Research Interests

Human causal reasoning

For the past several years, we have studied how people think about the causes of events. Our efforts have focused on trying to co-ordinate an approach that uses theoretical principles from associative learning theory with an approach that uses ideas about mental schemata and abstract rules. Most recently, we have been looking at complex discriminations that are thought by many (including us) to involve configural cues for their solution. Our work attempts to understand what is learned and how the learning relates to working memory capacity and to genetic markers for dopamine activity.

Evolution of cognitive processes/comparative cognition

One of my long-term interests has been to understand the evolution of cognitive processes. I approach this interest by trying to understand basic processes in human cognition and identifying comparable processes in nonhuman animals.

Psychobiology of learning and memory

I study noncontingent learning processes, such as habituation and classical conditioning, from the theoretical perspective of Activation-Evocability Theory (AET). This perspective distinguishes between stimulus-specific changes in activation potential and relatively nonspecific changes in response evocability.  Work in my laboratory has applied AET to the analysis of habituation of the rabbit eyeblink reflex, and we plan to extend this analysis to look at habituation in humans.

Metamemory and cognition

How do students decide what material to study and how to study it? This practical question offers a way to look at decision making and beliefs about learning in ways that may yield some interesting results from both a theoretical and a pedagogical perspective.

Implicit memory

An ongoing project in my laboratory has examined perceptual identification as an example of human “implicit memory”. This task first came to prominence with McGinnis’ apparent demonstration of perceptual defense in 1947; it received attention again with Jacoby and Dallas’ 1981 demonstration that priming in perceptual identification was long-lasting.  Our work has focused on the determinants of persistence and on the roles of familiarization and codification in perceptual identification.