Professor Donna Rose Addis: The Future of Memory is Looking Bright

BRNZ_donna rose

Professor Donna Rose-Addis is Associate Director of the Centre for Brain Research (CBR) and a Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ) Principal Investigator at the University of Auckland.

Newly appointed to the title of Professor, she provided candid insights into her professional and personal life during her Inaugural Lecture at Fale Pasifika on Thursday 18 August.

Professor Addis has continually strived for and achieved exceptional results during her academic career. She sailed through her undergraduate studies, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History & Psychology. At this point in her career, she developed an interest in personal histories and autobiographies.

Her first postgraduate research study in 2000 was a Master of Arts in Psychology. This was conducted under the tutelage of Dementia Prevention Research Clinic Director, Associate Professor Lynette Tippett.

This project delved into whether or not the loss of autobiographical memories in Alzheimer’s disease affects one’s sense of self.

The research posed the question: Do our memories make us who we are?

The researchers found that the loss of both our semantic memory and episodic memory affects identity. In particular, the loss of memories from one’s teenage years had the most devastating effect.

A Commonwealth Scholarship allowed Professor Addis to undertake PhD study at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Professors Mary Pat McAndrews and Morris Moscovitch. She learned the (then) new technique of functional MRI. Professor McAndrews became a close friend and she travelled from Canada to see Professor Addis’s inaugural lecture in Auckland on the night. 

In 2001, Professor Addis commenced her PhD in Canada. Her research sought to understand the role that the hippocampus plays in the retrieval of autobiographical memory.

She discovered that damage to this brain structure does affect the memory network. As patients with brain damage showed less activity in the hippocampus and across the memory network.

In 2005, Professor Addis commenced a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University working with Professor Daniel Schacter. While she was there, she honed her leadership skills, mentoring undergraduate students and research assistants.

During her years at Harvard, she discovered that the hippocampus was not just crucial for memory but also imagination. She found that the hippocampus is activated both when remembering past events and imagining the future.

Professor Addis returned to her Alma Mater, the University of Auckland in 2008.

Professor Addis's team from the Memory Lab at the University of Auckland
Professor Addis's team from the Memory Lab at the University of Auckland

She then founded The Memory Lab, her own research enterprise, where she continues to coach, mentor and encourage emerging cognitive neuroscientists.

Using high resolution fMRI and other high-tech imaging platforms, The Memory Lab has researched the engagement of the hippocampus in future imagining.

More recently, Professor Addis has found that in depression and changes in hippocampus function are related to impaired future thinking; importantly this might perpetuate the sense of hopelessness so characteristic of depression.  

Among her many accolades, Professor Addis has been the recipient of an inaugural Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize in 2010.

She also received the University of Auckland Early Career Excellence Award in 2012. Along with the first Southern Hemisphere recipient of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society Young Investigator Award in 2015.

Over the past decade, Professor Addis has written 85 articles and chapters, and has received over $3 million in funding for her research programme.

Professor Addis’s next research project focuses on the mechanisms of enhancing memory and future thinking abilities.

There are many possibilities, including a new method known as Specificity Induction developed by her Harvard colleagues. The findings have yielded positive insights, and so she believes that the future of memory is looking bright.

Always popular and extremely well-liked, Donna Rose’s Inaugural Lecture was attended by multitudes of friends, colleagues, students and her proud family, and culminated with a moving musical tribute from the students of Aorere College.



Professor Addis completed her BA and MA in Psychology at The University of Auckland. She then undertook a PhD as a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Toronto, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University.

Professor Addis returned to the School of Psychology in 2008, where she leads the Memory Lab. Her research is supported by the Marsden Fund and an inaugural Rutherford Discovery Fellowship. In 2010, she won the prestigious Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize.

How do memory abilities change with advancing age and disease? What impacts do such changes have on other aspects of psychological functioning?

Professor Addis’s research combines neuroimaging, behavioural and neuropsychological methods to investigate how the brain remembers past experiences, how we use memory to simulate future events and construct a sense of identity, and how these abilities change in healthy ageing and dementia.

She has a particular interest in the role of the hippocampus in memory, and she has conducted research with other populations with hippocampal dysfunction, including Alzhiemer's disease, temporal lobe epilepsy and depression.

Read more about The Memory Lab