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Psychology professor explores memory

Charitha Isanaka | Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Professor James Brockmole can summarize his research in two questions:

“When you open your eyes, how do you understand what is in front of you?” he said. “When you close your eyes, how do you remember what you saw?”

Brockmole, along with post-doctoral fellow Christopher Davoli, recently completed a cognitive study that explores how people use their attention and memory to recognize visual objects. Their research shows that people’s means of interactions with the outside environment can alter the way they recognize those objects.

The hypothesis of the experiment tested the idea of the evolution of the memory system based on necessity, Brockmole said. Undergraduate students were tested on how good they were at recognizing patterns they had and hadn’t seen before.

The experiment, conducted through showing students images on a screen while allowing or not allowing them to hold the screen. Brockmole said the students did not notice specific details as much when they were not allowed to touch the screen.

“When things are far away we don’t need to be detail-oriented because we have more time to react,” Brockmole said. “You wouldn’t care if a poisonous snake was on the other side of the building. But if the snake was in front of you, you need to know if you will be able to handle the situation.”

The memory system is influenced by the way someone controls his or her body, he said. When someone is experiencing something hands-on, he or she notices more details and differences between two objects.

Davoli said these findings may be extended for use in education.

“We don’t have enough data to say how exactly we can treat these results in an education system but there is enough information to say that it is important,” Davoli said. “Besides, learning is situational; it depends on what you are trying to learn.”

One possibility may include the visual effects of learning, he said. So many interactions, whether they be with textbooks, televisions, projection screens or iPads, influence learning, but they don’t have the same impact. The results of this experiment could be used to analyze the influence of the effectiveness of different technological mediums.