Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Kelley and Sydni Cole ’12 publish in top APA journal

Their spatial memory research, in collaboration with Matthew Reysen from the University of Mississippi, will be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition.

Imagine that you are asked to remember a list of 20 words. At test, you are given the option to recall with hints (i.e., 10 of the words given back as cues) or without hints.  What would you choose? Most people would choose hints and then would be surprised to learn that the hints are likely to impair their memory performance—a phenomenon known as part-set cuing inhibition.

Although this counterintuitive finding has proven extremely robust over the past 45 years, prior research had never examined the influence of part-set cues with other forms of memory, such as spatial memory. 

The present study was rooted in the award-winning thesis research of Sydni Cole ’12 (Neuroscience), who shared the Phi Beta Kappa Senior Thesis Award (with Paulius Kuprys of Biology) and also won first prize at the 2012 Chicago chapter meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. 

Cole and Kelley developed a novel technique to study spatial memory using Snap Circuits, an educational toy. Across two experiments, they showed that part-set cuing inhibition did not occur in spatial memory. Instead, they discovered just the opposite—strong part-set cuing facilitation, the more intuitive finding that hints help memory. These results have important theoretical implications.

“Our results point to fundamental differences between spatial memory and the multiple other memory types studied using part-set cuing paradigms,” said Cole. “The opportunity to participate in all aspects of the research process, from experimental design through writing of the manuscript, was an invaluable experience and one that I came to realize after graduating is unique to the Lake Forest College experience.”

“This is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Kelley. “Within eight months of graduating, Sydni has already become the first author on an article in a flagship journal of the APA. I must say that I was particularly impressed by Sydni’s dedication to continue working on the project even after graduation.”

The study, titled “Part-Set Cuing Facilitation for Spatial Information,” is available in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition.