Matthew Dennis Grilli

Matthew Dennis Grilli

Assistant Professor, Psychology
Assistant Professor, Evelyn F Mcknight Brain Institute
Assistant Professor, Neurology
Assistant Professor, Cognitive Science - GIDP
Assistant Professor, BIO5 Institute
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 621-7447

Work Summary

Work Summary

My research interests are broadly focused on understanding how and why we store and retrieve memories. The clinical and cognitive neuroscience research conducted in my laboratory combines neuropsychological, cognitive, social psychological, and neuroimaging approaches. An emphasis of my current research is autobiographical memory, which refers to memories of personal experiences. Ongoing projects are investigating how autobiographical memory is affected in several populations, including older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and individuals with acquired brain injury. We also are interested in understanding how changes to autobiographical memory impact other aspects of cognition, and we seek to develop new interventions to improve autobiographical memory and everyday functioning.

Research Interest

My research interests are broadly focused on understanding the reciprocal relations of self and memory. How does the self influence learning and memory retrieval? How does memory contribute to one's sense of self? Uncovering the ways in which the self and memory interact may advance understanding of identity, elucidate the conditions and experiences that modify the self, and inspire clinical interventions that improve quality of life and wellbeing for people who have neurological or mental health conditions. Ongoing projects are investigating how to improve memory through self-referential encoding strategies in individuals with traumatic brain injury and other neuropsychological conditions. My current research also is investigating how individuals with amnesia (a profound learning and memory impairment) construct a sense of self and experience a sense of continuity in life.


Hou, M., Grilli, M. D., & Glisky, E. L. (2017). Self-reference enhances relational memory in young and older adults. Neuropsychology, development, and cognition. Section B, Aging, neuropsychology and cognition, 1-16.

The present study investigated the influence of self-reference on two kinds of relational memory, internal source memory and associative memory, in young and older adults. Participants encoded object-location word pairs using the strategies of imagination and sentence generation, either with reference to themselves or to a famous other (i.e., George Clooney or Oprah Winfrey). Both young and older adults showed memory benefits in the self-reference conditions compared to other-reference conditions on both tests, and the self-referential effects in older adults were not limited by low memory or executive functioning. These results suggest that self-reference can benefit relational memory in older adults relatively independently of basic memory and executive functions.

Grilli, M. D., & Verfaellie, M. (2015). Supporting the self-concept with memory: insight from amnesia. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(12), 1684-92.

We investigated the extent to which personal semantic memory supports the self-concept in individuals with medial temporal lobe amnesia and healthy adults. Participants completed eight 'I Am' self-statements. For each of the four highest ranked self-statements, participants completed an open-ended narrative task, during which they provided supporting information indicating why the I Am statement was considered self-descriptive. Participants then completed an episodic probe task, during which they attempted to retrieve six episodic memories for each of these self-statements. Supporting information was scored as episodic, personal semantic or general semantic. In the narrative task, personal semantic memory predominated as self-supporting information in both groups. The amnesic participants generated fewer personal semantic memories than controls to support their self-statements, a deficit that was more pronounced for trait relative to role self-statements. In the episodic probe task, the controls primarily generated unique event memories, but the amnesic participants did not. These findings demonstrate that personal semantic memory, in particular autobiographical fact knowledge, plays a critical role in supporting the self-concept, regardless of the accessibility of episodic memories, and they highlight potential differences in the way traits and roles are supported by personal memory.

Grilli, M. D., & McFarland, C. P. (2011). Imagine that: self-imagination improves prospective memory in memory-impaired individuals with neurological damage. Neuropsychological rehabilitation, 21(6), 847-59.

Recent research has demonstrated that "self-imagination" - a mnemonic strategy developed by Grilli and Glisky (2010) - enhances episodic memory in memory-impaired individuals with neurological damage more than traditional cognitive strategies, including semantic elaboration and visual imagery. The present study investigated the effect of self-imagination on prospective memory in individuals with neurologically based memory deficits. In two separate sessions, 12 patients with memory impairment took part in a computerised general knowledge test that required them to answer multiple choice questions (i.e., ongoing task) and press the "1" key when a target word appeared in a question (i.e., prospective memory task). Prior to the start of the general knowledge test in each session, participants attempted to encode the prospective memory task with one of two strategies: self-imagination or rote-rehearsal. The findings revealed a "self-imagination effect (SIE)" in prospective memory as self-imagining resulted in better prospective memory performance than rote-rehearsal. These results demonstrate that the mnemonic advantage of self-imagination extends to prospective memory in memory-impaired individuals with neurological damage and suggest that self-imagination has potential in cognitive rehabilitation.

Marquine, M. J., Grilli, M. D., Rapcsak, S. Z., Kaszniak, A. W., Ryan, L., Walther, K., & Glisky, E. L. (2016). Impaired personal trait knowledge, but spared other-person trait knowledge, in an individual with bilateral damage to the medial prefrontal cortex. Neuropsychologia, 89, 245-53.

Functional neuroimaging has revealed that in healthy adults retrieval of personal trait knowledge is associated with increased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Separately, neuropsychology has shown that the self-referential nature of memory can be disrupted in individuals with mPFC lesions. However, it remains unclear whether damage to the mPFC impairs retrieval of personal trait knowledge. Therefore, in this neuropsychological case study we investigated the integrity of personal trait knowledge in J.S., an individual who sustained bilateral damage to the mPFC as a result of an anterior communicating artery aneurysm. We measured both accuracy and consistency of J.S.'s personal trait knowledge as well as his trait knowledge of another, frequently seen person, and compared his performance to a group of healthy adults. Findings revealed that J.S. had severely impaired accuracy and consistency of his personal trait knowledge relative to control participants. In contrast, J.S.'s accuracy and consistency of other-person trait knowledge was intact in comparison to control participants. Moreover, J.S. showed a normal positivity bias in his trait ratings. These results, albeit based on a single case, implicate the mPFC as critical for retrieval of personal trait knowledge. Findings also cast doubt on the likelihood that the mPFC, in particular the ventral mPFC, is necessary for storage and retrieval of trait knowledge of other people. Therefore, this case study adds to a growing body of evidence that mPFC damage can disrupt the link between self and memory.

Grilli, M. D., Woolverton, C. B., Crawford, M., & Glisky, E. L. (2017). Self-reference and emotional memory effects in older adults at increased genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease. Neuropsychology, development, and cognition. Section B, Aging, neuropsychology and cognition, 1-14.

The present study investigated whether cognitively healthy older adults who are carriers of the ε4 allele of apolipoprotein E, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's disease, benefit from self-referential processing and emotional processing to the same degree as noncarriers of this gene. Participants encoded emotional and nonemotional narratives using a baseline-orienting task, semantic elaboration, or imagination-based self-referential processing and then completed a recognition memory test. Both groups of older adults showed enhanced recognition memory for narrative information following self-referential processing relative to semantic elaboration, and the magnitude of this memory effect was not affected by ε4 status. However, older adult ε4 carriers did not show an emotional enhancement effect, whereas older adult ε4 noncarriers did. These results indicate that whereas the self-reference effect is not attenuated in cognitively healthy older adults ε4 carriers, deficits in emotional memory may be an early cognitive marker of abnormal decline.