Each emotion we experience has a particular node in our memory, which connects us to previous occasions when we experienced that emotion. Because of this, a pleasant mood enables us to access a positive memory more easily, and an unpleasant mood accesses a negative memory more easily. In Cognitive Psychology, says Libby Curran, this phenomenon is known as "mood-state dependent memory, where you are more likely to remember material if your mood at the time of retrieval matches the mood you were in when you originally learned the material."
Those of us who have experienced the passing of many years will agree with research that shows time also affects our memories. But what you may not know is that older adults' reconstructed memories are more positive than their original accounts. We tend to perceive and reflect upon our past experiences more positively.
Libby, who is majoring in Psychology and carrying a minor in Child Development, has been researching these theories in depth for the past four semesters. In spring 2006, she began as a teaching assistant, a rarity for an undergraduate, in Dr. Friedrich Stephan's Neuroscience Lab. That same semester, as the research coordinator in Dr. Katinka Dijkstra's Cognitive Lab, she helped investigate the organization of autobiographical memories in younger and older adults, the differences in language production in adults with dementia, and the priming processes in memory retrieval. Samples were taken from Florida State's psychology students and from adults at the Claude Pepper Institute. "Developmental psychology is fascinating," she says. "Our society has a growing senior population that serves as a resource for psychological questions."
Since that same summer she has worked as a research assistant in Dr. Bryan Loney's Clinical Lab for the National Institutes of Health-sponsored project, "Gender and Emergent Childhood Conduct Problems." Dr. Loney, who challenged Libby "to maintain an open mind and a critical eye," was awarded the grant to investigate the gender differences in school-age children who were displaying a variety of conduct problems. Libby says, "Soon we hope to have results on this exciting project, three years in the making!"
This month brought the culmination of her research studies—an Honors thesis entitled, "The Quest for Mood-dependent Memory Continues: Mood Congruence Facilitates Autobiographical Memory Recall." In May, she will present a poster of her research at the convention for the Association for Psychological Science.
Libby will take with her the memory of a professor who gave her the "most life experience"—Dr. Katinka Dijkstra. "She encouraged me to push myself to achieve goals I didn't think I could. I will forever be in her debt."[Close Button]