I've had a few questions from people here about the research I do in a lab I work for at my university, which I briefly describe in my profile so I thought I'd describe it in more detail here.

I work in a lab that is interested in memory and attention and the mechanisms of executive control (which essentially refers to how attention is directed).

Our lab has looked at how retrieving an item from memory can impair memory for related items which causes long term forgetting. (A real life example would be having a new phone number and an old phone number. As you try to recall the new phone number you have to push the old one out of mind. Eventually even though you used your old phone number hundreds of times you can't remember it any more.) This is called retrieval induced forgetting. When remembering and practicing on piece of information actually harms your memory for another.

We also look at whether inhibitory processes can be controlled voluntarily and perhaps play some role in in regulating what one is aware of. Essentially we look at the suppression of unwanted memories or moticated forgetting. We look at the neurobiological systems that underlie executive control using mainly fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and we've touched on ERP (event related potentials). This does mean we have an interest in theoretical work regarding the possible role that the memory control mechanisms we're looking at have in adapting after a traumatic experience.

My thesis looks at how someone might use suppression to lie more effectively. The premise is that someone may lie more effectively if they push what they know to be true out of mind when telling a lie. (If done effectively they would be able to emulate the body language and physiology of telling the truth.) So people learn pairings of words or in a later study images and phrases and are asked to lie (while trying to convince themselves of what they're saying) or tell the truth about whether they know an item that is paired with the cue item on presented to them. I'm hoping to see similar effects to the typical comparable studies seen in the lab.

There are several applications of these results if the data were to turn out in my favor. I think my favorite of which is in lie detection. Some companies have used a technique with fMRI knowing which parts of the brain generally are activated when someone is lying or telling the truth to detect lies. (An fMRI requires someone to be completely and totally still, swallowing to hard can throw off the image so it does require complete cooperation from the person in the machine so it is unlikely to be abused an time soon. Typically now the technique is used to vindicate people accused of something such as stealing from their company or cheating on a spouse.) That being said one flaw in the technique is they can't detect when someone actually believes a lie they're telling. This could theoretically close that particular hole... were everything to work perfectly lol.

So that's a basic overview of what the lab I work in does. As the lab manager I help set up and run studies. I hire and train the stateside research assistants and help with scheduling everything. I code the data collected in the states. I also deal with some administrative things with the University. All and all I am unbelievably lucky to have this opportunity while still an undergraduate.

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Comment by BADWOLF on August 22, 2008 at 2:14pm
wow rhis is really interesting because i had lot of trouble's growing up and i actually learnt to intetionally block memorys - i'll know they are there after and i blocked the but i supress the details. tho it has had its side affects for me the ability sometine leaks over into normal day life some times without me knowing but for the most part i'm fine in every day life. but i do feel it tends to inhibit the mentals abilities too it kind of feels like a mental barrier/wall in my mind. dont want to risk forcing through the barrier dont know what kind of "demons" may come up
Comment by Mark on August 7, 2008 at 6:02am
Excellent, thanks for the tip, I'll keep honing my networking skills!

Regarding your research, are you trying to find out what techniques people might use to suppress neuro-/physio-logical signs of lying, or are you testing out particular techniques to see how/if they work?

It reminds me of the rtfMRI work deCharms is doing with controlling pain. I wonder if it might be possible to combine the rtfMRI training techniques deCharms used to teach people to control their brain/body when lying. Oh dear...
Comment by Rea on August 7, 2008 at 5:07am
I worked for the lab as a research assistant for a year before getting a chance to be the manager. I highly recommend that any student interested in a particular field ask around the department concerned for ways to get involved. It can lead to some great opportunities and some wonderful recommendations for future careers and/or grad school. Plus you get to find out if this is something you really want to do before getting in too deep.
Comment by Mark on August 6, 2008 at 9:01pm
Envious! Do you might if I ask how you ended up in such a great role?
Comment by Neece on August 6, 2008 at 1:15pm
Wow, Rea, that is amazingly fascinating! I am particularly interested in what you mentioned about memory and traumatic events. You only touched on it, but I would love to know more.
This is fascinating work. You are amazingly lucky. Sounds like they're very lucky to have you there managing things though too.

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