Myriam C. Sander

Lifespan Changes in Memory Representations

How do we remember and why do we remember less when we age?

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Dr. Myriam C. Sander

Since 2016, Myriam is the head of the Minerva Research Group on lifespan age differences in memory representations. Myriam is also a primary investigator of the Cognitive and Neural Dynamics of Memory Across the Lifespan (ConMem) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany. She studied Psychology at the Saarland University and the Humboldt University Berlin. She worked on her doctoral dissertation at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany, under the supervision of Prof. Ulman Lindenberger and Dr. Markus Werkle-Bergner. Her dissertation was entitled: "Lifespan age differences in working memory: Insights from behavioral and electrophysiological markers of capacity and selectivity" (the dissertation is mainly included in the 2011-2012 publications). In 2012, Myriam won the Margret-and-Paul-Baltes-Award for outstanding dissertations in the field of developmental psychology.

Since 2016, Myriam is a faculty member of the International Max Planck Research School in the Life Course (LIFE graduate school) and since 2018, Myriam is also a faculty member of the Berlin School of Mind and Brain (International Graduate Research School at Humboldt University).

Research Group Members

Anna Karlsson

Anna started working on her PhD project in 2017. She wants to know how young and older adults represent and use context information for guiding memory performance. To understand age differences in the neural mechanisms of item-context integration, Anna combines in her study design the advantages of fMRI and EEG approaches.

Anna is a member of the International Max Planck Research School in the Life Course (LIFE graduate school)

Claire Pauley

Claire joined the group in April 2020 as a predoc. She received a BSc degree in Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and a MSc in Neurocognitive Psychology at Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. Claire investigates the contributions of individual differences in neural representations to adult age differences in memory performance, with a focus on memory retrieval and reinstatement.

Claire is a member of the International Max Planck Research School in the Life Course (LIFE graduate school)


Verena R. Sommer (Predoc and Postdoc, 2016 - 2021)

Malte Kobelt (Visiting Researcher in 2019)

Fitore Morina (Master Student in 2019)

Dr. Claudia C. Wehrspaun (Postdoc 2017–2019)

Nele Westermann (Bachelor Student in 2019)

Our Research

One of the central experiences of aging is the increasing fallibility of memory with advancing age — even in healthy older adults. Our project focuses on the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie memory formation, consolidation, and retrieval, and in particular, changes of these mechanisms across the lifespan. Our core question is concerned with how age-related decline in memory performance can be explained by differences in the way memory content is neurally represented. From a neuroscientific perspective, our memories are encoded in specific patterns of distributed neural activity. That is, these patterns can be regarded as memory fingerprints. During encoding of memories, specific representational patterns are formed that can be reactivated during later recall. We are striving to gain new insights into the way memory content is represented in children, younger, and older adults, by not only investigating behavioral responses but by linking them to neural processes in the brain as well. We address this question in several transdisciplinary empirical studies that bring together questions, methods, and models from lifespan psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and computational neuroscience.

Research Area 1: Age differences in similarity and distinctiveness of memory representations

Are memories represented differently in older compared to younger adults? A long-standing hypothesis in the cognitive neuroscience of aging holds that a decrease in the distinctiveness of information representations underlies age-related declines in cognitive performance (Li et al., 2001). This “dedifferentiation” hypothesis has been supported by various neuroimaging studies that have shown reduced distinctiveness of neural responses in older compared to younger adults, e.g. in face- and house-sensitive areas of the brain. However, different definitions and measures of distinctiveness impede comparability between studies, and – more importantly – most studies so far have not provided evidence for the hypothesized link between reduced neural distinctiveness and behavior. In our research, we set out to clearly establish this link to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms underlying age-related memory decline.

  • Main studies:
  • 1) MERLIN: Memory encoding and retrieval across the lifespan
  • 2) FACES AND HOUSES: Age differences in categorical vs. item-level distinctiveness
  • 3) BEBO: Berlin-Bochum cooperation on lifespan age differences in the quality of memory representations

Research Area 2: Effects of context on memory representations

Successful memory is highly dependent on contextual information (e.g., the spatial and temporal details of an event), and older adults depend even more on contextual support for accurate memory functioning than young adults (Craik, 1983; Lindenberger & Mayr, 2014). At the same time, they have difficulties in retrieving specific item–context associations. Our studies within this research area aim to obtain a better understanding of age differences in the contextualization of memories and the precise conditions for beneficial context reinstatement. In a large multi-modal study that combined EEG, functional and structural MRI, and eye tracking, we investigate how context shapes younger and older adults’ memories for objects.

  • Main studies:
  • 1) CONOMY: Context effects on memory
  • 2) REPLAY: Age differences in neural signatures of reinstatement


Dr. Markus Werkle-Bergner

Markus is the Co-PI of the ConMem project. We share our interest in the underlying neural mechanisms of memory formation, consolidation and retrieval as well as students, lab space and most of our studies...

Dr. Yana Fandakova

Yana is the Principal Investigator of the Mechanisms and Sequential Progression of Plasticity project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, a former member of the ConMem Research Group and together with our collaborator Prof. Yee Lee Shing (Goethe Universität Frankfurt) one of the principal researchers in the MERLIN studies on the joint contributions of the quality of representations and monitoring processes to episodic memory performance.

Dr. Iris Wiegand

Iris and Myriam share their interest in age-related changes of neural correlates of working memory processes, for example, whether material-specific information influences the hemispheric lateralization of neural correlates or whether older adults process alerting cues differently.

Malte Kobelt

Malte joined our group for one year as visiting researcher. We still continue to profit from Malte's expertise in RSA to explore age differences in neural patterns and are planning further collaborations for the future.

Prof. Sarah Weigelt

With Sarah, we are currently investigating the stability and distinctiveness of neural patterns of memory representations in children and young adults across repeated encoding and different levels of object similarity.



We have to inform you that we found a serious error in our analysis pipeline that raises doubts about the results presented in two recently published papers (Kobelt et al., 2021 and Pauley et al., 2022). Unfortunately, the results presented in these manuscripts do not hold after fixing the error. We need some more time to fully understand the consequences of this error. Nevertheless, we think that it is necessary to retract these papers. We will provide a full report on the error and its consequences as soon as we have reanalyzed the data. For full transparency, we plan to write up a comprehensive comparison of the original and new results that we might upload to biorxiv, for easy accessibility. We are deeply sorry for this mistake and hope for your understanding.

Media Coverage

A documentary by "DIE DEBATTE"

We show how neuroscientific research is done in our lab and talk about our recent findings regarding age differences in memory.DIE DEBATTE

How does the brain learn?

Our Merlin study became part of a short report screened on ARD alpha. Campusmagazin: Wie tickt das Gehirn?


Peer-Reviewed Journal Publications

  • Karlsson, A. E., Lindenberger, U., & Sander, M. C. (2022). Out of rhythm: Compromised precision of theta-gamma coupling impairs associative memory in old age. The Journal of Neuroscience, 42(9), 1752–1764.doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1678-21.2021.

  • Pauley, C., Sommer, V. R., Kobelt, M., Keresztes, A., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Sander, M. C. (2022). Age-related declines in neural selectivity manifest differentially during encoding and recognition. Neurobiology of Aging, 112, 139–150.[This paper will be retracted as soon as possible. Retraction details will follow.]doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2021.12.001

  • Sommer, V. R., Mount, L., Weigelt, S., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Sander, M. C. (2022). Spectral pattern similarity analysis: Tutorial and application in developmental cognitive neuroscience. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 54 Article 101071.doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2022.101071.

  • Sommer, V. R., & Sander, M. C. (2022). Contributions of representational distinctiveness and stability to memory performance and age differences. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 29(3), 443–462.doi:10.1080/13825585.2021.2019184.

  • Kobelt, M., Sommer, V. R., Keresztes, A., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Sander, M. C. (2021). Tracking age differences in neural distinctiveness across representational levels. The Journal of Neuroscience. [This paper will be retracted as soon as possible. Retraction details will follow.] doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2038-20.2021. Preprint.

  • Köhncke, Y., Düzel, S., Sander, M. C., Lindenberger, U., Kühn, S., & Brandmaier, A. M. (2021). Hippocampal and parahippocampal gray matter structural integrity assessed by multimodal imaging is associated with episodic memory in old age. Cerebral Cortex, 31(3), 1464–1477. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhaa287. Preprint.

  • Sander, M. C., Fandakova, Y., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2021). Effects of age differences in memory formation on neural mechanisms of consolidation and retrieval. Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.semcdb.2021.02.005. Preprint.

  • Sommer, V. R., Mount, L., Weigelt, S., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Sander, M. C. (2021). Memory specificity is linked to repetition effects in event-related potentials across the lifespan. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 48, Article 100926. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100926..

  • Fandakova, Y., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Sander, M. C. (2020). (Only) time can tell: Age differences in false memory are magnified at longer delays. Psychology and Aging, 35(4), 473-483. doi:10.1037/pag000046. Preprint.

  • Karlsson, A. E., Wehrspaun, C. C., & Sander, M. C. (2020). Item recognition and lure discrimination in younger and older adults are supported by alpha/beta desynchronization. Neuropsychologia, 148, Article 107658. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107658. Preprint.

  • Dahl, M. J., Mather, M. M., Sander, M. C., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2020). Noradrenergic responsiveness preserves selective attention across the adult life span. Journal of Neuroscience, 40(22), 4372–4390. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0398-19.2020. Preprint.

  • Sander, M. C., Fandakova, Y., Grandy, T. H., Shing, Y. L., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2020). Oscillatory mechanisms of successful memory formation in younger and older adults are related to structural integrity. Cerebral Cortex, 30(6), 3744–3758.doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz339. Preprint.

  • Muehlroth, B., Sander, M. C., Fandakova, Y., Grandy, T. H., Rasch, B., Shing, Y. L., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2020). Memory quality modulates the effect of aging on memory consolidation during sleep: Reduced maintenance but intact gain. NeuroImage. 209, Article 116490. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116490. Preprint.

  • Sommer, V. R., Fandakova, Y., Grandy, T. H., Shing, Y. L., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Sander, M. C. (2019). Neural pattern similarity differentially relates to memory performance in younger and older adults. Journal of Neuroscience. 39, 8089–8099. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0197-19.2019. Preprint.

  • Wiegand, I., & Sander, M. C. (2019). Cue-related phase reset accounts for age differences in phasic alerting. Neurobiology of Aging, 79, 93–100. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2019.03.017. Preprint.

  • Muehlroth, B. E., Sander, M. C., Fandakova, Y., Grandy, T. H., Rasch, B., Shing, Y. L., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2019). Precise slow oscillation-spindle coupling promotes memory consolidation in younger and older adults. Scientific Reports, 9:1940 doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36557-z.

  • Fandakova, Y., Sander, M. C., Grandy, T. H., Cabeza, R., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Shing, Y. L. (2018). Age differences in false memory: The importance of retrieval monitoring processes and their modulation by memory quality. Psychology and Aging, 33, 119-133. doi:10.1037/pag0000212.

  • Karch, J. D., Sander, M. C., von Oertzen, T., Brandmaier, A. M., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2015). Using within-subject pattern classification to understand lifespan age differences in oscillatory mechanisms of working memory selection and maintenance. NeuroImage, 118, 538-552. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.04.038.

  • Fandakova, Y., Sander, M. C., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Shing, Y. L. (2014). Age differences in short-term memory binding are related to working memory performance across the lifespan. Psychology and Aging, 29, 140-149. doi:10.1037/a0035347.

  • Sander, M. C., Lindenberger, U., & Werkle-Bergner, M. (2012). Lifespan age differences in working memory: A two-component framework. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36, 2007-2033. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.06.004.

  • Sander, M. C., Werkle-Bergner, M., Gerjets, P., Shing, Y. L., & Lindenberger, U. (2012). The two-component model of memory development and its potential implications for educational settings. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2(Suppl.1), S67-S77. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2011.11.005.

  • Sander, M. C., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Lindenberger, U. (2012). Amplitude modulations and inter-trial phase stability of alpha-oscillations differentially reflect working memory constraints across the lifespan. NeuroImage, 59, 646-654. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.092.

  • Werkle-Bergner, M., Freunberger, R., Sander, M. C., Lindenberger, U., & Klimesch, W. (2012). Inter-individual performance differences in younger and older adults differentially relate to amplitude modulations and phase stability of oscillations controlling working memory contents. NeuroImage, 60, 71-82. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.11.071.

  • Sander, M. C., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Lindenberger, U. (2011). Binding and strategic selection in working memory: A lifespan dissociation. Psychology and Aging, 26, 612-624. doi:10.1037/a0023055.

  • Sander, M. C., Werkle-Bergner, M., & Lindenberger, U. (2011). Contralateral delay activity reveals lifespan age differences in top-down modulation of working memory contents. Cerebral Cortex, 21, 2809-2819. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr076.