Research

My research examines how individuals remember personally-experienced events (i.e., autobiographical memory).  Full references for published work (and pdf versions of most) are available from the Publications drop-down menu above.

What is the relationship between event features and how those events are later remembered?

My first paradigm for examining this question in the study of flashbulb memories. Emotional, personally significant events lead to memories that are long-lasting, extremely vivid, and which we believe to be extraordinarily accurate. My colleagues and I have demonstrated that memories for hearing of the September 11th terrorist attacks were no more accurate than memories for other, more ordinary events from the preceding weekend, even though participants are more confident in memories of the 9/11 attacks.

I have also examined memories for everyday emotional events. My colleagues and I showed that memories of anger and fear are more likely to be tunnel memories, in other words, they include a higher proportion of central details than other emotional memories (e.g., memories for sad or happy events). We have also found that emotional intensity is a better predictor of the phenomenology of everyday emotional experience than is emotional valence.

I’ve also looked at memory for spatial location.  The automatic encoding of where one is in space is thought to be an evolutionary precursor to episodic memory and therefore is suspected to be more accurate than other aspects of autobiographical memory. I’ve found that memory for where you were during the taking of an important group photograph is remarkably resistant to forgetting over multi-year delays.

Lastly, my collaborators and I have examined the metamemory judgments that occur when you remember an event from your past, showing that the belief that the event occurred (to you, in the past), the sense of recollection (i.e., re-experiencing the past in the present), and the belief that the details of the event that you are re-experiencing are an accurate reflection of the event itself are all separable components of remembering.

How is what we remember influenced by how a memory is brought to mind?

I have examined a number of questions examining the organization of autobiographical memory by using experimental manipulations of cue properties and empirical comparisons of memory retrieval methods. In comparing word-cued memories to memory-cued memories we found evidence of temporal and conceptual organization within autobiographical memory. Within survey design, we found that breaking a question about a large category of behaviors (e.g., dining out) into smaller categories (e.g., dining at Italian restaurants, at Chinese restaurants, etc.) can lead to less accurate responses if the behaviors occur so frequently that the respondent is likely estimating rather than remembering specific episodes.