Features

Features

Charles Brainerd

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, March 8, 2017.

By Stephen D'Angelo

Charles Brainerd, professor and chair of the Department of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology, and 13 other scholars nationwide have been elected the newest members of the National Academy of Education (NAEd) for their scholarly contributions in the field of education research.

NAEd advances high-quality education research and its use in policy and practice. It consists of 209 U.S. members and 11 foreign associates who are elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship related to education.

“It was not something that I anticipated and came as a surprise,” Brainerd said. “For me, this is another indicator of the international stature of the human development department.”

Brainerd joins fellow Cornell NAEd members Stephen Ceci, Ronald Ehrenberg, Robert Sternberg and Kenneth Strike.

Brainerd has published more than 300 research articles and chapters and more than 20 books. His research covers human memory and decision-making, statistics and mathematical modeling, cognitive neuroscience, learning, intelligence, cognitive development, learning disability and child abuse.

Within the field, Brainerd’s research is known for having had deep impacts on educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, and he is credited with major breakthroughs across both his theoretical and empirical contributions.

His current research centers on the relation between memory and higher reasoning abilities in children and adults, also focusing on false-memory phenomena, cognitive neuroscience, aging and neurocognitive impairment.

Academy members are tapped to serve on expert study panels and are also engaged in NAEd’s professional development programs, including postdoctoral and dissertation fellowship programs.

“It’s an opportunity to serve,” said Brainerd. “The national academy forms committees and study groups of leading scholars to work on important issues in higher education – important and prominent questions of the day – and provides advice and leadership on those questions.”

Stephen D'Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

Robert Sternberg

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, March 6, 2017.

By Susan Kelley

Robert J. Sternberg, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, has been selected to receive the 2017 William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science. The award is given annually and honors association members for their lifetime of outstanding intellectual contributions to the basic science of psychology.

Sternberg will receive the award and deliver an address during the association’s 29th annual convention May 25-28 in Boston. His address will discuss society’s promotion of intelligence at the expense of wisdom, resulting in an overpopulation of “smart fools:” people with decent or even stellar IQs whose preoccupation with themselves and others they perceive to be “like them” – at the expense of people “not like them” – imperils society and the world.

Sternberg transformed the study of intelligence with his “triarchic” theory of successful intelligence. It distinguishes among three aspects of intelligence: analytical, creative and practical. In a more recent augmented version of the theory, Sternberg has added a fourth aspect: wisdom. Within this framework, Sternberg and his colleagues have developed assessments to identify people who are gifted in ways that IQ and other standardized tests do not capture. According to Sternberg, successful intelligence is one’s developed ability to create and implement a meaningful life plan that enables one to achieve success according to one’s own concept of success, and to work toward achieving a common good.

“I’m honored to receive this award, which reflects in small part my contributions over the years and in large part the contributions of my advisers, students and family to making my career possible,” Sternberg said. “The award thus is really a collective one, as are all scientific awards, to the large network of colleagues and family who contribute to an individual career.”

Sternberg has tested and supported his intelligence theories using several kinds of methods. These include reaction time and error rate, cultural, convergent and discriminant, and instructional analysis, among other methods. His insights have had relevance for teaching, university admissions policy, the understanding of developmental processes and the prediction of leadership potential, the association said.

Sternberg is the author of more than 1,600 peer-reviewed research publications. His work has been cited by academic authors 124,410 times. He is the third-most frequently cited living author in introductory-psychology textbooks.

“His prolific efforts in bringing theories, methods and applications together in landmark handbooks and other publications have advanced our ability to facilitate human achievement,” according to a statement from the association.

Sternberg is past president of several national organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He is also the editor of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Sternberg previously won the James McKeen Cattell Award from the same association for his contributions to applications of psychological science.

Jane Mendle

Reprinted and abridged from the Cornell Chronicle, February 9, 2017.

by Daniel Aloi

Jane Mendle, associate professor of human development, was awarded the Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellowship which has a term of five years.

The fellowship winners were announced by Interim President Hunter Rawlings at a recognition event in the Groos Family Atrium in Klarman Hall.

Established in 1992, the Weiss Presidential Fellowship was conceived by the late Stephen H. Weiss ’57, chairman emeritus of the board of trustees, to recognize tenured Cornell faculty members for the teaching and mentoring of undergraduates. Two or three recipients are named each year; in addition to a respected scholarly career, the recipients have sustained records of effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching and contributions to undergraduate education.

The Junior Fellows Award is given to two recently tenured associate professors each year for excellence in teaching and notable scholarship.

Jane Mendle is a New York state-licensed clinical psychologist who joined the human development faculty in 2011. She directs the Adolescent Transitions Lab, and her research in adolescent psychology includes a focus on how aspects of puberty relate to psychological well-being. She was recommended by the selection committee for her passion for her subject and for teaching, her interactive lectures and creative assignments. Her students describe her as enthusiastic and approachable, and noted her dedication to advising and devoting time to students needing extra help. Colleagues also praised her service on her department’s undergraduate education committee.

Mendle’s research has been profiled by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC, The Economist, USA Today, Newsweek and other media outlets. She has awards from the Society of Research on Adolescence, the Behavior Genetics Association and the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, and was named a rising star by the Association for Psychological Science.

Anthony Ong

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, March 13, 2017.

By Susan Kelley

Asian-Americans are often seen as “model” minorities whose success is often attributed to a lack of barriers, such as racism and discrimination, that might prevent upward mobility.

But a new Cornell study – one of the first to link daily racial slights and insults to quality of sleep – found that nearly 80 percent of study participants dealt with at least one “microaggression” during the study’s two-week period.

The more instances of subtle racial discrimination the participants experienced, the worse the effect on how long and how well they slept. Days with more racial bias tended to be followed by nights with poorer sleep quality and significantly less sleep.

And those who were more sensitive to race-based rejection fared even worse when it came to sleep, said the study’s co-author, Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development.

“Being constantly vigilant to race-related threats in the environment may keep you from getting a good night’s sleep,” said Ong, who is also associate professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The paper, “Stigma consciousness, racial microaggressions and sleep disturbance among Asian Americans,” was published Jan. 23 in the Asian American Journal of Psychology. Ong co-wrote the paper with Rebecca A. Lee ’08, communications director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which works to increase those groups’ access to and participation in federal programs.

Racial microaggression themes reported by Asian-Americans during the two-week study included feeling like a perpetual foreigner or “alien in one’s own land,” (for example, “I was told I speak good English”), having one’s cultural values and communication styles pathologized (“I was teased for not using Western utensils”), and being exoticized (“I heard it suggested that Asian women are passive”) or emasculated (“I overheard it suggested that many women find Asian men unattractive).” The researchers asked 152 Asian-American college students to keep a diary for two weeks, recording daily events, their moods and their physical health.

Nearly 60 percent of the participants were Chinese-American and 13 percent were of Asian Indian descent. The remainder were smaller percentages people of Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese and other Asian descent. The majority were second-generation Asian-Americans. Nearly a third were born in Asia and came to the United States as a child.

In the diaries, they noted whether or not they had experienced any of 20 racial microaggressions, and how long and how well they slept the previous night.

And they were assessed on their expectations of race-related prejudice and discrimination, rating how strongly they agreed with statements such as “I usually worry that my behaviors will be viewed as stereotypically Asian” and “Most white Americans have a problem viewing Asian-Americans as equals.”

“Our findings underscore the necessity for greater public awareness concerning the frequency and adverse impact of racial microaggressions in the everyday lives of Asian-Americans,” Ong said. “These findings also challenge the longstanding sociocultural belief that Asian-Americans are model minorities who face little in the form racial barriers such as racism and discrimination.”

Ong and Lee’s co-authors are Christian Cerrada of the University of Southern California and David R. Williams of Harvard University.

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, May 22, 2017.

By Stephen D'Angelo

For decades, higher ed administrators have talked about the need for more female professors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments.

But what is the best way to recruit and retain those professors?

On that point, men and women sometimes disagree, according to new Cornell research.

A national study of college and university administrators has found that female department chairs, deans and provosts have different attitudes and beliefs than their male counterparts about how to retain women professors in STEM fields. It also supports the assertion that placing women in administrative roles creates greater emphasis on the importance of enacting policies to attract and retain women in STEM.

Female administrators gave higher ratings to many policies and strategies designed to improve the lives of women in science, the study found. And they disagreed with men about the value of some policies and strategies designed to retain female STEM professors and enhance their work lives.

Wendy Williams

“Most typical strategies for retaining women professors in STEM are seen as higher quality by women administrators than male counterparts,” said Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and lead author on the study. “Topics of disagreement between female and male administrators are important focuses of future policy and planning, because female administrators may have insights into how to retain women professors that male administrators do not share.”

The study, “Does Gender of Administrator Matter? National Study Explores U.S. University Administrators’ Attitudes About Retaining Women Professors in STEM,” was published May 22 in Frontiers in Psychology.

“Women further endorsed greater flexibility with federal grant funding to accommodate mothers with young children, and they placed more emphasis on devoting university resources to conduct and disseminate gender-equity research than did their male peers,” the study said.

And women were more supportive of requests from partners for shared tenure lines that enable couples to better balance work and personal/caretaking roles, and saw it as more feasible than men did for men to stop the “tenure clock” for one year due to childrearing demands, the study found.

Over the past two decades, women have made substantial progress in most STEM fields, though inclusion in the senior ranks of all fields and in professorships in mathematically intensive fields is lagging. This has motivated administrators and gender-equity advocates to lobby for policies to increase female representation.

Stephen Ceci

For the study, the authors, which included two other human development professors, Stephen Ceci and Felix Thoemmes, reviewed research on female administrators in STEM and designed a database of 44 potentially effective policies to recruit, retain and promote female administrators in STEM. They asked provosts, deans, associate deans and department chairs of STEM fields at 96 U.S. research-intensive universities to rate the quality and feasibility of each policy.

Felix Thoemmes

According to Williams: “When people lobby for women and people of color in high-level administration, they often state that diversity will bring new priorities for attracting professors from underrepresented groups and advancing their careers. Our data support this assertion, although male administrators did endorse many of the same priorities to a lesser extent.”

Other notable data from the survey showed female administrators believed it was not feasible for female faculty to be called upon to chair search committees to the same extent that male administrators did – reflecting women’s belief that female professors are overburdened by service demands.

In addition to favoring potential remedies, female faculty also rated strategies for retaining women as higher in quality overall, while male administrators saw these strategies as lower in quality.

But the administrators did find some common ground, according to the study. Men and women agreed most of the time on the relative ranking of strategies, with both genders basically agreeing on what constituted the best or worst strategies among the 44 they evaluated. Top-rated strategies were to provide on-campus child care centers, offer equal opportunity for women and men to lead committees and research groups, develop mentoring programs to reduce isolation of female faculty, and stop the tenure clock for raising children for up to one year. Also highly rated were strategies to provide one semester of fully paid leave for giving birth and to train department chairs on helping faculty manage work-life issues. The two lowest-rated strategies were setting gender quotas for hiring and promotion.

“This is heartening news,” the researchers wrote, “since agreement about what constitutes a good strategy generally makes it simpler to get the strategy actually introduced as a policy.”

Stephen D'Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

Adam Anderson, Human Neuroscience Institute, Cornell and Helen Irlen, Founder of the Irlen Institute

Adam Anderson, in Human Development's Human Neuroscience Institute, has received a grant from the Irlen Syndrome Foundation for an fMRI project being conducted at the Cornell MRI Facility on the relationship between color processing and other cognitive processes in the brain. Helen Irlen, founder of the Irlen Institute, identified a perceptual processing impairment, now referred to as Irlen Syndrome, which affects the brain's ability to process specific wavelengths of light. Below is a reprint of Dr. Anderson's blog entry on the Irlen Syndrome Foundation website.

“Color alters brain activity in ways that extend well beyond color perception to influence brain regions supporting perception, thought, language, and emotion.”

Study #1: How Color Affects Brain Activity

We have just finished our first study on color and brain activity. In our efforts to understand the role of color on brain function, we examined how different colors influence brain activity patterns. Well beyond color perception, we found colors have distinct roles not only in altering visual system activity, including the primary visual cortex and the thalamus, but also higher level regions including the parahippocampal gyrus (involved in representing the environment) and the middle temporal gyrus (involved in language processing and motion perception).  We also found colors influence limbic regions involved in emotions and feelings, including the anterior insula (emotional body states) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA, a region that produces Dopamine, a neurochemical that influences reward processing and cognition throughout the cortex).  In sum, color alters brain activity in ways that extend well beyond color perception to influence brain regions supporting perception, thought, language and emotion. Although preliminary, such results provide foundational support for color filters as means to alter brain activity patterns in focal brain regions, and the functions these regions support. These results lay the foundational neuroscience groundwork for future studies looking specifically at Irlen Spectral Filters.

Study #2: How Color Influences Perception, Cognition, and Emotion: Irlen as a Brain-Based Condition

In our current study, we are building upon our earlier findings and undertaking more focused examinations of the influence of color on how information from the eye is represented in the brain, and the transmission of that information to the higher order portions of the brain that support perception, cognition (e.g., language and thought), and emotion. This study also assesses how colors influence brain activity to alter performance on tasks, including perceptual, cognitive and affective judgments. Results from this research will shed light on the neural mechanisms by which color can modulate brain activity and alter brain function.  This study also examines the presence of Irlen Syndrome symptoms in the population at large, their neural bases, and whether these patterns of neural dysregulation are altered by color.  These findings should help establish how, rather than a retinal visual disorder, Irlen Syndrome arises from dysregulated brain networks, with different brain regions supporting specific symptoms.

Eve De Rosa

Reprinted from Ezra Magazine, Spring 2017

By H. Roger Segelken

Students surreptitiously texting from the back of the classroom – while half-paying attention to the lecture – probably think professors don't know what's going through their minds.

Eve De Rosa, associate professor of human development and an expert in the neurochemistry of cognition, knows precisely what's coursing through those multitasking brains: the neurochemical acetylcholine.

As De Rosa explains: "Acetylcholine is best known for its role in Alzheimer's disease, but we're learning more about its contributions to cognition in people of all ages."

"The guiding hypothesis for the work I do," she adds, "is asking whether something like Alzheimer's, generally thought to be a memory disorder, is actually an encoding disorder, with information not getting 'packaged' and not reaching memory centers of the brain in the first place."

One task for the rats in De Rosa's lab is to use their noses to choose particular symbols on a touch screen. They learn this trick quickly and efficiently – unless their brains are short on acetylcholine.

De Rosa came to Cornell in 2013 and says that from the start, she could detect a certain "collaborative energy" in the air.

"I'd been at University of Toronto for a decade when I guest lectured about my rat work to researchers in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior," she recalls. "After the talk, people asked about acetylcholine in human cognition, so I continued to speak about my work with children and the elderly. A few weeks later, faculty from human development contacted me and said, 'Have you ever thought of moving?'"

Happily ensconced at Toronto, De Rosa was reluctant to accept the invitation – until she recalled her interactions with Cornellians. "There was so much palpable, collaborative energy and creativity here," De Rosa says, "and that's what attracted me to Cornell."

De Rosa's teaching responsibilities include pre-med courses, like Neurochemistry of Human Behavior, where undergraduates learn about the Nobel Prize-worthy discovery, in 1915, of acetylcholine. The phenomenon of nerves using chemicals to communicate was deduced from acetylcholine's action on the heart. Among her collaborators is spouse Adam Anderson, also an associate professor of human development and a neuroscientist specializing in the role of emotion in human faculties.

Their research project? How the heart and mind are connected through chemistry – which has led to further collaboration, with electrical and computer engineering's Bruce Land.

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, Oct. 31, 2016

 

Researchers in the social sciences have been searching for a holy grail: an accurate way to predict who is likely to engage in problematic behavior, like using drugs. Over the years experts in economics, psychology and public health have designed hundreds of questionnaires in an attempt to understand who will binge drink or have unprotected sex – and why.

reyna_valerie_web

Valerie Reyna, Professor in Human Development

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, and Evan Wilhelms,

Evan Wilhelms, Ph.D., Cornell Graduate School, '15

Evan Wilhelms, Ph.D., Cornell Graduate School, '15

Ph.D. ’15, of Vassar College, have just taken a sizable step toward answering those questions.

In a new study, Reyna and Wilhelms have debuted a new questionnaire that significantly outperforms 14 other gold-standard measures frequently used in economics and psychology. The measure’s 12 simple questions ask in various ways whether one agrees with the principle “sacrifice now, enjoy later.” Their study, “Gist of Delay of Gratification: Understanding and Predicting Problem Behaviors,” appeared Aug. 10 in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

“People who get drunk frequently, party with drugs, borrow money needlessly or have unprotected sex disagreed more with the concept ‘sacrifice now, enjoy later’ than people who didn’t do these things,” Reyna said. “Instead, they leaned more toward ‘have fun today and don’t worry about tomorrow.’”

Having fun is generally good, she said. “But not being able to delay gratification can interfere with education, health and financial well-being, and the impact is greater for young people,” she added.

The questionnaire is based on Reyna’s fuzzy-trace theory. It says people boil down their personal values into a simple, qualitative “gist” of an idea – such as “sacrifice now, enjoy later.” When they have to make a life decision, they retrieve that gist and apply it to their situation.

In contrast, prevailing theory, with many questionnaires based on it, says that people make specific, quantitative trade-offs known as “delay discounting.” For example, those measures ask questions like, “Would you like $10 now or $11.50 in a week?”

“People do size up the trade-off, but they don’t make their decisions on that analysis,” Reyna said. “They think, ‘sacrifice now, benefit later.’ And therefore they study for the exam rather than go out to the party. It’s not about the party per se. It’s about the life principle.”

The researchers conducted four studies to get their results, comparing the measure, the Delay-of-Gratification Gist Scale, against 14 others. The Gist Scale’s questions include, “I wait to buy what I want until I have enough money,” “I think it is better to save money for the future” and “I am worried about the amount of money I owe.” Money is used as a “stand-in” or proxy for tempting rewards.

The first study asked 211 college students to take the Gist Scale and other measures that predict poor financial outcomes. The second and third studies, with 845 and 393 college students, respectively, compared the new measure against others involving delay discounting. With 47 teens and adult participants, the fourth study compared the Gist Scale against a widely used measure of impulsivity.

The Gist Scale is not only more accurate, it’s also shorter and simpler – some other measures are more than twice as long. It is also gender and age neutral, meaning it can be taken by anyone.

Reyna points out that cultures all over the world have aphorisms that encourage the ability to delay gratification. That skill can improve with practice, she said.

“Sometimes we send young people very mixed messages about struggle. I think it’s extremely important for them to know that struggle and pain are part of life and to be expected,” she said. “Staying the course, keeping your eyes on the prize – these values make a difference. And they can be taught and they can be practiced.”

Front and side views of two regions of interest for the origins of Alzheimer's disease - the basal forebrain, top, and the entorhinal cortex, bottom.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder for which, despite years of research, there are no effective treatments or cures. However, recent breakthroughs in molecular genetics have shown that the disease may spread, like an infection, across closely connected areas of the brain. These findings underscore the need for research aimed at tracking its spread to the earliest points of origin in the brain, so therapies that target those areas can be developed.

An international collaboration between Nathan Spreng, Cornell assistant professor of human development and the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in the College of Human Ecology, and Taylor Schmitz of the University of Cambridge’s Cognitive Brain Sciences Unit, sheds light on the basal forebrain region, where the degeneration of neural tissue caused by Alzheimer’s disease appears even before cognitive and behavioral symptoms of the disease emerge.

Their paper, “Basal forebrain degeneration precedes and predicts the cortical spread of Alzheimer’s pathology,” is published Nov. 4 in Nature Communications. Data used for their work were obtained from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative database.

The basal forebrain contains very large and densely connected neurons that are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Schmitz and Spreng show that, as Alzheimer’s progresses, degeneration of the basal forebrain predicts subsequent degeneration in temporal lobe areas of the brain involved in memory. This pattern is consistent with other research showing that Alzheimer’s indeed spreads across brain regions over time, but the study challenges a widely held belief that the disease originates in the temporal lobe.

“We’re hoping that this work pushes a bit of a reorganization of the field itself, to reappraise where the disease originates,” Spreng said. “That could open up new avenues for intervention; certainly it would for detection.”

Their report is the product of a two-year study of a large sample of age-matched older adults. Within this sample, one group was cognitively normal, according to standard tests, while others were characterized by different levels of cognitive impairment:

  • Individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who did not progress to Alzheimer’s disease;
  • MCI individuals who progressed to Alzheimer’s after one year; and
  • Individuals classified as having Alzheimer’s throughout the duration of the study.

Through analysis of high-resolution anatomical magnetic resonance imaging of brain volumes, taken three times over the two-year study period, the researchers were able to determine that individuals with MCI or Alzheimer’s showed greater losses in gray matter volume in both the basal forebrain and temporal lobe, compared with cognitively normal controls. Intriguingly, they showed that over the two-year period, degeneration of neural tissue in the basal forebrain predicted subsequent tissue degeneration in the temporal lobe, but not the other way around.

A sampling of spinal fluid from healthy adults can detect an abnormal level of beta amyloid, indicative of Alzheimer’s, Spreng said. Test results showed that temporal lobes looked the same regardless of amyloid level, but the basal forebrain showed notable degeneration among those seemingly healthy adults with abnormal amyloid levels.

Spreng admits that being able to predict who will get the disease doesn’t mean a lot without a protocol to treat and, ultimately, cure the disease. “And it might induce more anxiety,” he said. But the more knowledge that can be gained now, he said, the better.

“Future molecular genetics work holds strong promise for developing therapeutic strategies to prevent the spread of pathology at stages of Alzheimer’s preceding cognitive decline,” Schmitz said. “Our clarification of an earlier point of Alzheimer’s propagation is therefore of utmost importance for guiding endeavors to combat this devastating disease.”

This work was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, Sept. 7, 2016

by Susan Kelly

Marcel Proust’s madeleine cakes have nothing on Instagram and Twitter. But if they did, Proust’s memories could have been even more elaborate and vivid.

A new study – the first to look at social media’s effect on memory – suggests posting personal experiences on social media makes those events much easier to recall.

Qi Wang, Professor in Human Development

Qi Wang, Professor in Human Development

“If people want to remember personal experiences, the best way is to put them online,” said Qi Wang, the lead author of the study and professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. “Social media – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and others alike – provide an important outlet for us to recall memories, in the public space, and share with other people.”

Memory researchers have long known that when people write about personal experiences, reflect on them or talk about them with others, they tend to remember those events much better. “The process of writing about one’s experiences in the public sphere, often sustained by subsequent social feedback, may allow people to reflect on the experiences and their personal relevance,” the study said.

The act of posting on social media also plays a role in the construction of the self, said Wang, an expert in personal memory.

“We create a sense of self in the process of recalling, evaluating and sharing with others memories of personal experiences in our lives,” Wang said. “That’s happening when we use social media, without us even noticing it. We just think, ‘Oh, I’m sharing my experience with my friends.’ But by shaping the way we remember our experiences, it’s also shaping who we are.”

That’s especially facilitated by the interactive functions on many social media sites. For example, Facebook periodically shows users photos and posts from previous years to remind them of those events, prompting users to revisit those experiences.

“Memory is often selective. But in this case, the selection is not done by our own mind; it’s done by an outside resource,” Wang said. “So interactive functions on social networking sites can also shape how we view our experiences, how we view ourselves.”

Wang and her co-authors, Dasom Lee ’13, and Yubo Hou of Peking University, asked 66 Cornell undergraduates to keep a daily diary for a week. The study participants briefly described the events that happened to them each day, excluding daily routines such as “had breakfast.” For each event, they recorded whether they had posted the event on social media. And they rated the event’s personal importance and emotional intensity on five-point scales. At the end of the week and a week later, the students took surprise quizzes on how many events they could recall.

The researchers found that the online status of each event significantly predicted the likelihood of it being recalled at the end of both the first and second weeks. This was true even when they controlled for the personal importance and emotional intensity of the events. In other words, events posted online were more likely than those not posted online to be remembered over time, regardless of the characteristics of the events.

The research sheds new light on memory theories and have important implications for the construction of “the autobiographical self” in the digital age, the authors said. “This work is the first step toward a better understanding of the autobiographical self in the internet era where the virtual externalization of personal memories has become commonplace,” the study said.

The research, “Externalizing the autobiographical self: sharing personal memories online facilitated memory retention,” appeared Aug. 17 in the journal Memory.