Memory Lab in the Media

The Washington University Memory Lab is currently focusing on three areas of research. Click on a link for more information:

Applying Cognitive Psychology to Education

Superior Memorizers

The Genesis of False Memories



NEW! Visit our new website,, by clicking here.

Several of our projects extend basic learning and memory findings to education. One interest is in testing. Besides the tradition of standardized testing, tests in education have traditionally been used to assess what students have learned with the assumption that the test itself is relatively neutral. However, research in cognitive psychology shows that tests not only measure knowledge but enhance it.

The testing effect refers to the fact that material that is recalled or recognized is better retained on future tests than material studied for an equivalent amount of time. The broad purpose of our research is to investigate the circumstances that lead to successful learning through testing. This involves exploring how various testing variables (e.g., the type of test given, the spacing of tests, the timing and types of feedback after tests) promote retention, as well as how these variables can be combined to optimally enhance learning for different types of materials (e.g., foreign language vocabulary, scientific and historical expository texts).

Further research in this area focuses on the potential detriments to learning that can result from testing (e.g. exposing test-takers to erroneous information on multiple choice and true/false tests) and how these negative effects can be minimized or corrected.

In addition to laboratory research, we are also conducting testing effect research in applied settings: Columbia Middle Schooland Columbia High School in Illinois. For more information and related references regarding this project, please visit our Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom page.

If you are interested in learning more about applying cognitive psychology to education, here are relevant references:

Agarwal, P.K., Roediger, H.L., McDaniel, M.A., & McDermott, K.B. (2013). How to use retrieval practice to improve learning. Washington University in St. Louis. [PDF]

McDaniel, M.A., Roediger, H.L., & McDermott, K.B. (2007). Generalizing test-enhanced learning from the laboratory to the classroom. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 200-206. [PDF]

Roediger, H.L. & Karpicke, J.D. (2006a). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210. [PDF]


Back to top

The cognitive psychology of memory is generally focused on how the typical person (often college students) remember. One interest we have is in superior memory. Colloquially, we say that someone “has a good memory” but does that mean a good memory for many different kinds of materials and events or are people specialists? We study people with truly exceptional memories. For example, individuals in one group we are studying—expert mnemonists, also known as competitive memorizers perform remarkable feats on a certain set of tasks, ones in their competitions. How general is their ability, as measured on other cognitive and memory tasks that they have not practiced? We have developed a battery of tasks to assess many different types expert memorizers, in addition to memory competitors. For example, we study people who have appeared on Jeopardy, people who compete in cross-word puzzle contests, people who memorize and have ready access to hundreds of Bible verses, people who excel at chess with its remarkable demands on memory. Besides evaluating memory with our battery of tests, we assess other abilities in the hopes of understanding whether enhanced functioning of other basic cognitive processes (such as attention) underlie superior memory performance across the various domains.


Back to top

We have developed several paradigms in which people report having vivid memories for events that never occurred. The constructive nature of remembering can be shown in paradigms in which inferences are made from presented material and then the inferences are presented as information actually presented.

One paradigm we have studied extensively is the Deese/Roediger/McDermott (DRM) paradigm in which presentation of related words (bed, rest, wake, dream… ) causes people to falsely recall words that are associated to the presented words (sleep). Other research is concerned with the social contagion of memory, when one person’s suggestions about an event are incorporated into another person’s memory for the event; eyewitness memory for simulated crimes in the Loftus misinformation paradigm; and the effects of repeated imagination of an event in making people believe that they actually performed the event.

Another important aspect of this research is the study of adult age differences in false memories. In general, older adults are more prone to memory illusions and false memories than are younger adults. We are currently examining whether performance on neuropsychological tests sensitive to functioning of different brain areas is related to false memories in older adults.

Other projects include studies of the vividness of false memories, examining how false memories can be distinguished from true memories, and examining how false memories can be reduced.

If you are interested in learning more about false memories, here are relevant references:

Gallo, D. A. (2006). Associative Illusions of Memory. New York: Psychology Press.

Roediger, H.L., & McDermott, K.B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 21, 803-814. [PDF]


Back to top

© 2015 Washington University in St. Louis
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899