Syracuse University Magazine


Research Snapshot

Project: Cued Recall: Theory and Data

Investigator: Amy Criss

Department: Psychology

Sponsor: National Science Foundation (CAREER Award)

Amount Awarded: $325,600 (September 1, 2010-August 31, 2015)

Background: Understanding how memory shapes human behavior and decision making has implications for many facets of society, including education, medicine, and the justice system. Despite the importance of memory, the basic processes underlying the healthy function of the human memory system are not yet fully understood. Episodic memory is the ability to remember the components of a particular event, such as having a chicken salad sandwich and tea for lunch yesterday—in contrast to memory of the fact that lunch is a meal eaten in the middle of the day. It can be difficult to remember the specific details of an event, especially when the same components appear in multiple events (e.g., bread consumed at various meals) and events often repeat (e.g., lunch is eaten every day). This project aims to evaluate three critical components of memory: first, the properties that contribute to the ability of a cue to successfully elicit a memory, independent of the content of the memory; second, the nature of the content of the memory that is successfully retrieved and reported, without regard to the cue; finally, the interaction of cue and content in which a cue is especially effective for particular content, but not for other content. For example, sometimes a cue—say, the scent of a distinctive perfume—elicits a very strong memory for a specific life event, such as the senior prom. To study these components of episodic memory, the researcher will create laboratory events for adult participants to remember. Later, memory for those events will be measured. This research will advance understanding of episodic memory by investigating the use of behavioral measures of memory in adults and by building a computer model that behaves in the same way as a human memory system. The educational component of this project seeks to train graduate and undergraduate students to be critical and effective consumers of science, both inside and outside of the laboratory.

Impact: This research has the potential to inform educational testing and the criminal justice system on properties that make effective cues for episodic memories and memory content. It will contribute to understanding the fundamental processes that underlie human episodic memory and have the potential to contribute to successful treatments of memory disorders. Both the research and educational objectives serve to encourage and sustain the engagement of students with scientific practices and principles.