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Laura L. Heisick


I am a fifth year graduate student in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences doctoral program at Louisiana State University. I am broadly interested in memory and general cognitive processes, especially the relationship between encoding and retrieval dynamics, general face perception, and physiological indices of memory, such as pupillometry.


My ongoing projects focus on the following topics:

  • Investigating the functional utility of eye movements across learning and retrieval.

  • Examining the interplay between memory retrieval and memory rejection, as well as failures of memory (e.g., forgetting).

  • Understanding the function of forgetting on purpose (e.g., forgetting your expired email password), as opposed to forgetting on accident (e.g., forgetting your new email password after changing it).

  • Exploring the relationship between pupil dilation and memory, including the impact of reward processing and cognitive effort.

  • Investigations of face perception, in particular unfamiliar face recognition and matching, and how to improve these processes.


I have been able to participate in many valuable teaching-related opportunities at LSU. I have recently taught my own sections of Introduction to Psychology, Cognition, and Neuropsychology (through Duke TIP). I have also served as a teaching assistant for courses spanning introductory material (Introduction to Psychological Statistics) and higher-level material (Physiological Psychology), and I am very interested in serving as an instructor in the future. 


Interest in what pupil dilation indexes about memory has existed for many years, and several reliable effects can be documented using pupil response as a variable.  For example, as we recently replicated, when participants correctly identify a studied stimulus as old (i.e., a hit), there is a greater associated pupil dilation than when they correctly identify a stimulus as new (i.e., a correct rejection).  This is referred to as the pupil old/new effect (Vo et al., 2008).

I am also currently investigating the interplay of reward cues and cognitive effort as reflected by pupil dilation. While there is ample evidence that effort at encoding is associated with more pupil dilation (citation), there is conflicting evidence about what pupil dilation during memory retrieval indexes. To investigate this question, participants study faces associated with high or low reward values and can earn money for correct decisions. By examining pupil dilation at, I aim to compare effortful encoding and retrieval processes.

Memory & Pupillometry

Forgetting on Purpose

Although most memory research focuses on successful remembering, I am particularly interested in what happens when we forget. Forgetting is often described as a failure of memory, but intentionally forgetting irrelevant, distracting, or wrong information benefits memory (see MacLeod, 1998). For example, when changing your email password, it’s important to be able to intentionally forget your previous password to minimize confusion (and irritation) when trying to access the account again later.


I am working on several experiments examining whether forgetting on purpose results in active inhibition or withdrawal of attention (Taylor, 2005; Taylor & Fawcett, 2011). Across both behavioral and eye-tracked experiments, I am interested in determining how attention might be inhibited from to-be-forgotten information. I am also examining how greater effort to remove or inhibit to-be-forgotten information might be reflected in pupil dilation, and if greater effort predicts more effective forgetting. To investigate whether contextual or identity information is inhibited during intentional forgetting, these current experiments use images of everyday objects (examples shown to the right) and a comparison of performance across both explicit and implicit memory tests to uncover what happens to a memory after it has been inhibited.

Social Aspects of Face Perception

I have recently begun investigations into the automaticity of social categorization, or the process by which we determine whether someone is a member of our social in-group or out-group. Social categorization has been shown to influence unfamiliar face perception (e.g., Bernstein et al., 2007). To extend this research, I have conducted two experiments in which participants must make matching decisions about two faces, or study faces embedded into mock IDs and make subsequent recognition decisions.


To the right are results from my investigation of face matching, demonstrating the signal detection index of d’ as a function of categorizing a faces as in- or out-group, and whether participants explicitly identified the ID’s country of origin or only made matching decisions (implicit). Results of this investigation suggest that social categorization may be relatively automatic and provide support for social cognitive theories of face perception (Hugenberg et al., 2010).

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