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 enrich a memory representation to its full potential (including consolidation, elaboration, and structural optimization) due to the perceived difficulty of enrichment under the current multitasking demands. The standard forgetting theories of multitasking effects on working memory fit data well within specific experimental paradigms but have failed to generalize to a variety of contexts. In standard approaches, working memory impairment while multitasking reflects incremental memory trace disruption from concurrent processing. In Memory Enrichment Theory, high multitasking demand results in a lower probability of memory enrichment, it 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. The 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 mathematical 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.
Using eye tracking & pupillometry to understand attention allocation during working memory tasks
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.