Author Archive

Bombers and Plagiarism: How Memory Misattributions can get us in Trouble

February 22nd, 2017 No comments

On April 19 of 1995, 168 people lost their lives in one of the most devastating cases of domestic terrorism on US soil. Although many remember Timothy McVeigh as the primary culprit of this attack, in the days shortly after the attack, a nationwide hunt for an accomplice was underway, based on the recollections of an employee at the garage where McVeigh had rented the van used in the attack. A mug shot of the suspect was widely circulated and rumors about accomplices abounded. However, after an extensive investigation, no such suspect was identified and McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who provided material support, were the only two people held responsible for the bombing. To this date, many a conspiracy theory still suggest a second bomber was involved, even if the authorities declared the case to be closed ( Although many cases of mistaken eyewitness testimony occur (Zaragoza & Lane, 1994), with many innocent people sentenced to jail ( it is less common for a witness to remember a suspect who never existed. So, where did John Doe 2 come from? And how was he implicated in – and later cleared of – any wrong-doing?

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Cell phone use, driving, and limited attention

March 11th, 2013 No comments

distracted driving

Attention is a finite resource (Kahneman, 1973) and most cognitive activities – talking, remembering, carrying on a conversation – require some amount of these  limited resources. This means, from a practical perspective, that there is a limit to the number of tasks in which we can concurrently engage. Multi-tasking, or attempting to perform multiple tasks at once, generally results in poorer performance on all tasks. Experimental evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that talking on a cell phone while driving – in a simulator, of course!) results in marked impairment in braking times, detecting road signals, and maintaining a safe distance from other cars (Strayer & Johnston, 2001; Strayer & Drews, 2007). The degree of impairment can be comparable to the impairment in driving observed when one drives under the influence of alcohol (Strayer, Drews, & Crouch, 2006) and measures of brain activity show decreased reactivity to traffic signals while talking on a phone (Strayer, Drews, & Johnston, 2003).

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Tests are good! Especially for learning!

February 6th, 2013 1 comment

For many students and faculty alike, testing is often considered a necessary evil in learning contexts. Tests – for students – are stressful, requiring hours of preparation, and may feel like a hurdle to be cleared. For many, testing is seen primarily as an assessment tool – it determines a grade, can have powerful and long-reaching implications on an individual’s future success and career options. Failing a test can have negative effects on academic performance and also on a student’s sense of worth. All in all, tests are typically seen as a rather negative event (unpublished data in our lab indicated an average rating of 3.04 on a 1-7 scale, where 1 was ‘extremely negative’ and 7 was ‘extremely positive’ for the word test).

multiple choice

For faculty, tests are often not held in much higher consideration. Tests can ‘take time away’ from more productive pursuits such as lectures or discussions. Preparing and grading a test is extremely time-consuming – thus pushing many faculty to opt for multiple choice questions that can be graded quickly and easily. Small wonder, then, that many college courses only include 2 or 3 exams over the course of a semester.

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Categories: Education, Memory Tags: ,

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.



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