Public Release:  Recent research on memory/learning

Williams College

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., March 5, 2010 - Are we over estimating remembering and underestimating learning?

Current research by Nate Kornell, an assistant professor of psychology at Williams College, and Robert A. Bjork of the University of California, Los Angeles address this question and was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

In their paper titled A Stability Bias in Human Memory: Overestimating Remembering and Underestimating Learning, Kornell and Bjork write: "To manage one's own conditions of learning effectively requires gaining an understanding of the activities and processes that do and do not support learning."

In psychology, experts use the term metacognition to talk about how people think about their own cognitive processes - in essence, thinking about thinking.

To probe the way people think about their capacity for remembering, Kornell and Bjork asked people to look at a list of words and predict how well they would be able to remember the words after subsequent periods of study and testing.

Their results led the researchers to the suggestion that people are under confident in their learning abilities and overconfident in their memories. That is, people failed to predict that they would be able to remember more words after studying more - although in reality, they learned far more -- instead basing their predictions on current memory. Kornell and Bjork call this a "stability bias" in memory.

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Kornell's work also has been published in Scientific American, Psychological Science, Current Directions in Psychological Science, and Applied Cognitive Psychology, among other journals.

At Williams, Kornell has taught Cognitive Psychology, Perspectives on Psychological Issues, and Optimizing Learning and Memory. His research focuses on the processes underlying learning and remembering, including common misconceptions about learning and memory, spacing and inductive learning, the benefit of tests, studying flash cards, and animal cognition.

He received his B.A. from Reed College and his Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.

Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college's 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students' educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student's financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

To visit the college on the Internet: http://www.williams.edu/ Williams College can also be found on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/williamscollege and Twitter: http://twitter.com/williamscollege

News: Laura Corona

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