Tag Archives: memory

Developmental psychologist Charles Brainerd to receive APA award

Charles Brainerd

Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and human neuroscience, will receive the American Psychological Association’s G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at the APA’s August 2019 meeting in San Francisco.

Regarded as the highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

Brainerd’s research has had an impact on educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, and he is credited with major breakthroughs across his theoretical and empirical work.

“Chuck has done groundbreaking work in human memory and reasoning through experimental behavioral methods, mathematical models and neuroscience techniques,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “He co-developed fuzzy-trace theory of memory, judgment and decision-making that has been widely applied in the law and in medicine. His work exemplifies the best integration of theory-driven experimentation and evidence-based translational research.”

According to the APA, the award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

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

He 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.

Brainerd has been elected to the National Academy of Education; is a fellow of the Division of General Psychology, the Division of Experimental Psychology, the Division of Developmental Psychology and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association; and is a fellow of the American Psychological Society.

The editor of the journal Developmental Review, Brainerd has served as associate editor for journals including Child Development and The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Brainerd’s win of the 2019 G. Stanley Hall Award immediately follows the 2018 win of Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

FEATURES

Spotlight on HD department in APS feature

In a new recurring feature, the Observer showcases university labs and departments that have advanced integrative science. In the inaugural installment, APS Fellow Qi Wang talks about Cornell University’s Department of Human Development, which she chairs.


Human Development welcomes new faculty

The Department of Human Development welcomes 4 faculty members with research interests that include network science, social media, epigenetics, ecology, conceptual development and cultural diversity, and social cognition.


Lin Bian – Early gender stereotypes impact girls’ aspirations

Lin Bian will join the Department of Human Development in January 2019 as the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor. Watch the NBC News video to learn more about her research on the acquisition and consequences of gender stereotypes about intellectual ability.


Innovative research at the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility

One of the central goals in the establishment of the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility (CMRIF) has been to help foster innovative technology development among faculty from diverse disciplines, including animal science.


Using gist to communicate end-of-life treatment choices

Valerie Reyna is collaborating with Holly Prigerson of Cornell Weill Medical College on an intercampus palliative care project as part of the recently established Academic Integration Initiative which fosters research between the Cornell Ithaca and the Cornell Weill New York City campuses.


Qi Wang – Studying Memory Development in Cultural Context

APS President Suparna Rajaram invited four distinguished psychological scientists to speak about memory from cognitive, neuroscientific, cultural, and developmental approaches as part of the Presidential Symposium at the 30th Annual APS Convention in San Francisco. Watch Qi Wang's presentation, "Studying Memory Development in Cultural Context: A Multi-Level Analysis Approach".


 

Excerpted from APS ObserverThe Memories of Memory Researchers

by Suparna Rajaram

In this Presidential Column, it is my pleasure to bring to you my Q&A with four internationally renowned psychological scientists who will speak at the Presidential Symposium I will host during the 30th APS Annual Convention on May 25, 2018, in San Francisco. These eminent scientists — APS Past President and William James Fellow Henry L. (Roddy) Roediger, III, APS Board Member Dorthe Berntsen, APS Fellow Qi Wang, and psychological scientist Charan Ranganath — have fundamentally shaped our understanding of human memory through a wide range of perspectives, techniques, and groundbreaking discoveries. I was struck by the varied paths they have taken in their lives and education, the challenges they have faced, and the ingenuity they have brought, time and again, to scaling new heights. I was also inspired by their singular love for science, their dedication to our discipline, and their overall leadership.  I hope that students and early investigators reading these interviews will enjoy the infectious optimism and strength evident in their answers and the priceless advice the speakers have offered based on their vast experience. –APS President Suparna Rajaram

Qi Wang, Chair of Human Development

What piqued your interest in the general area of your research?

Here is a description of how I came to study autobiographical memory and culture, from my book The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture (2013):

“About fifteen years ago, in mid 1990s, when I went to graduate school in the Psychology Department at Harvard, I had no idea of what autobiographical memory was. Although I had attended the best university in China and had gained a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, the term meant second to nothing to me. At that time, the study of autobiographical memory in Western psychology had grown into a dynamic, interdisciplinary field with exciting discoveries, theoretical debates, controversial issues, and intriguing phenomena. It had drawn researchers from diverse disciplines with such varied interests in human memory in natural contexts, in life histories and narrative self-making, and in the practical implications of memory in clinical, legal, and everyday settings. Autobiographical memory was not a subject of research in China then, however. Neither was autobiography an eminent genre in Chinese literature. I was amazed by the large sections of autobiographies and memories in the Cambridge bookstores, a scene foreign and somewhat bizarre to me. What is the driving force behind the cultural difference in the popularity of autobiographical memory in research and autobiography in pop culture more generally? This question has motivated my research ever since.”

Can you share with us a little about your educational path, and whether/how it led you to pursue research in psychological science?

Both my parents were engineers before their retirement. So my pursuit in psychology was informed by early exposure outside home. When I was 11, I was admitted into a boarding school that was one of the top-ranked middle-high schools in our province. The school was very far away from where we lived. So I stayed with my aunt’s family for about a year before a dorm-bed spot opened up (That was back in the early 1980s when China was still in economic devastation). My aunt was a psychology professor at a teacher’s college. It was through her that I first learned about psychology. I read many books in general and developmental psychology from my aunt’s collection.

Naturally, when I was later admitted to Peking University (or Beijing University), I chose to be a psychology major.

Did you take any detours along the journey to where you are today, and if so, how would you describe the significance of these markers?  

Although I set my foot in psychology at a fairly young age (primarily due to my aunt’s influence), I took some major detours before arriving to where I am today.

At the time when I graduated from college, in 1989, China was undergoing historical transformations in every aspect of the society — economically, politically, and culturally. Many new career opportunities emerged that my generation who grew up in Communist China had never heard of. They attracted many young and adventurous people and I was one of them. I had worked in foreign-invested hotels (a brand new concept at the time), in public relations and sales (where my psychology training was somewhat useful), and I had worked for a major French company in Beijing, doing administrative work.

Six years post-graduate, I found myself missing psychology and wanted to get back to my “roots.” So I started applying to graduate programs in Europe and the United States, which eventually led me to Harvard.  (A side story: My original plan was to study developmental psychology at University of Geneva, where Jean Piaget had taught. I was admitted into the program and in fact went there, but then found out that my French was inadequate for me to begin the graduate work right away).

The detours were well worth it: They made me realize what I wanted for my career and where my intellectual strengths were. They allowed me to stay focused during my graduate study and remain motivated. I formally enrolled in the psychology PhD program at Harvard in 1996 and received my degree in 2000. I then joined the faculty in Human Development at Cornell.

What have been the most exciting parts of your scientific career?

The pursuit itself is the most exciting part: coming up with interesting and original ideas, brain-storming with students and collaborators, persevering in the data-collection process, writing and thinking through writing. These are all exciting parts of the scientific endeavor.

Did you face any obstacles in pursuing your scientific projects?  

Nothing unusual. Working with a small and transient community to recruit children and families, especially ethnic minority families, and trying to follow them longitudinally, has been perhaps the biggest challenge in our projects.

How have you balanced research demands with teaching and administrative responsibilities?

I took the role of department chair this past July. I have come to appreciate the complexity of the job. Most of the work is done behind the scene. However, it is truly rewarding to lead a dynamic department with brilliant colleagues and outstanding students, and to work closely with the faculty to implement critical changes to build on and extend the Department’s scholarly excellence and to maintain and improve its leadership in research, teaching, and outreach.

To balance research with my teaching and chair responsibilities, I set aside time (two mornings each week) for writing. I also try to do what the Chinese call 见缝插针 — meaning literally sticking in a pin wherever there’s room — to make use of every bit of time, with the goal of writing one paragraph a day.

I have an active lab of graduate and undergraduate students, with many ongoing projects at various stages. We hold a weekly lab meeting to discuss the projects and address any issues. We also use the time to talk about new ideas.

I make sure to remain accessible over emails to students in my lab and my class, and make myself available whenever an emergency meeting is required.

What/who have been major influences in your academic career?

So many! My aunt through whom I had the first exposure to psychology. My graduate school advisors Michelle Leichtman and Shep White who helped me set my career path. There are then many informal mentors with whom I have had the fortune to work or collaborate, including Steve Ceci, Michael Ross, Robyn Fivush, Martin Conway, David Pillemer, Carole Peterson, among others.

What’s been your guiding compass in your academic career?

Focus on the process, not the outcome. This makes the scientific pursuit more exciting and enjoyable, and makes obstacles and temporary failures (e.g., rejections from journals) less interruptive or upsetting. This compass also allows me to see what would be usually considered to be an outcome (e.g., tenure) as part of the process, and thus not to get stressed about it.

What advice do you have for handling rejections from journals?

There can be frustration, but never give up. If you truly believe in your work, revise and improve the paper based on reviewer feedback and submit it elsewhere.

Careful preparation is key: Submit a paper as if it were the final version that no further changes could be made. This is out of respect for the journals, the reviewers, and our profession.

What advice, in general, would you give budding scientists around the world?

Stay attuned to the field and be mindful of the everyday life, in the process of developing exciting ideas that are theory driven, evidence based, and of real-world relevance. Focus on and enjoy the process of your scientific pursuit.

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.

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.

Dear Readers


FEATURES

Simple questionnaire predicts unprotected sex, binge drinking

Valerie Reyna and Evan Wilhelms developed a new questionnaire for predicting who is likely to engage in risky behaviors, including, unprotected sex and binge drinking. Their questionnaire significantly outperforms 14 other gold-standard measures frequently used in economics and psychology.


  Study challenges model of Alzheimer's disease progression 

 The research of Professor Nathan Spreng and his collaborators sheds light on the basal forebrain region, where the degeneration of neural tissue caused by Alzheimer’s disease appears before cognitive and behavioral symptoms emerge.


 Social media boosts remembrance of things past

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.


Experts Address Elder Financial Abuse as Global Problem

Financial exploitation of older people by those who should be protecting them results in devastating health, emotional and psychological consequences. International elder abuse experts met at Weill Cornell Medicine to map out a strategy for conducting research on this problem.


For kids, poverty means psychological deficits as adults

Childhood poverty can cause significant psychological deficits in adulthood, according to a sweeping new study by Professor Gary Evans. The research, conducted by tracking participants over a 15-year period, is the first to show this damage occurs over time and in a broad range of ways.


STUDENTS IN THE NEWS

Miss New York Camille Sims fights for social justice     

Camille Sims '15 says fate brought her to Cornell and the Department of Human Development. And now it has propelled her to reign as Miss New York and to finish second runner-up in September's Miss America competition.


Summer Scholar Spotlight: Brian LaGrant ‘17       

Brian LaGrant ’17, a human development major from New Hartford, N.Y., discusses his research on factors surrounding imitation among children and adults.


Risky decisions and concussions

David Garavito, graduate student in the Law, Psychology, and Human Development Program, under the supervision of Dr. Valerie Reyna, is working with communities in New York and around the country with support from an Engaged Cornell grant for student research. He is working with coaches and student athletes to study the effects of concussions on decision making about risks.


ARTICLES ON THE WEB

Alzheimer’s early tell: The language of authors who suffered from dementia has a story for the rest of us

Adrienne Day writes about how Barbara Lust, professor in Human Development, and other researchers are studying changes in language patterns in early Alzheimer’s disease.


 MULTIMEDIA

Listen to Associate Professor Corinna Loeckenhoff discuss self-continuity, or our perceived connections with our past and future selves.


Hear Professor Adam Anderson talk about his research in the podcast, "Brain waves: The science of emotion" for The Guardian.

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.

A large and growing body of research shows that poor kids grow up to have a host of physical problems as adults.

Now add psychological deficits to the list, Cornell researchers say.

Childhood poverty can cause significant psychological deficits in adulthood, according to a sweeping new study. The research, conducted by tracking participants over a 15-year period, is the first to show this damage occurs over time and in a broad range of ways.

Impoverished children in the study had more psychological distress as adults, including more antisocial conduct like aggression and bullying and more helplessness behavior, than kids from middle-income backgrounds. Poor kids also had more chronic physiological stress and more deficits in short-term spatial memory.

Gary Evans, Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Development

“What this means is, if you’re born poor, you’re on a trajectory to have more of these kinds of psychological problems,” said Gary Evans, the author of the study and the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology, and professor in the departments of design and environmental analysis, and human development.

Why? In a word, stress.

“With poverty, you’re exposed to lots of stress. Everybody has stress, but low-income families, low-income children, have a lot more of it,” Evans said. “And the parents are also under a lot of stress. So for kids, there is a cumulative risk exposure.”

Evans, a child psychologist who specializes in the effects of stress on children, is the author of “Childhood poverty and adult psychological well-being,” published Dec. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences (PNAS).

The findings are important because kids who grow up in poverty are likely to stay impoverished as adults, Evans said. For example, there’s a 40 percent chance that a son’s income will be the same as his father’s income. That’s because the United States has the least social mobility of any wealthy Western democracy, he said.

“People walk around with this idea in their head that if you work hard, play by the rules, you can get ahead,” Evans said. “And that’s just a myth. It’s just not true.”

In his study, Evans tested 341 participants, all white, at ages 9, 13, 17 and 24.

Short-term spatial memory was tested by asking adult study participants to repeat increasingly complex sequences of lights and sounds by pressing four colored pads in the correct order – similar to the “Simon” game. The adults who grew up in poverty had a diminished ability to recall the sequences, compared to those who did not.

“This is an important result because the ability to retain information in short-term memory is fundamental to a host of basic cognitive skills, including language and achievement,” Evans wrote.

Although the participants were assessed on this measure only when they were adults, this test had the strongest association with childhood poverty of the four measures.

Helplessnesswas assessed by asking the participants to solve an impossible puzzle. Adults who grew up in poverty gave up 8 percent quicker than those who weren’t poor as kids. Previous research has shown chronic exposure to uncontrollable stressors – such as family turmoil and substandard housing – tends to induce helplessness.

Mental healthwas measured with a well-validated, standardized index of mental health with statements including “I argue a lot” and “I am too impatient.” Adults who grew up in poverty were more likely to agree with those questions than adults from a middle-income background.

Chronic physiological stress was tested by measuring the participants’ blood pressure, stress hormones and body mass index. Adults who grew up in poverty had a higher level of chronic physical stress throughout childhood and into adulthood.

The study has two implications, Evans said. First, early intervention to prevent these problems is more efficient and more likely to work.

“If you don’t intervene early, it’s going to be really difficult and is going to cost a lot to intervene later,” he said.

Second, increasing poor families’ incomes is the most efficient way to reduce a child’s exposure to poverty and, in turn, their risk of developing psychological problems. Evans supports the creation of a safety net, similar to Social Security’s supplemental income for the elderly and disabled. If a family is poor and has children, the federal government should provide them with supplementary income sufficient to participate in society, he said.

“It’s not true you can’t do anything about poverty. It’s just whether there’s the political will, and are people willing to reframe the problem, instead of blaming the person who is poor and – even more preposterous – blaming their children,” he said.

“This is a societal issue, and if we decide to reallocate resources like we did with the elderly and Social Security, we could change the kind of data this study is showing,” he said.

“Could we get rid of poverty? Probably not,” Evans said. “But I think we could change it dramatically.”

The research was supported by the W.T. Grant Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities.

By H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, April 9, 2014

The very earliest childhood memories might begin even earlier than anyone realized – including the rememberer, his or her parents and memory researchers.

Four- to 13-year-olds in upstate New York and Newfoundland, Canada, probed their memories when researchers asked: “You know, some kids can remember things that happened to them when they were very little. What is the first thing you can remember? How old were you at that time?” The researchers then returned a year or two later to ask again about earliest memories – and at what age the children were when the events occurred.

“The age estimates of earliest childhood memories are not as accurate as what has been generally assumed,” report Qi Wang of Cornell University and Carole Peterson of Memorial University of Newfoundland in the March 2014 online issue of Developmental Psychology. “Using children’s own age estimates as the reference, we found that memory dating shifted to later ages as time elapsed.”

Childhood amnesia refers to our inability to remember events from our first years of life. Until now, cognitive psychologists estimated the so-called childhood amnesia offset at 3.5 years – the average age of our very earliest memory, the authors noted in their report, “Your Earliest Memory May Be Earlier Than You Think: Prospective Studies of Children’s Dating of Earliest Childhood Memories.”

But the children who originally answered, for example, “I think I was 3 years old when my dog fell through the ice,” postdated that same earliest memory by as much as nine months when asked – in follow-up interviews a year or two years later – to recall again. In other words, as time went by, children thought the same memory event occurred at an older age than they had thought previously. And that finding prompts Wang and Peterson to question the 3.5-year offset for childhood amnesia.

“This can happen to adults’ earliest childhood memories, too,” says Wang, professor of human development and director of the Social Cognition Development Laboratory in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. “We all remember some events from our childhood. When we try to reconstruct the time of these events, we may postdate them to be more recent than they actually were, as if we are looking at the events through a telescope. Although none of us can recall events on the day of our birth – childhood amnesia may end somewhat earlier than the generally accepted 3.5 years.”

Parents might help because they have more clues (e.g., where they lived, what their children looked like at the time of events) to put their children’s experiences along a timeline. When asked, for example, “How old was Evan when Poochie fell through the ice?” they erred less than Evan had. Still, they are not free from errors in their time estimates.

The only way to settle that, Wang and Peterson mused, would be to look for documented evidence – a parent’s diary, for instance, or a newspaper account of Poochie’s memorable rescue.

What girls remember

In this study, as in another published by Wang in 2013, a gender-related difference was noted:

“Females generally, although not always, exhibit superior retention of episodic memories than males,” Wang and Peterson wrote in the 2014 report. The gender differences, according to the researchers, may reflect the development of life narratives in late childhood and early adolescence, where girls often tell lengthier and more coherent life stories than boys.

“The narrative organization of life events,” they speculated, “may allow girls to better remember the events over time, compared with boys.”

Wang, author of “The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture” (Oxford University Press, 2013), says her earliest childhood memory is “playing with the girls next door.” And given her findings, she wonders if that was around age 4.

Related Links:
Qi Wang
The Paper

Related Stories:
Book highlights memory's role as social glue
Study uncovers why women remember events better
Book shows how family, culture shape personal stories

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, March 3, 2014

Spreng book cover 182X238

Memory’s crucial impact on our ability to establish and maintain social bonds is the focus of a new book, “Examining the Role of Memory in Social Cognition” (Frontiers), edited by Cornell neuroscientist Nathan Spreng.

“The book brings together the first research on the linkages between memory and social behavior, processes traditionally studied separately,” said Spreng, assistant professor of human development and the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

“Remembering our own past and interpreting other people’s thoughts and feelings both activate similar neural pathways in the brain – a connection that may help us translate our personal experience into understanding others and navigating the complex dynamics of human social life,” he said.

Spreng

Spreng

“Discovery of the overlapping brain networks provided a clue about memory’s vital role in social interaction and inspired development of this first book on the topic,” he added.

In the book, neuroscientists and psychologists discuss their latest findings on topics such as how neural networks affect social abilities; how memory influences empathy; how aging affects memory and social abilities; how memory and social abilities are impacted by disorders such as schizophrenia and autism; and how amnesia and other memory impairments affect social abilities.

Intended for researchers and students in the fields of social and cognitive neuroscience, the book is a starting point for a line of cross-disciplinary research that may one day provide insights into how to improve social skills like empathy in healthy and impaired individuals, Spreng said.

Karene Booker is extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Information