Michael Jacob Kahana
University of Pennsylvania
Michael Jacob Kahana is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Kahana’s work combines behavioral, neural, and computational approaches to the study of human memory.
He obtained his doctoral training at the University of Toronto (1990-1993), where he studied under the mentorship of Bennet B. Murdock and Endel Tulving. Kahana then obtained postdoctoral training at Harvard University (1993-1994) under the mentorship of William K. Estes. He then became an assistant professor at Brandeis University in 1994, and an associate professor in 2000. Kahana joined the University of Pennsylvania as a professor in 2004.
He began his training at the University of Toronto in experimental psychology, with a particular focus on mathematical models of human memory. Inspired by Murdock’s distributed memory modeling and Tulving’s theorizing about episodic memory, Kahana sought to develop a computational framework that could explain Tulving’s conception of mental time travel using a distributed, associative memory model. While an assistant professor at Brandeis, Kahana and his then graduate student, Marc Howard, developed a retrieved-context theory of episodic memory, which he and his students have continued to develop and extend over the years. Kahana also became inspired by both his students and colleagues to investigate the neural mechanisms of human memory, an activity that has characterized much of his work over the last 20 years.
Work conducted in his lab by former trainees, Jeremy Caplan, Arne Ekstrom, and Josh Jacobs, identified and characterized theta oscillations, place cells, and grid cells in the human brain. In subsequent work, Kahana and his trainees have focused on using high frequency neural activity to characterize the spatio-temporal dynamics of memory encoding and retrieval.
Most recently, Kahana’s lab began to use direct brain stimulation as a manipulative tool for elucidating the physiological mechanisms underlying episodic memory and for investigating the potential use of closed loop brain stimulation to improve memory in patients with neurological disorders. Kahana was the 2010 recipient of the Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences and the 2018 recipient of the Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists. In 2012, he published Foundations of Human Memory, a monograph that focuses on the interplay between theory and data in the laboratory study of human memory.