outstanding published work in psychology within eight years of completing a PhD.

Dr Horner’s research has revealed the psychological and neural mechanisms behind our ability to look back in time and re-experience previous life events. This subjective experience of recollection is fundamental to our sense of self, helping to support our mental autobiography.

His work has combined experimental rigour with deep theoretical insight, in terms of both cognitive and neural mechanisms.

Dr Horner has explored our ability to reconstruct whole memories from fragmentary details – when we remember someone’s face we can go on to remember the last time we met them, what was said and the music that was playing in the background.

At the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, he developed sophisticated experimental procedures and statistical models to assess this holistic retrieval for memories of complex events at a behaviour level, allowing such retrieval to be studied in a more objective way.

Using fMRI, Dr Horner went on to reveal the relationship between the hippocampus, a brain region critical to episodic memory, and the neocortex. He provided key evidence for a long-held computational account of episodic memory that explains how the brain supports our ability to recollect an entire event. His most recent work has employed virtual reality and fMRI to investigate the role of recently discovered ‘grid cells’ in imagined movement around an environment.

Dr Horner said: “I am delighted to receive this award, and still somewhat in shock. It is wonderful that the research my colleagues and I have worked on for the past few years has been recognised in this way.

“The experimental and modelling approach developed during this work is now proving useful in tackling further questions about memory, relating to forgetting, and how we integrate across separate but related experiences.

“I am indebted to Neil Burgess for providing the supportive environment for this, at first more exploratory, research to develop.”

Nicola Gale, President of the British Psychology Society, said: “Dr Horner is a remarkably creative, sophisticated and productive psychologist who has already made critical contributions to the fields of memory, vision and spatial navigation. I congratulate him on his award and shall follow his career with interest.”

Read the two journal articles that were submitted as part of Dr Aidan Horner’s nomination:

• Horner, A.J., Bisby, J., Bush, D., Lin, W-J., & Burgess, N. (2015) Evidence for holistic episodic recollection via hippocampal pattern completion, Nature Communications, 6:7462. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms8462

• Horner, A.J., Bisby, J.A., Zotow, E., Bush, D., & Burgess, N., (2016) Grid-like processing of imagined navigation, Current Biology, 26, 842-847. http://www.cell.com/currentbiology/ fulltext/S0960-9822(16)00124-X

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