Mariam Aly

Mariam Aly

Research Interest

Research Summary

Imagine that you are faced with a formidable problem — one so enormous that it is difficult to know where to start. To make headway, it is useful to break the problem down into a set of smaller problems and attack each in isolation. This is how psychology and neuroscience have progressed: Research often focuses on just one of several branches, such as attention, perception, or long-term memory. Ultimately, however, these separate branches all interact with each other and have to be reunited to arrive at a complete understanding. We approach research with the goal of characterizing these interactions in the human mind and brain, by taking a multimodal approach that combines functional neuroimaging (fMRI), behavioral investigations, neuropsychology, and pharmacological manipulations. Together, our work highlights the many ways that attention, perception, and memory interact in complex, naturalistic settings. A key finding across our studies is that the hippocampus — a region of the brain traditionally studied for its role in long-term memory — plays an essential role in attention and perception as well.

We are currently exploring three central questions. First: how do attention and perception influence what we remember? To address this question, we combine behavior, fMRI, and patient studies to explore how the hippocampus interacts with visual cortex to influence the transformation of perceptual experience into long-term memory. We have also started to explore how pharmacological manipulations (e.g., nicotine in healthy individuals; L-dopa in Parkinson’s disease patients) affect the interplay between attention and memory. Second: how does memory influence our attention? Here, we call on functional neuroimaging and eye tracking to explore how long-term memories influence the way we explore the world. Finally: how does memory influence perception and prediction? We tackle this question by using naturalistic stimuli (movies, navigable environments, scenes) along with behavioral studies and fMRI, and explore how people learn to anticipate the future given their memories of the past. Together, this work highlights the fundamentally interactive nature of our cognitive processes, with implications for how cognition can break down in neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Lee CS, Aly M, Baldassano C. (2021). Anticipation of temporally structured events in the brain. eLife. 10:e64972. 

Ruiz NA*, Thieu MK*, Aly M. (2021). Cholinergic modulation of hippocampally mediated attention and perception. Behavioral Neuroscience, 135, 51-70.  *These authors contributed equally

Ruiz NA, Meager MR, Agarwal S, Aly M. (2020). The medial temporal lobe is critical for spatial relational perception. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 32, 1780-1795. 

Günseli E, Aly M. (2020). Preparation for upcoming attentional states in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex. eLife, 2020;9:e53191. 

Tarder-Stoll H*, Jayakumar M*, Dimsdale-Zucker HR, Gunseli E, Aly M. (2020). Dynamic internal states shape memory retrieval. Neuropsychologia, 138, 107328. *These authors contributed equally

Córdova NI, Turk-Browne NB, Aly M. (2019). Focusing on what matters: Modulation of the human hippocampus by relational attention. Hippocampus, 29, 1025-1037. 

  • Ph.D, University of California, Davis 2013