Welcome to the CogBlog

January 16th, 2013 No comments

The CogBlog is created and maintained by research assistants working in the Memory and Language Lab and students enrolled in courses in cognitive psychology and memory at Colby College. The CogBlog is a space to think about and discuss recent research findings in cognitive psychology, with an emphasis on how basic research in cognition can help us understand how we navigate through our everyday lives, how we learn and remember, how we speak and listen.

The CogBlog was recently cited as one of the top psychology blogs of 2017.  You can also read an interview with Professor Jen Coane about how the blog was developed and how the content is generated.



Categories: General Tags:

False memories in native and non-native English speakers

December 14th, 2017 No comments

Memory – a simple word consisting of six letters. Memory – a term we frequently use to encompass a broad range of concepts. Memory – the thing that’s left after an event has long passed. But what happens when memory fails us? What happens when we fail to remember the past as accurately as we thought we would?

False memory

In cognitive research, false memories describe memories of events that did not take place or they happened quite differently from how they are remembered. The most common technique to induce false memories in a laboratory setting is a word learning paradigm called Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM), in which people study a list of words (such as bounce, throw, basket, bowling, and golf) that are all related to a common item (in this case, ball). When given a memory test people will often indicate that the non-presented common item (ball) was on the list with high confidence (Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995).

This is what researchers described as false memory: remembering something that did not happen.

Read more…

Pay Attention! Divided Attention Impairs Memory Processes

December 12th, 2017 No comments

Have you ever been certain a friend said something when they’re certain that they didn’t? How about remembering it completely differently from how they actually said it? If you have, chances are you had a false memory! Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. False memories occur when we remember events that didn’t happen or remember them very differently from how they actually happened (Schacter, 1999). Although it may be unsettling to hear, false memories are very common and hard to detect. As far as you’re concerned, these don’t seem like false memories at all! False memories can be very similar in nature to true memories, which makes them all the more difficult to distinguish. Psychologists interested in memory often study false memories to learn more about the underlying processes that drive memory.


Cognitive psychologists have developed a few different methods of inducing false memories. Perhaps the most reliable and widely used is the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM; Roediger & McDermott, 1995) paradigm. In this paradigm, participants are presented with lists of words that are semantically associated, or related by meaning. For example, the words beach and ocean are semantically associated because people typically have strong connections between the ocean and the beach. After studying these words, participants take a memory test in which they have to decide whether they studied certain words or not. The DRM uses these types of associates to create false memories for words that are never presented, but are highly related to the words that are. One typical DRM list includes words such as banner, American, symbol, stars, and anthem, all of which converge upon the word flag. In this case, the word flag is called the critical lure. After studying this list of words, participants frequently remember seeing flag, even though it was never presented, because it is highly related to the words on the presented list.

Read more…

“I’m awesome” “No, you’re not” – the Dunning-Kruger effect

May 14th, 2017 No comments

You’ve just taken an exam. As you push through the doors to the refreshing, cool air of the outside world, you feel a weight lift off your shoulders and a childish giddiness makes its way throughout your body. You feel like you really nailed that exam, which is quite the feat, given you only studied for about 30 minutes the night before. Flash-forward two weeks of vigorously patting yourself on the back, and your exam has been graded. Expecting the absolute best, you accept your graded exam from your professor with a flourish and find yourself just a tad confused to find your grade much lower than you expected.

Read more…

Let me google that for you

May 11th, 2017 1 comment

Everyone loves Google, right? All the information you could possibly ever want access to is right at your fingertips – quite literally – with search engines carried around in our pockets. Is Google making us smarter? It should, right? I mean it does provide us with an almost infinite amount of information. Well, here is where things get interesting. Recent studies have introduced a new concept known as The Google Effect, in which we are actually seeing some cognitive deficits caused by our dependency on Google and other search engines.

It is quite counterintuitive that these tools, which provide us with any information we want in just a matter of seconds, would actually hurt and not help our brain’s functioning ability. I know this is confusing, but let me put this into a real-life context that you might relate to a little more. 

Read more…

The Sixth (not so good) Sense: Always Expecting the Best, Always Getting the Worst

May 11th, 2017 No comments

Have you ever found yourself hoping for a positive outcome but instead, you end up experiencing the worst possible outcome? For example, you have endlessly searched and finally found the perfect shampoo to combat your excessive dandruff when all of a sudden, the company decides to discontinue the product. Or when you finally have the confidence to exchange phone numbers with your all-time crush and you call but not only did they give you a wrong number, it is a rejection hotline number. Even those times when you finally make a doctor’s appointment for that 3 week long pain you have endured and when you arrive, you feel as brand new as you have ever felt before. Reflecting on these instances make us wonder why expecting a certain outcome can result in, not only the opposite outcome, but also the worst one. Furthermore, the real question is why? Why does it feel as if the worst always happens? It almost feels as if we wished upon the bad. Read more…

What do Ostriches and Finance Have in Common?

May 7th, 2017 3 comments

In college it is hard to save money. With the costs of textbooks, late night pizza, and online shopping, I know my bank account is looking a little scary. Often times I find myself avoiding looking at my bank app because I’m afraid to see what my bank statement is, but on payday it is the first thing that I check. Why is that?

This tendency – to avoid checking financial standings when we know that they could be bad – is known as “the ostrich effect,” and is defined as the tendency for people to ignore their problems with the hopes that they will just disappear, similarly to how an ostrich hides their head in the sand when they are hiding from danger, and this tendency is not seen only in broke college students.

Read more…

Throwing good money after bad – Why We Fall Victim to the Sunk Cost Fallacy and How to Beat It

April 21st, 2017 3 comments

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Imagine you have finally graduated from college, gotten a job, and are moving out of your childhood room at home and into a tiny room the size of a closet in the big city. You’re cleaning out and packing up old T-shirts you never wear, sweaters that went out of style years ago, and pants that just never fit you right. Since your apartment is so tiny, you barely have enough room in your closet to fit the clothes you wear on a daily basis, let alone all of these other items. But you love those T-shirts and the sweaters might come back into style and the pants might fit better if you lose some weight. So you pay for a storage unit in the city and waste some of your already very small income. Are you ever really going to wear those T-shirts again? Are those sweaters ever going to come back in style? You know the answer is probably not, and you also wouldn’t miss them if they were gone. But this is hard to remember when you think about all of the money you have already invested in all of these clothes. So instead, you choose to spend even more money on storage to keep items you spent money on in the past but don’t use in the present and probably won’t use in the future. What is this all about?

Read more…

You will remember this post. Why? Because it is weird!

April 20th, 2017 3 comments


Did you notice that you are actually very good at remembering weird things? You may not remember every single person who walks a dog on your way home because it’s just normal. However, if you see a dog walking a dog, you are very unlikely to forget the dogs. Why? Because they are weird! As you may expect, research supports that people do remember “weird” things better than normal things.

Von Restorff (1933) demonstrated that people are more likely to remember a distinctive item in a list of homogeneous items than in a list of heterogeneous items (e.g., an orange in a bunch of bananas vs. an orange in a bunch of different fruit). This is called the Von Restorff effect or the isolation effect.


Read more…

“It’s an acquired taste”: Beer and the Mere-Exposure Effect

April 17th, 2017 8 comments

I remember when I had my first beer…

It was vile.

Whether you’re sneaking one from the fridge in high school, playing pong during your first college weekend, or (rarely the case) enjoying your inaugural brew on the night of your 21st birthday, there is nothing too remarkable about this adult soda striking our taste buds for the first time. In fact, there is a pretty generic response: it simply does not taste good. As we drink more beer we begin to appreciate this canned goodness. This is not the alcohol talking. That first Natty light, a beverage I remember initially resembling a nauseating blend of pinto beans and carbonated water, took every muscle in our bodies to choke down. Now it has become nothing less than a fine pilsner: the most Natural of Light, some would say. Why?

It is pretty common knowledge that most of us do not like our first taste of beer!

Where and when does the transformation occur? How do we go from having a negative opinion about something to having a beer every night at dinner? The classic saying is that beer is an acquired taste, but the real work behind this acquisition is the mere-exposure effect. This psychological phenomenon explains why we learn to like things (in this case, malt beverages) as we encounter them more. According to the findings of psychological studies in the sixties, the more we are exposed to something, the more “likable” it becomes (Zajonc 1968). Read more…

No One Ever Understands Me! Ah, yes – The Illusion of Transparency

April 17th, 2017 5 comments

Your world is collapsing. Okay no it’s not, but you are extremely stressed, sad, and worried. Do you ever wonder why no one seems to care that you’re feeling these things, or wish that someone would only ask if you’re okay? We all feel like this sometimes! But see, everybody else is not the problem. It’s not that people don’t care or don’t want to help (most likely); it’s just simply the fact that they may not even know you’re feeling like this. Think about the last time you gave a presentation in one of your classes or to a group of people. You’re standing up there, fidgeting, sweating, and you feel like your thoughts are jumbled and that your speech reflects that. You look into the crowd and see a girl twirling her hair – I must look like an idiot. You see someone else staring right at you and smiling – I must sound so stupid that he can’t help but stare directly at me. False! The girl is just bored and the boy is trying to show the teacher that he’s paying attention – so stop sweating and remain calm, you’re fine. These feelings are not out of the ordinary, in fact, they’re quite normal, and they can be attributed to the illusion of transparency.

That feeling when no one understands you…

The illusion of transparency is the tendency to believe that one’s internal states are more obvious to others than they actually are. We believe that the outside world can see and understand what we’re feeling and thinking, because we feel like we show our feelings, thoughts and emotions explicitly. However in reality, we overestimate the extent to which other people can tell what’s really going on inside our heads or what we’re trying to say. To test the theory out for yourself, watch this video to see if you can guess the song behind the rhythm! Or, to learn more about this illusion (after you’ve finished reading this post, of course), check out this other awesome post from the CogBlog! Additionally, many studies have been conducted that aim to look at why this happens, and to see if this illusion actually holds true when tested. Read more…