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.

Our Research

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

People

Present Lab Members

Ayanna K. Thomas, PhD

Principal Investigator

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 Mason

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 Torrance

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 Wulff

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.

Former Lab Members

Postdoctoral Fellows

Jessica Karanian, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Fairfield University

Graduate Students

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.

Undergraduate Students

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

Publications

Publications

Learners across the lifespan are generally unaware of the conditions that will result in optimal learning. Researchers at the Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab have examined how metacognitive monitoring and control decisions are made, how that decisions change across the lifespan, and how the conditions of learning and retrieval can be constructed to optimize metacognition.

Using Practice Testing, Public Speaking, and Source Monitoring to Examine the Influences of Learning Strategies and Stress on Episodic Memory.

Smith, A. M., Race, E., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2019)
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How attributes and cues made accessible through monitoring affect self-regulated learning in older and younger adults

DeCaro, R. & Thomas, A.K. (2019). 
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Study techniques differentially influence the delayed JOL accuracy of adolescent children and college-aged adults

Hughes, G.I., Taylor, H.A. & Thomas, A.K. (2018).
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Filling in the gaps: Using testing and restudy to promote associative learning.

Bulevich, J. B., Thomas, A. K., & Parsow, C. (2015).
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Effects of Global and Local Processing on Visuospatial Working Memory

Taylor, H.A., Thomas, A. K., Artuso, C., & Eastman, C. (2014)
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Effect of repetition lag on priming of unfamiliar visual objects in young and older adults

Gordon, L. T., Soldan, A., Thomas, A. K., & Stern, Y. (2013)
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Metacognitive monitoring and dementia: How intrinsic and extrinsic cues influence judgments of learning in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Thomas, A. K., Balota, D. A., & Lee, M. (2013)
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Retrieval effort improves memory and metamemory in the face of misinformation.

Bulevich, J. B., & Thomas, A. K. (2012)
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An analysis of the determinants of the feeling-of-knowing.

Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J. B., & Dubois, S. J. (2012)
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Metacognitive monitoring in visuospatial working memory.

Thomas, A. K., Bonura, B. M., Taylor, H. A., & Brunyé, T. T. (2012)
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The influence of semantic relationships on older adult map memory.

Thomas, A. K., Bonura, B. M., & Taylor, H. A. (2012)
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Reducing the Framing Effect in Older and Younger Adults by Encouraging Analytic Processing.

Thomas, A. K., & Millar, P. R. (2011)
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Context affects feeling-of-knowing accuracy in younger and older adults.

Thomas, A. K., Bulevich, J. B., & Dubois, S. J. (2011)
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The negative cascade of incongruent generative study-test processing in memory and metacomprehension.

Thomas, A.K., McDaniel, M.A. (2007)
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Metacomprehension for educationally relevant materials: Dramatic effects of encoding-retrieval interactions.

Thomas, A.K., McDaniel, M.A. (2007)
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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.

Should You Use Frequent Quizzing in Your College Course? Giving up 20 Minutes of Lecture Time May Pay Off.

Thomas, A.K., Smith, A.M., Kamal K. & Gordon, L.T. (2020)
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The Unexpected Relationship Between Retrieval Demands and Memory Performance When Older Adults Are Faced With Age-Related Stereotypes.

Thomas A. K. , Smith A. M. , Mazerolle M. (2020)
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Acute stress enhances general-knowledge semantic memory.

Smith, A. M., Hughes, G. I., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2019)
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Acute stress, memory, and the brain.

Thomas, A. K., & Karanian, J. M. (2019)
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An investigation into the impact of acute stress on encoding in older adults.

Smith AM, Dijkstra K, Gordon LT, Romero LM, Thomas AK (2019)
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Retrieval practice improves item memory but not source memory in the context of stress.

Smith, A.M., Race, E., Davis, F.C., & Thomas, A.K. (2019)
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Verbal long-term memory is enhanced by retrieval practice but impaired by prefrontal direct current stimulation.

Brunyé TT, Smith AM, Horner CB, Thomas AK. (2018)
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Criterial learning is not enough: Retrieval practice is necessary for improving post-stress memory accessibility.

Smith, A. M., Davis, F. C., & Thomas, A. K. (2018)
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Reducing the consequences of acute stress on memory retrieval.

Smith, A. M., & Thomas, A. K. (2018)
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Age-related differences in the use of spatial and categorical relationships in a visuo-spatial working memory task.

Dai R., Thomas A. K. , Taylor H. A. (2018)
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When to look at maps in navigation: metacognitive control in environment learning.

Dai, R., Thomas, A.K. & Taylor, H.A. (2018)
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New technology for studying the impact of regular singing and song learning on cognitive function in older adults: A feasibility study.

Reid, A. G., Rakhilin, M., Patel, A. D., Urry, H. L., & Thomas, A. K. (2017)
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Stereotypes, Warnings, and Identity-Related Variables Influence Older Adults’ Susceptibility to Associative False Memory Errors.

Smith A. M., Gallo D. A., Barber S. J., Maddox K. B., Thomas A. K. (2017)
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Retrieval practice protects memory against acute stress.

Smith A. M., Floerke V. A., Thomas A. K. (2016)
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The impact of caffeine use across the lifespan on cognitive performance in elderly women.

Perry C. S., Thomas A. K., Taylor H. A., Jacques P. F., Kanarek R. B. (2016)
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The interaction between frontal functioning and encoding processes in reducing false memories.

Thomas A. K., McDaniel M. A. (2013)
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Reducing the burden of stereotype threat eliminates age differences in memory distortion.

Thomas, A. K., & Dubois, S. J. (2011)
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As a general phenomenon, false memories has been an extraordinarily popular topic for research. Our research examining false memories, memory distortion, and misinformation susceptibility has been primarily concerned with confusions between different sources of information. We have determined that certain sources of information are highly confusable. Further, source confusion is influenced by changing the perceptual and contextual cues associated with specific memories, and by influencing memory access to specific sources of information. Our research has also demonstrated that by encouraging careful metacognitive monitoring of memory sources at retrieval, people can reduce memory errors that may result from these confusions.

How prior testing impacts misinformation processing: A dual-task approach.

Gordon, L.T., Bilolikar, V.K., Hodhod, & Thomas, A. K. (2020)
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“They all still look the same to me”: Navon processing fails to reduce the cross-race effect.

Howard, S., Thomas, A.K., & Sommers, S.R. (2019)
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Crime Blindness: How Selective Attention and Inattentional Blindness Can Disrupt Eyewitness Awareness and Memory.

Hyman, I. E., Wulff, A. N., & Thomas, A. K. (2018)
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The effect of testing can increase or decrease misinformation susceptibility depending on the retention interval.

Thomas, A.K., Gordon, L.T., Cernasov, P.M. & Bulevich, J. B. (2017)
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The forward effects of testing on eyewitness memory: The tension between suggestibility and learning.

Gordon, L.T., & Thomas, A.K. (2017)
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Confidence Moderates the Role of Control Beliefs in the Context of Age-Related Changes in Misinformation Susceptibility.

Auslander, M. V., Thomas, A. K., & Gutchess, A. H. (2017)
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Choose Your Words Wisely: What Verbal Hesitation Indicates About Eyewitness Accuracy.

Thomas, A. K., Chen, C., Gordon, L. T., & Tenbrink, T. (2015)
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Looking for answers in all the wrong places: How testing facilitates learning of misinformation.

Gordon, L. T., Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2015)
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Testing potentiates new learning in the misinformation paradigm.

Gordon, L. T., & Thomas, A. K. (2014)
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Testing promotes eyewitness accuracy with a warning: Implications for retrieval enhanced suggestibility.

Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J.B., & Chan, J. (2010)
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Recalling a Witnessed Event Increases Eyewitness Suggestibility: The Reversed Testing Effect.

Chan, J. C. K., Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2009)
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How self‐relevant imagination affects memory for behaviour.

Thomas, A.K., Hannula, D.E. & Loftus, E.F. (2007)
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Effective cue utilization reduces memory errors in older adults.

Thomas, A. K., & Bulevich, J. B. (2006)
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Attention to item-specific processing eliminates age effects in false memories.

Thomas, A. K., & Sommers, M. S. (2005)
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Exploring the role of repetition and sensory elaboration in the imagination inflation effect.

Thomas, A.K., Bulevich, J.B. & Loftus, E.F. (2003)
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Children’s memory for trauma and positive experiences.

Berliner, L., Hyman, I., Thomas, A., & Fitzgerald, M. (2003)
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Creating bizarre false memories through imagination.

Thomas, A. K., & Loftus, E. F. (2002)
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Virtual reality monitoring: phenomenal characteristics of real, virtual, and false memories.

Hoffman, H. G., Garcia-Palacios, A., Thomas, A. K., & Schmidt, A. (2001)
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Participants

Join Our Senior Volunteer List

Make a difference!
If you a senior (aged 60 or older) who lives in the Boston Metro area, we invite you to join the Tufts University Psychology Department’s Aging Research Registry. The purpose of the registry is to link the senior community with research at Tufts University.

The goal of our research is to understand how aging affects physical, mental, and emotional health. We want to learn more about how people can maintain healthy minds and bodies across adulthood. If you join our volunteer list, you will be periodically contacted about research study opportunities. When you match with a study, a researcher will contact you to explain its purpose and details. At that time you will be able to ask questions and decide whether or not you want to participate in that particular study. Participation is always voluntary.

Join our senior volunteer list
By becoming a research volunteer you will help us learn more about how to maintain healthy minds and bodies across our lifespan. We value your privacy—your information will be kept confidential and will never be shared with anyone outside of our research team. Join now!

Become a Research Participant

  • Research participants over the age of 60 are always needed.
  • Email: camlab@tufts.edu or call 617-627-4515 to become a participant.

Frequently asked questions about being a participant:

1.    Where do the studies take place?
Most studies take place on the in the Psychology Department at Tufts University (located at 490 Boston Avenue, Medford MA).

2.    When do the studies take place?
We can schedule an appointment that is convenient for you and fits with your schedule.

3.    How long do the studies last?
Studies take on average 1 to 3 hours to complete. It varies depending upon the type of study being conducted.

4.    Will there be parking for me?
Yes. Free campus parking is provided.

5.    Will I be paid for my time?
Yes. Most of our studies offer compensation at a rate equivalent to $15/ hour. We are aware that scientific research studies do not pay enough, but your participation offers an important contribution to scientific progress.

6.    Will I be told how I did on tests?
No. We do not provide individual feedback. However, upon request, the final results of the study can be sent after the study is completed.

7.    Will anyone else know how I did on the study tasks?
Your privacy is important to us. You data will be kept confidential and your information will not be shared with anyone outside of the research team..

8.    How often will I be contacted about research study opportunities?
When you join our research volunteer list you can specify how often you would like to be contacted.

9.    What are the risks involved?
Most of our studies involve paper and pencil and computer tasks, and there are no risks involved. You will be informed in advance of any risks. All of our studies are monitored and approved by the San Francisco State University Institutional Review Board.

10.  Who can I contact if I want to be removed from the volunteer research list or if I have other questions?
You can reach us at 617-627-4515 or at camlab@tufts.edu

Contact

Mailing Address

Ayanna Thomas
Department of Psychology
490 Boston Ave, Room 204
Tufts University
Medford, MA 02155

Tel: 617-627-4559
Email: ayanna.thomas@tufts.edu