Current Projects

Retrieval from Semantic Memory

Semantic memory is our storehouse of general knowledge and includes our mental lexicon, or dictionary, where information about language and words is stored. Similarity in meaning (two words such as DOG and WOLF, which both refer to furry, four-legged canines) or associative relatedness (such as DOG and LEASH, where these two items are connected through associations and experience) determine the proximity or closeness of words in the lexicon. One question we address in the lab is how two items might become related through experience or because of events in the world.

Relatedness Effects in Memory

The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is a powerful tool for investigating memory errors and the underlying processes involved in what type of information individuals remember. The primary finding from this paradigm is that individuals reliably misremember the occurrence of a critical, non-presented item after studying lists of similar items. For example, after studying a list of words such as bedresttiredawakedream, etc., people often remember that sleep was also on the list, even when it was not. One account is that this occurs because activation spreads along pre-existing semantic and lexical connections, thereby increasing the familiarity or accessibility of the critical item. I am currently examining the limits of a spreading activation mechanism in accounting for memory errors and further clarifying what additional processes are critical for explaining this powerful memory illusion.

Benefits of Retrieval Practice in Memory

The ability to learn and remember large amounts of information is critical for college students as well as people in a variety of professions and settings. Thus, it is important to determine whether specific strategies are more effective than others for promoting long-term retention and comprehension. Recent research suggests that testing is a powerful memory moderator – in other words, taking a test, or actively retrieving information from memory, promotes later retention. In the lab, we are currently examining how individual differences in personality, working memory, and general intelligence moderate the effectiveness of retrieval practice.