Memory is notoriously fallible.
The reconstructive nature of memory is at the heart of this fallibility. Yet the fallible nature of memory is predictable, and may be minimized, or at least, recognized by the individual. Becoming aware of one’s own memory failings and minimizing those failings are the primary goals of research conducted in the Cognitive Memory and Aging Laboratory at Tufts University.
We frequently learn more about memory from its failures rather than its successes. As such, our research has delved into the various contexts that result in episodic memory failures. We take the theoretical perspective that memory decisions are inferential in nature. An episodic event is not represented as a single unit, but rather a distribution of elements that can be differentially accessed at retrieval. Accessibility to those elements influences both memory and metamemorial decisions.
Understanding the Nature of Memory Fallibility
In the context of episodic long term memory our lab works to specify the boundaries by which memory reconstruction results in distortion. Our work takes the theoretical perspective that memory decisions are inferential in nature. An episodic event is not represented as a single unit, but rather a distribution of elements or attributes. Attributes, like pieces of a puzzle, must be recombined to reconstruct the memory. Our research has demonstrated that incorrect recombination of attributes can result in incorrectly thinking one performed an action only imagined, incorrectly thinking that an event only thought about actually took place, and incorrectly remembering details in a witnessed event. We have learned that these memory errors can be increased by reducing the amount of time people have to respond, by forcing people to respond, by varying the time between experience and memory test, and by varying the similarity between the original experience and subsequent experiences.
Understanding How Age and Stress Affect Memory Fallibility
Stress and age independently and in combination influence memory fallibility. Research in our lab has demonstrated that as we age we are more likely to rely on automatic, or less cognitively effortful processes, often times resulting in memory errors and distortion. For example, we have shown that people over the age of 60 are more likely to use the less effortful heuristics when retrieving verbal and spatial information, are less likely to use diagnostic attributes when making metacognitive predictions, and do not control memory encoding or output in efficacious ways. Psychosocial stress compounds these issues, with, for example, older adults adopting different memory retrieval strategies in the context of stereotype threat.
Minimizing Errors and Promoting Memory Accuracy
Understanding the factors that influence fallibility and developing techniques to reduce fallibility are core aspects to the research conducting in the Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab. We take three approaches towards error reduction. We investigate how metacognitive processes of monitoring and control can be used to become better aware of possible memory failings and implement strategies to reduce the occurrence of those failings. We also investigate how metacognitive monitoring and control processes at retrieval can be used to regulate the output of errors. We investigate how external factors such as stress and anxiety positively influence the regulation of output, and ways in which memories can be encoded to overcome deleterious effects of stress. Finally, we continue to develop intervention techniques that treat memory as a skill to be improved upon by training metacognitive skills and encouraging analytic and controlled processing.
The consequences of memory fallibility can be significant. Inaccurate recollection of medication-taking have resulted in overdoses. Inaccurate recollections of witnessed events have resulted in wrongful convictions. Inaccurate recollections of childhood experiences have destroyed families.
Specific Areas of Interest: Metamemory Across the Lifespan, Eyewitness Memory, Retrieval Enhanced Suggestibility, Memory Accuracy
Present Lab Members
Professor of Psychology at Tufts University, Dr. Thomas investigates the subjective experience that accompanies memories. Her research encompasses metacognition, memory distortion, eyewitness memory, and age related changes in memory. Dr. Thomas received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Washington, and then spent three years as an NIA postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. She spent a final year at Washington University as a research scientist, studying changes in long-term memory as a function of aging. After teaching at Colby College for two years, Dr. Thomas came to the Department of Psychology at Tufts University, where she established the Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab in 2007. Graduate and Undergraduate students interested in working in the Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab should contact Ayanna for more information. Dr. Thomas’ research has been funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging and National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke, and has been featured in such popular media outlets as Psychology Today, The Initiative for Neuroscience and the Law, and the L.A. Times.
Lauren graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Psychology and Holistic Health. During her time there, she worked in a Language Attention and Cognitive Engineering lab, where she conducted an honors thesis on autism traits, executive functions, and exercise. She also conducted research in a lab for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, where she studied the relationship between physiology and cognitive functioning, broadly. Currently, she is interested in the intersection between spatial cognition, metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies, and performance optimization. In the future, she looks forward to conducting research which advances the field and concurrently provides positive impacts for society.
McKinzey earned her B.S. in Cognitive Brain Science from Tufts University. As an undergraduate student, her primary research interest was investigating mock eyewitnesses’ metacognitive abilities during memory encoding and retrieval. As an incoming PhD student, she wants to continue her previous research and expand upon it to investigate mechanisms that could protect memory from misinformation either at encoding or during retrieval.
Alia received her B.S. in Psychology in 2015 from Western Washington University. She worked in an applied cognition lab at Western for three years before enrolling at Tufts, researching topics such as intrusive and involuntary thoughts, how we can misremember the source of our memories, and the impact inattentional blindness has on eyewitness memory. Alia’s main interest lies in the field of eyewitness memory and accuracy. More specifically, her current research focuses on how misinformation can impact eyewitness accuracy.
Aryan is a 4th year undergraduate student at Tufts University pursuing a B.S. in Cognitive and Brain Sciences and a B.S. in Computer Science. His main interests lie in the intersection of psychology and computer science and he is deeply fascinated with the parallels that exist between both fields. He has been helping the lab manage IRB protocols for studies as well as deploy memory experiments online to allow for more means of data collection.
Former Lab Members
Jessica Karanian, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Fairfield University
Renée DeCaro, Ph.D.
Gregory Hughes, Ph.D.
Leamarie Gordon, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Assumption College
Amy Smith, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Studies
Clinton Perry, Ph.D., User Experience Researcher, Citizen Bank
Bailey Bonura, M.S., M.D.
Stacey Dubois, M.S.
2016 – Mellissa (Rowan) Rice (Honor’s Thesis), Vivek Bilolikar (Honor’s Thesis), Taylor Hodhod (Honor’s Thesis) Danielle Sorcher, Reema Al-Marzoog, Alandra Champion
2015 – Alexander Siegel (Honors Thesis), Shoshana Oppenheim (Honors Thesis), Adrienne Lange, Christina Harvey (Honors Thesis)
2014 – Nishi Mehta (Honors Thesis), Paul Cernasov (Independent Project), Spencer Frank, (Independent Project)
2013 – Sarah Halloran, Alex Schmider, William Carroll (Honors Thesis), Charles Parsow (Independent Project), Darius Izadpanah, Michael Richard (Honors Thesis), Caroline Chen (Independent Project), Mark Westerfield
2011 – Nicholas Gang, Joe Nah, Shannon Robinson, Samia Zahran
2010 – Issa Baraka, Nicole LeBlanc, Peter Millar (Honors Thesis), Gina Sultan, Cara Wood
2009 – Tiffany Morton, Dominica Nino
Smith, A. M., Race, E., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2019)
Smith, A. M., Race, E., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2019). Using Practice Testing, Public Speaking, and Source Monitoring to Examine the Influences of Learning Strategies and Stress on Episodic Memory. Journal of visualized experiments, 148. https://doi.org/10.3791/60026
DeCaro, R. & Thomas, A.K. (2019).
DeCaro, R., & Thomas, A. K. (2019). How attributes and cues made accessible through monitoring affect self-regulated learning in older and younger adults. Journal of Memory and Language, 107, 69–79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2019.04.002
Hughes, G.I., Taylor, H.A. & Thomas, A.K. (2018).
Hughes, G.I., Taylor, H.A. & Thomas, A.K. (2018). Study techniques differentially influence the delayed judgment-of-learning accuracy of adolescent children and college-aged adults. Metacognition Learning, 13, 109–126https://doi.org/10.1007/s11409-018-9180-y
Bulevich, J. B., Thomas, A. K., & Parsow, C. (2015).
Bulevich, J. B., Thomas, A. K., & Parsow, C. (2015). Filling in the gaps: Using testing and restudy to promote associative learning. Memory, 24 (9), 1267–1277. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2015.1098706
Taylor, H.A., Thomas, A. K., Artuso, C., & Eastman, C. (2014)
Taylor, H.A., Thomas, A. K., Artuso, C., & Eastman, C. (2014). Effects of Global and Local Processing on Visuospatial Working Memory. In: Freksa C., Nebel B., Hegarty M., Barkowsky T. (eds) Spatial Cognition IX. Spatial Cognition 2014. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 8684. Springer, Cham https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-11215-2_2
Gordon, L. T., Soldan, A., Thomas, A. K., & Stern, Y. (2013)
Gordon, L. T., Soldan, A., Thomas, A. K., & Stern, Y. (2013). Effect of repetition lag on priming of unfamiliar visual objects in young and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 28 (1), 219-231 https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030929
Thomas, A. K., Balota, D. A., & Lee, M. (2013)
Thomas, A. K., Balota, D. A., & Lee, M. (2013). Metacognitive monitoring and dementia: How intrinsic and extrinsic cues influence judgments of learning in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychology, 27 (4), 452-463 https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033050
Bulevich, J. B., & Thomas, A. K. (2012)
Bulevich, J. B., & Thomas, A. K. (2012). Retrieval effort improves memory and metamemory in the face of misinformation. Journal of Memory and Language, 67 (1), 45-58 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2011.12.012
Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J. B., & Dubois, S. J. (2012)
Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J. B., & Dubois, S. J. (2012). An analysis of the determinants of the feeling-of-knowing. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 1681-1694 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2012.09.005
Thomas, A. K., Bonura, B. M., Taylor, H. A., & Brunyé, T. T. (2012)
Thomas, A. K., Bonura, B. M., Taylor, H. A., & Brunyé, T. T. (2012). Metacognitive monitoring in visuospatial working memory. Psychology and Aging, 27 (4), 1099–1110. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028556
Thomas, A. K., Bonura, B. M., & Taylor, H. A. (2012)
Thomas, A. K., Bonura, B. M., & Taylor, H. A. (2012). The influence of semantic relationships on older adult map memory. Psychology and Aging, 27 (3), 657–665. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028504
Thomas, A. K., & Millar, P. R. (2011)
Thomas, A. K., & Millar, P. R. (2011). Reducing the Framing Effect in Older and Younger Adults by Encouraging Analytic Processing. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 67, 139-49. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbr076
Thomas, A. K., Bulevich, J. B., & Dubois, S. J. (2011)
Thomas, A. K., Bulevich, J. B., & Dubois, S. J. (2011). Context affects feeling-of-knowing accuracy in younger and older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37 (1), 96–108. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021612
Thomas, A.K., McDaniel, M.A. (2007)
Thomas, A.K., McDaniel, M.A. (2007). The negative cascade of incongruent generative study-test processing in memory and metacomprehension. Memory & Cognition 35, 668–678. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193305
Thomas, A.K., McDaniel, M.A. (2007)
Thomas, A.K., Mcdaniel, M.A. (2007). Metacomprehension for educationally relevant materials: Dramatic effects of encoding-retrieval interactions. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 212–218. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03194054
Our research lab takes the perspective that memory is a skill that can be improved. Towards this end, we have investigated factors that limit memory performance, and examined whether such limitations result in transient or persistent limitations. We have found that cognitive factors, (e.g., cognitive effort, task structure) contextual factors (acute stress, stereotype activation), and individual differences in age, diet, and general cognitive functioning can result in both transient and persistent memory retrieval limitations. However, limitations may be overcome by influencing the stability of memory representations, changing the demands of the task, and encouraging metacognitive task reappraisal.
Thomas, A.K., Smith, A.M., Kamal K. & Gordon, L.T. (2020)
Thomas, A.K., Smith, A.M., Kamal K. & Gordon, L.T. (2020) Should You Use Frequent Quizzing in Your College Course? Giving up 20 Minutes of Lecture Time May Pay Off. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 9(1), 83-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2019.12.005
Thomas A. K. , Smith A. M. , Mazerolle M. (2020)
Thomas A. K. , Smith A. M. , Mazerolle M. (2020) The Unexpected Relationship Between Retrieval Demands and Memory Performance When Older Adults Are Faced With Age-Related Stereotypes. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 75 (2), 241-250. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gby031
Smith, A. M., Hughes, G. I., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2019)
Smith, A. M., Hughes, G. I., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2019). Acute stress enhances general-knowledge semantic memory. Hormones and behavior, 109, 38–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.02.003
Thomas, A. K., & Karanian, J. M. (2019)
Thomas, A. K., & Karanian, J. M. (2019). Acute stress, memory, and the brain. Brain and cognition, 133, 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2019.04.004
Smith AM, Dijkstra K, Gordon LT, Romero LM, Thomas AK (2019)
Smith AM, Dijkstra K, Gordon LT, Romero LM, Thomas AK (2019). An investigation into the impact of acute stress on encoding in older adults. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 26(5), 749-766. https://doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2018.1524438
Smith, A.M., Race, E., Davis, F.C., & Thomas, A.K. (2019)
Smith, A.M., Race, E., Davis, F.C., & Thomas, A.K. (2019). Retrieval practice improves item memory but not source memory in the context of stress. Brain and Cognition, 133, 24-32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2018.12.005
Brunyé TT, Smith AM, Horner CB, Thomas AK. (2018)
Brunyé TT, Smith AM, Horner CB, Thomas AK. (2018). Verbal long-term memory is enhanced by retrieval practice but impaired by prefrontal direct current stimulation. Brain Cogn, 128, 80-88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2018.09.008
Smith, A. M., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2018)
Smith, A. M., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2018). Criterial learning is not enough: Retrieval practice is necessary for improving post-stress memory accessibility. Behavioral Neuroscience, 132(3), 161–170. https://doi.org/10.1037/bne0000240
Smith, A. M., & Thomas, A. K. (2018)
Smith, A. M., & Thomas, A. K. (2018). Reducing the consequences of acute stress on memory retrieval. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 7(2), 219–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2017.09.007
Dai R., Thomas A. K. , Taylor H. A. (2018)
Dai R., Thomas A. K. , Taylor H. A. (2018) Age-related differences in the use of spatial and categorical relationships in a visuo-spatial working memory task. Mem Cognit, 46(5), 809-825. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-018-0794-8
Dai, R., Thomas, A.K. & Taylor, H.A. (2018)
Dai, R., Thomas, A.K. & Taylor, H.A. (2018) When to look at maps in navigation: metacognitive control in environment learning. Cognitive Research Principles & Implications, 3, 36. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-018-0130-7
Reid, A. G., Rakhilin, M., Patel, A. D., Urry, H. L., & Thomas, A. K. (2017)
Reid, A. G., Rakhilin, M., Patel, A. D., Urry, H. L., & Thomas, A. K. (2017). New technology for studying the impact of regular singing and song learning on cognitive function in older adults: A feasibility study. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 27 (2), 132–144. https://doi.org/10.1037/pmu0000179
Smith A. M., Gallo D. A., Barber S. J., Maddox K. B., Thomas A. K. (2017)
Smith A. M., Gallo D. A., Barber S. J., Maddox K. B., Thomas A. K. (2017) Stereotypes, Warnings, and Identity-Related Variables Influence Older Adults’ Susceptibility to Associative False Memory Errors. The Gerontologist, 57(2), 206-215. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnx057
Smith A. M., Floerke V. A., Thomas A. K. (2016)
Smith A. M., Floerke V. A., Thomas A. K. (2016) Retrieval practice protects memory against acute stress. Science, 354(6315), pp.1046-1048. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aah5067
Perry C. S., Thomas A. K., Taylor H. A., Jacques P. F., Kanarek R. B. (2016)
Perry C. S., Thomas A. K., Taylor H. A., Jacques P. F., Kanarek R. B. (2016) The impact of caffeine use across the lifespan on cognitive performance in elderly women. Appetite, 107, 69-78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.07.028
Thomas A. K., McDaniel M. A. (2013)
Thomas A. K., McDaniel M. A. (2013) The interaction between frontal functioning and encoding processes in reducing false memories. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 20(4), 443-470. https://doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2012.736468
Thomas, A. K., & Dubois, S. J. (2011)
Thomas, A. K., & Dubois, S. J. (2011). Reducing the burden of stereotype threat eliminates age differences in memory distortion. Psychological Science, 22(12), 1515–1517. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611425932
Gordon, L.T., Bilolikar, V.K., Hodhod, & Thomas, A. K. (2020)
Gordon, L.T., Bilolikar, V.K., Hodhod, & Thomas, A. K. (2020). How prior testing impacts misinformation processing: A dual-task approach. Memory & Cognition, 48, 314–324. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-019-00970-0
Howard, S., Thomas, A.K., & Sommers, S.R. (2019)
Howard, S., Thomas, A.K., & Sommers, S.R. (2019). “They all still look the same to me”: Navon processing fails to reduce the cross-race effect. The Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 31(8), 839-851. https://doi.org/10.1080/20445911.2019.1679156
Hyman, I. E., Wulff, A. N., & Thomas, A. K. (2018)
Hyman, I. E., Wulff, A. N., & Thomas, A. K. (2018). Crime Blindness: How Selective Attention and Inattentional Blindness Can Disrupt Eyewitness Awareness and Memory. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 5(2), 202–208. https://doi.org/10.1177/2372732218786749
Thomas, A.K., Gordon, L.T., Cernasov, P.M. & Bulevich, J. B. (2017)
Thomas, A.K., Gordon, L.T., Cernasov, P.M. & Bulevich, J. B. (2017). The effect of testing can increase or decrease misinformation susceptibility depending on the retention interval. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 2(1), 45. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-017-0081-4
Gordon, L.T., & Thomas, A.K. (2017)
Gordon, L.T., & Thomas, A.K. (2017). The forward effects of testing on eyewitness memory: The tension between suggestibility and learning. Journal of Memory and Language, 95, 190-199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2017.04.004
Auslander, M. V., Thomas, A. K., & Gutchess, A. H. (2017)
Auslander, M. V., Thomas, A. K., & Gutchess, A. H. (2017). Confidence Moderates the Role of Control Beliefs in the Context of Age-Related Changes in Misinformation Susceptibility. Experimental aging research, 43(3), 305–322. https://doi.org/10.1080/0361073X.2017.1298960
Thomas, A. K., Chen, C., Gordon, L. T., & Tenbrink, T. (2015)
Thomas, A. K., Chen, C., Gordon, L. T., & Tenbrink, T. (2015). Choose Your Words Wisely: What Verbal Hesitation Indicates About Eyewitness Accuracy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29(5), 735–741. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.3157
Gordon, L. T., Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2015)
Gordon, L. T., Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2015). Looking for answers in all the wrong places: How testing facilitates learning of misinformation. Journal of Memory and Language, 83, 140–151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2015.03.007
Gordon, L. T., & Thomas, A. K. (2014)
Gordon, L. T., & Thomas, A. K. (2014). Testing potentiates new learning in the misinformation paradigm. Memory & Cognition, 42(2), 186–197. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-013-0361-2
Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J.B., & Chan, J. (2010)
Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J.B., & Chan, J. (2010). Testing promotes eyewitness accuracy with a warning: Implications for retrieval enhanced suggestibility. Journal of Memory and Language, 63(2), 149-157. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2010.04.004
Chan, J. C. K., Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2009)
Chan, J. C. K., Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2009). Recalling a Witnessed Event Increases Eyewitness Suggestibility: The Reversed Testing Effect. Psychological Science, 20(1), 66–73. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02245.x
Thomas, A.K., Hannula, D.E. & Loftus, E.F. (2007)
Thomas, A.K., Hannula, D.E. & Loftus, E.F. (2007). How self‐relevant imagination affects memory for behaviour. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 21(1), 69-86. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1270
Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2006)
Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2006). Effective cue utilization reduces memory errors in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 21(2), 379–389. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7922.214.171.1249
Thomas, A. K., & Sommers, M. S. (2005)
Thomas, A. K., & Sommers, M. S. (2005). Attention to item-specific processing eliminates age effects in false memories. Journal of Memory & Language, 52(1), 71-86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2004.08.001
Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J.B. & Loftus, E.F. (2003)
Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J.B. & Loftus, E.F. (2003). Exploring the role of repetition and sensory elaboration in the imagination inflation effect. Memory & Cognition, 31, 630–640. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196103
Berliner, L., Hyman, I., Thomas, A., & Fitzgerald, M. (2003)
Berliner, L., Hyman, I., Thomas, A., & Fitzgerald, M. (2003). Children’s memory for trauma and positive experiences. Journal of traumatic stress, 16(3), 229–236. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023787805970
Thomas, A. K., & Loftus, E. F. (2002)
Thomas, A. K., & Loftus, E. F. (2002). Creating bizarre false memories through imagination. Memory & cognition, 30(3), 423–431. https://doi.org/10.3758/bf03194942
Hoffman, H. G., Garcia-Palacios, A., Thomas, A. K., & Schmidt, A. (2001)
Hoffman, H. G., Garcia-Palacios, A., Thomas, A. K., & Schmidt, A. (2001). Virtual reality monitoring: phenomenal characteristics of real, virtual, and false memories. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 4(5), 565–572. https://doi.org/10.1089/109493101753235151
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