Current Research Questions & Techniques in our Lab
When and why does memory suffer during multitasking?
We are currently exploring a new approach to understanding working memory impairment during multitasking that we call Memory Enrichment Theory. In our theory, impairment in working memory performance across multitasking conditions reflects a failure to consolidate a memory representation to its standard single-task level due to the perceived difficulty of current multitasking demands. In typical approaches, working memory impairment while multitasking reflects incremental memory trace disruption from concurrent processing. In Memory Enrichment Theory, high multitasking demand does not result in forgetting, except in extreme cases where the concurrent processing demands are so great that individuals give up and disengage entirely from all effortful cognitive processing. Our idea is that multitasking is not causing forgetting, except at extreme task demands, but rather is preventing improved learning.
How does the representation in memory change (or not) across tasks and memory materials?
Is the structure of what you remember the same when remembering items composed of varying features in varying contexts? We use computational models to track the structure and quality of visual memories. By varying what we ask participants to remember, the nature of the memory task, and concurrent task demands we can observe changes in the underlying memory representation structure. Our innovation is focusing on stimulus specific variance in our models to differentiate fine-detailed memory and categorical-gist memory. This work has important impacts on the quality and accuracy of memory performance in applied contexts as well as informing theories of working memory and cognitive processes during mental work.
How are durable working memories created?
Our initial sensory representations are fleeting and forgotten in a matter of seconds, at most. Our work has demonstrated that even the memories we intend to maintain are lost in a similar fashion unless some time is given for attention to dwell on the internal sensory representation. This attentional dwell leads to a more robust trace that is resistant to future memory decay. We call this process short-term consolidation. At present we are investigating the nature of short-term consolidation's contribution to the creation of a memory trace within working memory, the relationship between short-term consolidation and a phenomenon known as the attentional blink, and several other questions related to these processes.
Exploring Everyday Cognition
Recent work in our lab suggests that many of the assumptions made about how memory works in laboratory studies may not apply to everyday life activities. This has driven our development of Memory Enrichment Theory and a new focus on tasks at the intersection of typical laboratory task and daily living tasks. While most researchers use an ideal observer model of understanding cognitive processing, we think that individuals are rarely ideal in their cognitive functions during activities of daily living. This has motivated our new focus on "bad" participants and performance. We seek to better understand the typical failures in cognitive function as a way to better understand how we can improve cognitive performance in daily life without asking individuals to just "get good".
New(ish) toys in the lab: Using eye tracking & pupillometry to understand attention allocation during working memory tasks
We are new to these methods but have had initial success and are using them more throughout our research. Gaze location can tell us what people are thinking about in real time. The location of an individual's gaze is strongly related to what they are thinking about under normal conditions. Pupil size can be used to understand task difficult during task execution. We use these measures to understand the temporal dynamics of attentional allocation during memory creation and multitasking to answer questions that are difficult to address with standard behavioral methods.