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[Colloquium] Modeling Brain Activity Associated with Optimal and Suboptimal Memory Strategies

April 9, 2013

Watch Colloquium: 

M4V file (676 MB)

  • Date: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 
  • Time: 11:00 am — 12:30 pm
  • Place: Mechanical Engineering 218

Laura Matzen
Researcher in the Cognitive Systems department at Sandia National Laboratories 

Memory underlies and supports all forms of high-level cognition and accurate memory is essential to good decision making. However, human memory is extremely fallible. Although there are many strategies and techniques that can improve memory, cognitive biases generally lead people to choose suboptimal memory strategies. One memory strategy that is very effective, yet underutilized, is retrieval practice. If learners have practice with retrieving information from memory, they are likely to perform better when that information is tested. In the present experiment, participants memorized word lists under a variety of study and test conditions while their brain activity was recorded using electroencephalography (EEG). In one study condition, they studied words passively. In another, the studied words were quizzed before the memory test, providing participants with retrieval practice. In a third condition, studied words were repeated, giving participants an opportunity to use a retrieval practice strategy if they chose to do so. Participants who adopted a retrieval practice strategy for the repeated items should have better memory for the words in that condition than participants who studied the words passively. We developed a computational model that characterized the brain activity associated with passive study and with explicit retrieval practice. We used that model to predict which participants adopted a retrieval practice strategy for the repeated study items. Finally, we evaluated the behavioral performance of the participants who were classified as using a retrieval practice strategy compared to those who were not. This analysis revealed that, as predicted, the participants whose brain activity was consistent with a retrieval practice strategy had better memory performance at test.

 

Bio: Dr. Laura Matzen is a researcher in the Cognitive Systems department at Sandia National Laboratories. She runs Sandia.s Human Performance Laboratory, which uses electroencephalography (EEG), eye tracking, and behavioral measures to study a variety of cognitive processes. She holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Illinois.