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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, manager,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

11-08-04

Contacts:

Anne Cleary, Psychology, (515) 294-7453

David Gieseke, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,
(515) 294-7742

Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986

Iowa State psychology professor receives $400,000 National Science Foundation grant to study recognition memory

AMES, Iowa -- For those who have stood in line at the ballpark and noticed a passerby who seemed oddly familiar, but couldn't place a name, research from a five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded to an Iowa State University psychology professor may provide perspective.

Anne Cleary, assistant professor of psychology, will study familiarity-based recognition memory -- why some features (color, place, texture, etc.) of an experience later give rise to feelings of familiarity and what underlying aspects of the mind cause these subjective feelings.

"My work is focused on a newly discovered and controversial phenomenon called recognition without identification," Cleary said. "This is the ability people have to recognize fragments of information as part of earlier experienced events, even though they can't recollect the actual events."

Cleary said her research potentially is important to people suffering from various brain injuries or the effects of aging. She said many people in those groups have lost the ability to recollect specific events or experiences but a sense of familiarity (the gut feeling that something has been experienced before) may trigger the memory.

She added that some research shows familiarity may be among the most resilient forms of human memory. By understanding familiarity processes, she said, researchers could someday help those whose memories have been impaired. For example, caregivers working with older adults could use familiarity triggers to aid their clients in remembering family members or specific medication characteristics (color, texture, bottle shape, etc.).

"Some studies have shown familiarity to remain intact when one's recollective ability has been lost to brain damage," Cleary said. "Other studies suggest that familiarity may be relatively impervious to aging. If so, then understanding how familiarity operates may lead to a diagnostic tool for assessing memory impairment."

If researchers can identify what produces feelings of familiarity, then perhaps they can create tests to assess people's familiarity abilities.

"If a person still can feel familiar with names, places and musical tunes but has lost the ability to feel familiar with people's faces, this might provide clues about which part of the brain has been damaged," Cleary said.

Cleary's research has included showing people objects and words on a computer and then re-showing them either very quickly or in such a way they can't be identified by the features.

"The goal is to create a sense of 'Oh! What was that? I don't know what it was I just saw, but I have a gut feeling I saw it recently,'" Cleary said.

Cleary is a cognitive psychologist and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in cognitive processes, psychology research methods and advanced cognition. Cognitive psychology is the study of human cognition, or how the mind works, and includes aspects such as memory, language, awareness, perception, reasoning and judgment.

Cleary received a bachelor of science in psychology-neuroscience in 1997 from John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio; a master's in experimental psychology in 1999 and a doctorate in experimental psychology in 2001, both from Case Western University, Cleveland.

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Quick look

Anne Cleary, assistant professor of psychology, has received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant to study familiarly-based recognition memory -- why some features (color, place, texture, etc.) of an experience later give rise to feelings of familiarity and what underlying aspects of the mind cause these subjective feelings.

Quote

"My work is focused on a newly discovered and controversial phenomenon called recognition without identification. This is the ability people have to recognize fragments of information as part of earlier experienced events, even though they can't recollect the actual events."

Anne Cleary