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

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.


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.

Grilli, M. D., & Verfaellie, M. (2016). Experience-near but not experience-far autobiographical facts depend on the medial temporal lobe for retrieval: Evidence from amnesia. Neuropsychologia, 81, 180-5.

This paper addresses the idea that there may be two types of autobiographical facts with distinct cognitive and neural mechanisms: "Experience-near" autobiographical facts, which contain spatiotemporal content derived from personal experience and thus depend on the medial temporal lobe (MTL) for retrieval, and "experience-far" autobiographical facts, which are abstract memories and thus rely on neocortical brain regions involved in retrieval of general semantic memory. To investigate this conceptual model of autobiographical fact knowledge, we analyzed the nature of autobiographical facts that were generated by 8 individuals with MTL amnesia and 12 control participants in a recent study of identity and memory [Grilli, M.D., & Verfaellie, M. (2015). Supporting the self-concept with memory: insight from amnesia. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 1684-1692]. Results revealed that MTL amnesic participants generated fewer experience-near autobiographical facts than controls. Experience-far autobiographical fact generation was not impaired in amnesic participants with damage restricted to the MTL, but there was preliminary evidence to suggest that it may be impaired in amnesic participants with damage to the MTL and anterior lateral temporal lobe. These results support a cognitive and neural distinction between experience-near and experience-far autobiographical facts and have implications for understanding the contribution of autobiographical fact knowledge to self-related cognition.

Grilli, M. D., & Glisky, E. L. (2010). Self-imagining enhances recognition memory in memory-impaired individuals with neurological damage. Neuropsychology, 24(6), 698-710.

The ability to imagine an elaborative event from a personal perspective relies on several cognitive processes that may potentially enhance subsequent memory for the event, including visual imagery, semantic elaboration, emotional processing, and self-referential processing. In an effort to find a novel strategy for enhancing memory in memory-impaired individuals with neurological damage, we investigated the mnemonic benefit of a method we refer to as self-imagining-the imagining of an event from a realistic, personal perspective.

Grilli, M. D., & Verfaellie, M. (2014). Personal semantic memory: insights from neuropsychological research on amnesia. Neuropsychologia, 61, 56-64.

This paper provides insight into the cognitive and neural mechanisms of personal semantic memory, knowledge that is specific and unique to individuals, by reviewing neuropsychological research on stable amnesia secondary to medial temporal lobe damage. The results reveal that personal semantic memory does not depend on a unitary set of cognitive and neural mechanisms. Findings show that autobiographical fact knowledge reflects an experience-near type of personal semantic memory that relies on the medial temporal lobe for retrieval, albeit less so than personal episodic memory. Additional evidence demonstrates that new autobiographical fact learning likely relies on the medial temporal lobe, but the extent to which remains unclear. Other findings show that retrieval of personal traits/roles and new learning of personal traits/roles and thoughts/beliefs are independent of the medial temporal lobe and thus may represent highly conceptual types of personal semantic memory that are stored in the neocortex.

Grilli, M. D., & Glisky, E. L. (2013). Imagining a better memory: Self-imagination in memory-impaired patients. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(1), 93-99.