Lake Forest College News

Professor's research shows enhanced memory for censored lyrics
news story imageLake Forest, Ill. - Lake Forest College's Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Kelley recently published research suggesting that censoring words in a song might actually make the removed lyrics more memorable.

Participants in the series of studies heard an original song in which a subset of nouns was either partially or completely censored. On a later recognition test, participants showed an ironic effect of censorship - the censored (unheard) items were remembered 15-20% better than the actual heard words, suggesting that by omitting certain words from songs, censors might actually make those words more memorable.

The study was published in a 17-chapter book that Kelley edited, Applied Memory, which contains research on a number of topics related to cognitive psychology, human memory, or applied psychology, including memory and unusual advertisements, flashbulb memory for 9/11 and the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, remembering social information. The book was published by Nova Science Publishers in January 2009. More details are available here:

"Faculty often speak about how our research informs our teaching," says Kelley. "In the case of Applied Memory, the opposite was true: my teaching influenced my research. My students constantly seek to connect the basic research in psychology to the real-world. The book was an effort to provide some of these connections by exploring real-world applications of benchmark memory phenomena."

Kelley also served as the primary author on two of the chapters: "Ironic Effects of Censorship: Generating Censored Lyrics Enhances Memory," and "Applied Part Set Cuing." Six former students contributed research to the articles: Joanna Bovee '06, James Chambers '05, Caroline Fitz '08, Brittany Goldman '09, Stacey Parrott '09, and Gretchen Yehl '09. The book also includes an article written by Professor of Psychology Robert Glassman, "Our Life's Long Term Work with Our Small Short-Term Memory: Building Basic Memories into More Complex Knowledge."

"Working closely with Professor Kelley on his research," said Bovee, who is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, "not only provided me excellent training for my graduate program in cognitive psychology, but it also has helped me develop professionally, as we have continued to collaborate and publish since I left Lake Forest College."

Kelley's research focus has moved to two projects: The first deals with the topic of social remembering and collaborative memory. He says, "Not surprisingly, two heads working collaboratively perform better than one head working alone. Interestingly, however, two heads working alone perform better than two heads working collaboratively - a phenomenon known as collaborative inhibition." The second is a project with a colleague at the University of Mississippi , Matthew Reysen, and some Lake Forest College students Amie Jones '12, a Richter Scholar; Natalie Talbert '10, and Mura Dominko '10. They are examining the influence of gossip, topic interest, and story structure on collaborative inhibition.

Kelley specializes in cognitive psychology; human memory, learning, and performance. He received his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Purdue University. Kelley has published more than a dozen articles on his research since 1999, and was awarded the William L. Dunn Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarly Promise at the College in 2006. Outside of the classroom, he has also been a grand prize winner on "Wheel of Fortune," taking home nearly $70,000 worth of prizes in 2006.

Lake Forest College is a national liberal arts institution located 30 miles north of downtown Chicago. The College has 1,400 students representing 45 states and 69 countries.

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Will Pittinos '06
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