Current Projects

Memory, Cognitive Development and Learning

Effects of Analogical Comparison and Self-Explanation on Learning and Transfer. This project is investigating how two types of learning strategies support the transfer of remembered concepts to new domain areas. Specifically, we are interested in how self-explanation (explaining the material to oneself) and analogical comparison (comparing two examples that are related to one another), and support transfer on analogical but disparate problems, and how to best support effective implementation of these learning strategies.

Autobiographical Remembering

Development of Ruminative Tendencies in Autobiographical Remembering. This study explores the developmental trajectory of rumination in autobiographical memories by examining ruminative tendencies in children and adolescents. Rumination is typically measured with questionnaires, but we are interested in studying how these tendencies manifest in stressful autobiographical memories. Specifically, we are exploring the effects of socialization processes (with both parent and peer partners) and executive function/cognitive control, in 11- to 16-year-old girls’ memories. Child/adolescent participants will recall negative memories alone, with their mother, and with a close friend, and we will look at how the degree of rumination in the child’s individual memory is related to co-rumination in the two types of conversation, affect-related cognitive control, and questionnaire measures of ruminative style.

Narratives of Stressful and Traumatic Events: Does the Audience Matter? This project looks at the ways in which having a live “audience” for young adults’ traumatic memory narratives (i.e., telling the story to another person) affects how memories are told, compared to conditions in which there is no salient audience.  We are looking at whether having an audience present prompts greater efforts at meaning making and resolution, to either protect the self or the feelings of the audience, or whether having an audience present seems to disrupt processing and recollection.  We are also looking at how recollecting with and without an audience present affects the individual’s mood after memory disclosure.

Autobiographical Narratives and Well-Being in Emerging Adults with and without Abuse Histories. Some of our current work is based on a very large dataset of young adults’ autobiographical narratives collected in collaboration with Dr. Kate McLean at Western Washington University. We have collected personal memory narratives and data on coping, psychological symptoms, and mental and physical well-being from over 500 college students. About one third of the participants self report histories of trauma or abuse. We are looking at how emerging adults recollect traumatic and other significant life experiences in response to five different types of memory prompts (most traumatic, low point, transgression, turning point, and self defining) and how the qualities of their recollections- both self reported and more objectively measured- relate to their psychological adjustment.

Recently Completed Projects

Parent-Guided Conversations and Children’s Memories for Stressful Experiences

Remembering the Joplin Tornado (Hambrick et al., in press). This study, directed by Erin Hambrick, focused on survivors of the EF5 tornado that devastated Joplin, MO in May 2011. Pre-adolescent children (n=49) were asked to recollect the tornado alone, and then jointly with a parent. Increased detail,coherence, emotion expression, and meaning making provided by children in both the child-alone recollections and mother-child conversation related to more child posttraumatic stress even when controlling for trauma exposure levels. The findings suggest that memory qualities that are seen as beneficial in therapeutic contexts may not always signal positive post-trauma adaptation for children.

An Experimental Investigation of Parent-Guided Conversations and Children’s Memories of a Stressful Event (Sun, Greenhoot, & Kelton, 2016). Led by Shengkai Sun, we examined the roles of parent-guided conversations in (1) shaping 4- to 7-year-old children’s memories of a negative event, and (2) influencing children’s stress responses to the event over time. Children viewed a mildly distressing film with a research assistant. The parent was later asked to talk with the child about the video under either emotion-focused instructions (make sure your child feels ok) or fact-focused instructions (find out what happened). We monitored the children’s physiological reactions during the entire procedure. The manipulation of parent talk did not affect children’s recollections or distress reactions, but individual differences in parent talk did. Children recalled more detail but were less accurate and less complete with their parent than the interviewer. Thus, talking to a parent who is unfamiliar with what happened may enhance the amount of information children recollect, but may also compromise other aspects of memory such as accuracy and completeness. We also found that lower child stress before and after, but not during, the video was linked with better memory.