Computational modeling and human experimental approaches

We use a combination of approaches to study human memory processes, including experimental research with human participants and computational modeling. The latter involves the development of computer models of human memory processes. Experimental research in our lab and other labs informs the develiopment of these models. We have recently reported the first computational model of false recall, which we have named "fSAM." Unlike other theories, fSAM fully specifies the theoretical processes assumed to be responsible for false recall. The model has successfully simulated a broad array of the core findings on false recall that have been reported in the literature to date. We are currently pursuing the computational modeling of such phenomena as forgetting, false recognition, and the effects of cuing eyewitnesses to recall events they have witnessed. We are also interested in using computational modeling to simulate other phenomena of interest, including metamemory processes and memory enhancement.

False memories

False recall and recognition. False memories are memories of events that never occurred, or that occurred but not as remembered. We are interested in understanding the basic memory processes underlying false memories, including the processes used in recall and recognition testing. We are exploring these processes using both experimental and computational approaches. 

Forgetting and false memories. Most research on forgetting has focused on the loss of access to previously learned information. Although that issue is important, we are also interested in exploring how forgetting affects false memories. Our research has shown that the effect of forgetting on false memories depends critically on what causes the forgetting—for example, whether the forgetting is intentional and goal-directed, or is instead a byproduct of enhancing memory for other events or facts. We are also interested in exploring other conditions that affect memory distortions, as well as the extent to which such distortions affect other cognitive processes, such as inferencing and reasoning. More generally, we are interested in exploring the ways that prior experience and knowledge affect our memory for episodes and events.


Goal-directed forgetting. Forgetting can serve important goals, such as promoting efficient updating of memory by reducing interference from information that is no longer relevant (e.g., one's former telephone number). Our research seeks to test alternative theories regarding how this forgetting occurs, including active suppression of to-be-forgotten information, selective rehearsal of to-be-remembered information, and enhanced contextual segregation of to-be-remembered and to-be-forgotten information. In addition, most findings regarding intentional forgetting are based on laboratory experiments that use lists of words as stimuli. We seek to determine the extent to which such findings generalize to real-world stimuli and contexts, such as texts and eyewitness memory.

Part-set cuing. Part-set cuing is a counter-intuitive memory phenomenon in that it suggests that, when someone is trying to retrieve information from memory, their retrieval efforts are actually hurt rather than helped if someone else provides cues that are part of the information to be retrieved. In addition to exploring the basic cognitive processes responsible for this phenomenon, we are interested in exploring whether this phenomenon generalizes beyond word stimuli to more real-world stimuli such as scenes and events. In particular, we are interested in how such cuing affects the volume and accuracy of information retrieved by eyewitnesses to crimes. 


Metamemory versus memory. Another line of research in our lab involves acquiring a better understanding of the workings of metamemory-—that is, one's ability to assess the workings and contents of one's own memory. A critical part of this research is designed to tease apart behavior that reflects memory processes from behavior that reflects metamemory processes. A key example of this issue involves the finding that, when people are asked to judge which words from a list they are likely to remember, they are more accurate if they can test themselves after a delay and then make the judgment. This finding is widely regarded as evidence that delayed, test-based judgments reflect more accurate metamemory. A competing view is that this phenomenon is attributable instead to the operation of typical memory effects rather than any difference in metamemory accuracy. Our research explicitly tests these competing explanations and thus seeks to further our understanding of the cognitive processes that underlie both memory and metamemory phenomena.

Metamemory in the learning process. We are also interested in exploring the widely held assumption that better metacognitive accuracy leads to better decisions regarding allocation of study effort, which in turn leads to better memory performance. Surprisingly little evidence has been reported supporting this causal chain. A related area of interest involves developing methods to train learners to use metacognitive judgments to enhance learning—training which has been largely neglected in schools and training programs. We are also interested in exploring the intriguing scarcity of evidence for a strong relationship between metacognitive skill and memory performance.

Memory enhancement

Multiple techniques introducing desirable difficulties. Another area of interest in our lab is optimization of memory performance, for both theoretical and practical reasons. One line of our research has explored interactions among the effects of various memory enhancement techniques that are designed to introduce desirable difficulties into the learning process, techniques that make learning difficult but that yield long-term benefits to memory performance—e.g., generation, spacing, levels of processing, and variation. Our evidence indicates that combining techniques does not always result in recall that one would expect by simply adding together the effects of the individual techniques. This line of research can inform us about the mechanisms underlying these various techniques, and it also has important applications to the classroom and to training programs, where the cost effectiveness of adding techniques is an issue.

Effects of feedback. We are also interested in how post-test feedback affects long-term memory. Research to date on such feedback has provided confusing and contradictory guidance about the efficacy of feedback in improving long-term retention. We seek to establish boundary conditions for such efficacy, in particular for information rich in meaning, by focusing on variables that are likely candidates to discriminate between positive, negative, and neutral effects of post-test feedback.

Applications of research to real-world settings

Eyewitness memory. In addition to exploring basic memory processes from a theoretical viewpoint, we are also interested in understanding how such processes are used in various real-world settings. One line of research explores how such phenomena as forgetting, false memories, memory enhancement, and metamemory judgments apply to eyewitness memory. One goal of this line of research is to provide recommendations for optimizing not just the amount of information an eyewitness can provide, but also the accuracy of that information, in particular by reducing the proportion of false memories.

Education. Another area to which our research applies is education. Understanding how cognition works in the classroom and in training programs is an important step in optimizing the learning and retention of material presented in such contexts. Accordingly, we seek to establish the extent to which cognitive phenomena such as forgetting, false memories, metamemory—and perhaps most importantly—memory enhancement techniques generalize from the simple stimuli used in laboratories to more complex information used in real-world educational settings.


The University of Oklahoma
Human Learning and Memory Lab
Department of Psychology, 455 W. Lindsey, Room 705, Norman, OK 73019
Phone 405.325.2599 | Fax 405.325.4737 |

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Last updated: 10:30 Mon Sep 21, 2009

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