Psychology graduate students win Psychonomic Society Graduate Travel Award

Kat McNeeley-White (left) and Sarah Myers (right) received the 2019 Psychonomic Society Graduate Travel Award.

Sarah Myers and Kat McNeely-White, graduate students studying cognitive psychology at Colorado State University, will be presenting research posters at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Montréal later this year as recipients of the society’s Graduate Travel Award, a competitive award presented to only 18 recipients this year. They received a stipend of $1,000 for traveling to the meeting, a ribbon on their research posters, and a featured notation in the program booklet indicating the award.

Self-testing: Beneficial, or a waste of time?

Myers researched how students benefit from self-testing – creating their own test questions and using them to quiz themselves while studying.

“We know from research that testing isn’t just a way to figure out what students know, it actually improves students’ memory for material compared to restudying, so we’ve been telling students that they should test themselves when studying,” Myers said. “I was interested in this project because I noticed that there was a mismatch between the advice we were giving students and what the research was actually showing. Typically, a researcher creates the practice test for subjects, but students aren’t always provided practice tests or study guides in real courses. I was curious whether our advice for students to test themselves was still valid if students tested themselves with their own questions.”

Myers created two experiments to compare self-testing with other study strategies, which yielded startling results.

“Surprisingly, we found that self-testing led to worse learning than receiving premade tests and even simply rereading,” Myers said.

Myers notes these results require further exploration, particularly with a longer delay between self-testing and the final test, because testing benefits sometimes take time to appear. Myers continues to research the topic and looks forward to future revelations.

“Until then, I suggest students test themselves by simply taking a blank sheet of paper and writing down as much as they can about a topic from memory, rather than spending a bunch of time writing practice test questions,” Myers said.

Myers’s findings have a significant importance for students, because they demonstrate that common studying advice might not always work well in reality.

Professor Matt Rhodes provided a letter of support for Myers’s award nomination, expressing admiration for Myers’s intellect and interpersonal skills.

“Sarah is simply a wonderful person, combining a deep intellect with a kindness and enthusiasm that makes her a pleasure to work with,” Rhodes said.

Déjà entendu: This sounds familiar

McNeely-White examined the topic of déjà entendu, the auditory version of déjà vu, and why it occurs when listening to music. McNeely-White also assessed the association between déjà entendu and feelings of prediction. Many studies have documented the relationship between déjà vu and false feelings of prediction, but no existing studies examined this same phenomenon with déjà entendu.

“I am interested in how we store features and aspects of the things we encounter within memory,” McNeely-White said. “Most frequently, those features held within memory are successfully compared to what we are currently seeing and hearing, allowing us to recognize the person, place, or object (the features in our memory match the features of the current object). However, sometimes the matching process fails. There may be somewhat of a match between our memories and what we are currently experiencing, but for some reason, we fail to recollect the details of what we are seeing and hearing. This leads to quirky experiences like déjà entendu.”

McNeely-White previously studied déjà entendu with Professor Anne Cleary, and their findings appeared in an article in New Ideas in Psychology and another article in Psychology Today.

During her research, McNeely-White played musical tones in isolation for participants, and afterwards played songs containing those tones to the same participants.

“We have found that when aspects of the current song that the participant is listening to (such as the rhythm or the tone) have been previously heard in isolation, the participant is more likely to experience déjà entendu for the current song,” she said.

McNeely-White also found that participants have illusory feelings of prediction when experiencing déjà entendu. The experiment involved pausing songs before they ended to ask participants if they had strong feelings of predicting the pitch of the next musical tone. Only 50% of participants who felt they could predict the pitch of the next tone predicted accurately.

“Collectively, we concluded that déjà entendu occurs because aspects of the current song had been previously heard, but the participant failed to realize that,” McNeely-White said. “Also, déjà entendu is associated with illusory feelings of prediction.”

Cleary provided McNeely-White’s letter of support for the award, noting McNeely-White’s ability to combine personal interests with the field of psychology.

“Katherine McNeely-White has uniquely combined her musical background (she is both a cellist and a pianist) with her cognitive psychology research on the mechanisms of human memory,” Cleary said.