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Cool (we think) Ongoing Research
The "Width" of Attention During Search
Juan Guevara Pinto and I have previously found that challenging visual search not only produces better incidental memory (replicating Hout & Goldinger, 2010), but it narrows observers' attentional window (Guevara Pinto & Papesh, 2019). Theories of visual search suggest that the attentional window should be affected by task difficulty, so this was not a huge surprise. What may be surprising, however, is that the attentional window is also affected by target prevalence! Although low-target prevalence trials, in which search targets rarely occur, are characterized by poorer accuracy, our results suggest that they are nevertheless conducted with wider (not narrower) attentional fields. We replicated this pattern across several distinct paradigms, using eye movements, gaze-contingent windows (see right), and RSVP search.
Unfamiliar Face Matching has Amnesia
Although people are often described as face perception and recognition experts, this expertise is really only extended to people with whom we are personally familiar. Whereas friends and family members can be recognized across decades, despite myriad changes in their appearance, individuals with whom we are unfamiliar are challenging to recognize, especially after substantial periods of time. Laura Heisick and I recently finished a series of four experiments investigating what people remember about individuals encountered within an unfamiliar face matching task. For example, if you go through airport security, will the TSA agent remember having seen you? Our research suggests that the answer to this question is "no." Although we presented observers in our study with identical images across "study" and test, which confounds person and picture recognition, performance was still barely above chance! We are currently revising the manuscript for resubmission.
Own-Ethnicity Biases in Prospective Person Memory
When people go missing, billboard signs, news broadcasts, and cellphone alerts often tell people in the area to be on the lookout. These alerts will frequently describe the person and provide a picture to serve as a template. How good are people at monitoring for such missing people? Our recent research suggests that (a) people are not great at this and (b) they are even worse when the person who is missing is from a different racial/ethnic background. We gave observers a prospective memory task in which their job was to make decisions about a series of faces while monitoring for one specific person. When they finally encountered the specific person, they were more likely to notice when the missing person matched their own race/ethnicity
Using Memory to Reject Novel Experiences
Recognition memory is one of the most well-studied areas in cognitive science. Decades of research have revealed highly-replicable phenomena (e.g., word frequency effects, mirror effects, etc.) and generated intense theoretical debate. We recently explored questions about metamemory processes in the rejection of experiences (i.e., knowing that something was not recently encountered). This process is important, as it helps us to avoid experiencing déjà vu every time we meet a new person. Across two experiments, we manipulated word frequency, context variability, and response deadlines to examine their impacts on old/new accuracy and metacognitive assessments (e.g., deciding that something is new because otherwise it would have been remembered). We observed clear effects of item characteristics in metacognitive rejection strategies, such that highly memorable items were rejected on the basis of their memorability. Response deadlines also affected performance in interesting ways: Rejecting memorable items was unaffected by shortening the decision duration, suggesting a rapid appreciation of memorability.
Contextual Expectations Influence Incidental Memory
Remembering to fulfill an intention at a later time requires people to monitor the environment for cues that it is time to act. This monitoring process involves the strategic and flexible allocation of attentional resources: Some contexts make us ramp up attention while others allow us to disengage and focus on something else. This sort of flexible attention can have an impact on our ongoing task behaviors, our ability to remember to fulfill intentions, and our memory for what we encountered along the way. We (Guevara Pinto, Papesh, & Hicks, 2021) investigated how the precision of contextual expectations influenced participants' incidental memory formation using a prospective memory task: As shown to the right, participants completed a color-matching task in which their job was to tell us whether the font of a word appearing after 4 colored polygons matched any of those 4 colors. While doing this, they also monitored for a PM target (e.g., the words corn or dancer). We found that participants who knew which polygon reliably preceded PM targets incidentally encoded more non-PM words that followed those polygons. We are currently conducting a series of studies to determine when, in the stream of processing throughout a trial, attention becomes more engaged.
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