Does mental context drift or shift?
Theories of episodic memory have proposed that individual memory traces are linked together by a representation of context that drifts slowly over time. Recent data challenge the notion that contextual drift is always slow and passive. In particular, changes in one's external environment or internal model induce discontinuities in memory that are reflected in sudden changes in neural activity, suggesting that context can shift abruptly. Furthermore, context change effects are sensitive to top-down goals, suggesting that contextual drift may be an active process. These findings call for revising models of the role of context in memory, in order to account for abrupt contextual shifts and the controllable nature of context change.
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences