Mikael Johansson, Roger Johansson and Richard Dewhurst
Experience from everyday life constantly reminds us that our memories often are a subject of distortion. We frequently retrieve inaccurate information and sometimes completely misremember properties of past events. This may lead to annoying and embarrassing situations, such as, where we forget conversations we have previously been involved in and people we have bumped into. However, distorted memories can also have more serious consequences, for example, in situations where an eyewitness is to identify the perpetrator of a crime or testify about details of a crime scene. Consequently, developing sensitive and reliable methods to investigate memory retrieval are an important undertaking with a large potential for practical applications.
The main objective of this project is to develop an experimental paradigm where eye-tracking is used to study these questions and to combine this method with EEG/ERP measures of brain activity. Specific questions that we will focus on in this project revolve around: 1) how and when the oculomotor system is engaged during memory formation and retrieval; 2) how eye-movements may affect memory performance and phenomenology; 3) to what extent eye-movements may assist mnemonic control mechanisms, for example, in selecting target memories at the expense of competing memories, and in the specification of the cues used to query memory; and 4) can eye movements be used as a behavioural correlate of memory even if overt reports are withheld or incorrect (i.e., memories without conscious awareness)?
The advantage of investigating these aspects by means of eye-movement measures is twofold. First, the sensitivity of eye-movement measures has been demonstrated in previous studies of both explicit and implicit memories. Second, eye-tracking constitutes an unobtrusive method that can be recorded together with other techniques, such as verbal protocols and EEG/ERP to further disambiguate the data. In addition to the abovementioned potential practical applications, the project will provide valuable information about the role of eye-movements in memory formation and retrieval. While past research suggests that eye-movements may mirror retrieval from memory, it is currently a hot topic of debate if and how eye-movements play a causal role in influencing memory retrieval.
In the media
Johansson, R. & Johansson, M. (2013). Look here, eye movements play a functional role in memory retrieval. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797613498260
Johansson, R., Holsanova, J., Johansson, M., Dewhurst, R., & Holmqvist, K. (2012). Eye movements play an active role when visuospatial information is recalled from memory. Journal of Vision, 12(9): 1256.