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Expectation may be essential to memory formation

Research by Hui Chen (post-doctoral fellow), Brad Wyble (assistant professor), and Garrett Swan (graduate student) regarding the role of expectation on memory formation was recently featured in Penn State News.

A theory that links memory encoding to expectations of future relevance may better explain how human memory works, according to a team of Penn State psychologists.

Modern psychology posits two major theories to explain the mechanisms of how memories are formed. The first is object-based encoding, storing all information about an object in working memory. The second is feature-based encoding, selectively remembering aspects of an object. For example, if you watch a group of people playing basketball, under object-based encoding theory, the brain remembers all aspects of the ball. In feature-based encoding, the brain remembers that it saw a ball, but may have no recollection of the color if the color of the ball is an unnecessary feature according to the task at hand.

The proposed theory, expectancy-based binding, suggests that subjects can remember features presented in a visual scene or movie without necessarily remembering which object went with which feature when it is not necessary to do so.

"The key discovery was that attending an object for an extended period of time does not ensure that all of the features of that object will be correctly associated with it in memory," said Brad Wyble, assistant professor of psychology.

The full article can be viewed through Penn State News.

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