Spaced Study and Testing

The long term memory benefit obtained when study events are spaced across time relative to study events that are massed with no intervening time is well established. The benefit of spaced study extends to and is often enhanced when study events are replaced with tests and has been observed across a range of populations (e.g., kids, young adults, healthy older adults, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease).  Results suggest that cognitive factors that differ between young and older adults (e.g., working memory capacity, forgetting rate, and sustained activation from refreshing) may influence the optimal amount of spacing between test events as well as the long term memory benefits of this technique as a function of age group.  Research in the Memory and Cognition Lab seeks to better understand how and why this technique works.

Aging and Attention

Research suggests that the decline in episodic memory with age is due in part to older adults’ inability to successfully associate components of an event during learning and successfully remember those associations at retrieval. Additional evidence suggests that breakdown in attentional control with age also contributes to age-related decline in episodic memory. To better understand the age-related decline in episodic memory, the Memory and Cognition lab utilizes a variety of paradigms and materials to examine the extent to which attention modulates memory performance. For example, past research has examined the trade off in memory for emotional items versus emotional word pairs.

Age Differences in Spacing Strategies

In addition to our work aimed at identifying the mechanisms underlying the benefits of spacing and spaced retrieval, research in the Memory and Cognition Lab has addressed the extent to which young and older adults naturally use spaced testing to improve memory and the extent to which they can apply and benefit from instructions to use equal spaced and expanded testing while completing an ongoing secondary task.  Our research aims to identify the limitations of various strategies that are designed to improve memory and raises questions that should be considered when prescribing these strategies (e.g., What are the cognitive demands of implementing various memory strategies? How should these strategies be taught to older adults who have declines in other cognitive processes?).  Research in the Memory and Cognition Lab currently examines the extent to which training improves implementation of experimenter-instructed strategies and how improvement in implementation facilitates long term memory and reduces secondary task cost. Moreover, our research examines how participants modify their retrieval strategies when the to-be-learned material varies in difficulty.