News! Interested in cognitive neuroscience research? ✨ We are recruiting graduate students ✨ through York University's graduate program in Psychology for Fall 2023!

big questions

We study human memory and spontaneous thought.


What makes an experience sticky ?


In other words, why do some experiences give rise to lasting impressions  --  e.g., durable memories or recurrence in our spontaneous thoughts?

Do we have an affinity for some kinds of information (or ways of thinking) over others?

What might such an affinity tell us about the architecture of our memory system (and minds, overall) ?


Our goal is to contribute to understanding how the human mind works, particularly in the domains of memory and spontaneous thought.

We strive to pursue a rigorous and creative science, that addresses cognition at the level of subjective experience and its underlying computation.

We believe that promoting diversity in those who do science (e.g., race, gender, class, sexuality, ability) is a necessary step towards achieving the rigorous and creative science of the mind that we want. 


stories change how we think

Stories seem to have a lasting influence on how we think. How do we measure this influence?  What are its consequences? Our lab examines how stories can shape our spontaneous thoughts even after they end, using techniques from natural language processing, like word embeddings. [talk] [paper]

measuring dynamic situation models

We rely on situation models - abstract representations of how specific events tend to unfold - to help understand the world around us. But how can we measure our evolving situation models? We try to tackle this problem using techniques from natural language processing and neuroimaging. [conference paper]

prior knowledge promotes detail-rich memories

If we know a lot about something, will our memory for a specific instance of seeing that thing be richer in detail? Here, we use naturalistic stimuli (e.g., famous faces, popular logos) to test how prior knowledge affects the quality of our memories. [paper]

hippocampus and memory

The hippocampus, a brain structure tucked deep into our medial temporal lobe, is involved in our ability to remember past events. But, are all parts of the hippocampus equal? Here, we examine the possibility that different aspects of the hippocampus (anterior vs. posterior)  preferentially represent gist-like vs detailed information. [paper]

default mode network

The default mode network, a set of functionally coupled brain regions, plays an important role in a variety of contexts, including: remembering, future imagining, story comprehension, mentalizing, and mind-wandering, among others. Could these regions be ideally situated in the brain to represent our internal models of the external environment [paper] [commentary]

selected papers

*For a complete list, please see Google Scholar.

preprints / forthcoming

Honey, C. J.,  Mahabal, A., Bellana, B. (under review). Psychological momentum.

Bouffard, N., Golestani, A., Brunec, I. K., Bellana, B., Barense, M. D., Moscovitch, M. (under review). Single voxel autocorrelation uncovers gradients of temporal dynamics in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex during rest and navigation. [link]


Bellana, B.,  Mahabal, A., Honey, C. J. (2022). Narrative thinking lingers in spontaneous thought. Nature Communications. 13(1), 4585. [pdf, data]

Bellana, B., Ladyka-Wojcik, N., Lahan, S., Moscovitch, M. & Grady, C.L. (2022). Activity in the left angular tracks both recollection and prior knowledge during recognition. [pdf]

Bellana, B., Mansour, R.,  Ladyka-Wojcik, N., Grady, C.L. & Moscovitch, M. (2021). The influence of prior knowledge on the formation of detailed and durable memories. Journal of Memory and Language. 121,  104264. [pdf, data]

Lee, H., Bellana, B., & Chen, J. (2020). What can narratives tell us about the neural bases of human memory? Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 32, 111-119. [pdf]

Ramanan, S. & Bellana, B. (2019, commentary). A domain general role for the angular gyrus in retrieving internal representations of the external world. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(16), 2978-2980. [pdf]

Brunec, I.K.*, Bellana, B.*, Ozubko, J.D., Man, V., Robin, J., Liu, Z-X., Grady, C.L., Rosenbaum, R.S., Winocur, G., Barense, M.D. & Moscovitch, M. (2018). Multiple scales of representation along the hippocampal anteroposterior axis in humans. Current Biology, 28(13), 2129-2135.e6  [pdf]

*Equal contributions

Bellana, B.*, Liu, Z-X.*, Diamond, N., Grady, C.L. & Moscovitch, M. (2017). Similarities and differences in the default mode network across rest, retrieval and future imagining. Human Brain Mapping, 38(3): 1155-1171. [pdf]

*Equal contributions

Anderson, J.A.E., Sarraf, S., Amer, T., Bellana, B., Man, V., Campbell, K.L., Hasher, L. &
Grady, C.L. (2017). Task-linked diurnal brain network reorganization in older adults: A graph theoretical approach. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(3), 560-572. [link]

Bellana, B., Liu, Z., Anderson, J.A.E., Moscovitch, M. & Grady, C.L. (2016). Laterality effects in functional connectivity of the angular gyrus during rest and episodic retrieval. Neuropsychologia, 80(8): 24-34. [pdf]


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William Fisher

Research Assistant

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Maria Moncaleano Espinosa

Research Assistant / Honours Thesis Student

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Nahal Shahlavi

Independent Research

Project Student


Buddhika Bellana

Principal Investigator


Christina Fernando

Research Assistant 


Christiane Marie Canillo

Research Assistant


Riya Trikha

Research Assistant


demo: free association

Interested in measuring spontaneous thought? Check out our code for a free association task that we use in some of our research. [demo]

demo: self paced reading

In some of our experiments, we have participants read stories. Check out our self paced reading task and read a story at different levels of coherence.

tutorial repo

We're slowly building a repository of tutorials for the various tools we use in the lab (e.g., word embeddings in R; permutation testing; etc).

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cool things (from the internet)

scholars of colour database

Science has more faces than we might realize. Kudos to SPARK Society for putting together this (growing) list of cognitive scientists of colour.


citation diversity statement

A way to use AI tools to estimate the distribution of gender and ethnicities in the authors we cite. Check out this online tool to help you generate your own.


A searchable (!) repository of openly available behavioural datasets.

AI dungeon

Interactive fiction, where you collaborate with transformer models to create a story world of your own.

Word2Vec, in space

Word2Vec embedding space, but like, space. Fun and interactive way to get a handle on word embeddings.

TV tropes

An exhaustingly large, if not exhaustive, list of common tropes in TV and movies.

the living handbook of narratology

Interested in thinking about stories? Read about some of the key concepts in this evolving online handbook.

free speculative fiction

A massive database of freely available speculative (i.e.,sci-fi/fantasy) fiction.

the interactive fiction database

A whole world of (interactive) storytelling.

the noun project

Icons for everything.