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Recognition-Induced Forgetting and Dr. Maxcey

Stuti Jain | October 14, 2022

Your lab focuses on this phenomenon called recognition-induced forgetting. What is that? 

Recognition induced forgetting is this pretty simple phenomena in which if I show you multiple pictures, the remembering of some of them will induce the forgetting of the others. So let’s say I show you six different dogs. Then I take three of them and I say, like, did you see this one? Did you see this one? Did you see this one? We want to show that the practice of recognizing some of the dogs actually induces or causes the forgetting of the other three dogs. 

Why did you choose to get into your current field of research? 

So I actually started my career primarily teaching and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to run a lab because I was working at a place that didn’t require that for my job. But, I decided that I wanted to be able to offer research experience to my students. So, I went to a conference just kind of thinking about, like, what research questions I wanted to answer because I was sort of starting from ground zero to build out my lab. And I was at a talk where they were talking about this phenomenon called retrieval induced forgetting, okay. And I thought, well, if they just used pictures and recognition, instead of words and retrieval, maybe they could answer this question. So I went home, and I created this recognition induced forgetting paradigm. 

What have you found so far in your research? Is there anything surprising that you’ve seen that was different from your initial hypothesis?

I think that the most surprising finding that even the field in general has been somewhat surprised by is that I can induce the forgetting so easily in my lab of something that’s stored visually. This is particularly surprising because we know that memory for pictures is much better than memory for words. So, visual memory is a lot stronger than verbal memory. And so, the underlying mechanism, like why that’s happening and what’s driving it, are the types of questions that we’re asking now.

How is your research going to better our understanding of how our brain and memory works? What is the big world impact once you figure out how it’s driven?

You know, we, a lot of what we know about memory and forgetting has been discovered using words. But unfortunately, like I mentioned, memory for pictures is better than memory for words. So there’s the possibility that a lot of what we tell people about memory and forgetting only applies to words and doesn’t apply to pictures. And so one of the things that I’m just really interested in my lab is trying to understand, like, what are we telling the general public about memory and forgetting? And is it true when we’re talking about visual memory? This is very applicable because there are all these situations in which there’s real world applications, like eyewitness testimony and things like that. For students, it can mean that if you practice certain things for the test, but you don’t practice other things and they end up on the test, you have induced the forgetting of that. 

What’s your favorite part about being a teacher and a researcher here at Vanderbilt?

Relationships. I think that what is confusing as you navigate your career is that your goals are supposed to be like getting tenure, or getting an award or getting a publication or adding to your CV, but the reality is that like, none of that feels good after 20 minutes. I’ve gotten all of those things and it doesn’t change how meaningful you feel your life is at all. I have this life where I’m chasing those things, but along the way, I meet all these wonderful students and colleagues, and am able to mentor people in my lab. And later, people in my lab or my colleagues invite me to their weddings, and they keep in touch with me after they leave, and it’s all of those relationships that really fill me up. 

Is there something you wish your students knew about you?

I think that what I would like for students to know more is like the genuine interest that I have in their lives outside of the classroom. I like to go to students’ dance recitals, and I like to go to their plays, and I just love these things. It’s because when I’m in the classroom and I’m looking at my students, I’m thinking about their families and the burdens they’re carrying, and how they can do these amazing things that I’m not capable of doing. When I was an undergrad, I would have never invited my professors to anything because I never would have thought they wanted to go, but I really want to go and I love being invited. I just want my students to know that I am interested in seeing them outside the class and supporting them outside of class.