SPUR 2019: Electrophysiological correlates of transitioning from working memory to long-term memory


How do we send information from a temporary working memory to a long-term memory that might last a lifetime? Understanding this process could have widespread benefits, such as helping students study more effectively or identifying early signs of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The current project will examine electrophysiological activity evoked when a subject is asked to repeatedly memorize an object. In previous work, we have found that repeatedly memorizing distinct items leads to a decrease in working memory activity and an increase in activity associated with long-term memory. We want to see how these long-term memory signatures are influenced by how recently the same item has been memorized. We know that seeing the same item over and over with no intervening items leads to long-term memory engagement. This project will examine how the relationship changes when we manipulate how long it has been since the subject last saw an item, and the memorability of the item in question.

Student Role

The student will primarily aid in data collection and analysis. Data collection will involve recording EEG data from subjects as they engage in a series of challenging visual search tasks. Analysis will involve using MATLAB, EEGLAB and ERPLAB to clean EEG data, then analyze the resultant data. We use a variety of analysis methods. The student will be involved in computing Event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to the onset of visual information. We will also be examining whether ongoing oscillatory in the EEG prior to onset of information predicts resultant performance. Future experiments may involve manipulating the onset of information so that it appears during a time when the subject appears best able to process information in order to determine if doing so results in improved performance.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

Summer students are generally treated as if they are visiting graduate students. As such, this will be a great experience for students who are trying to determine whether they want to go to graduate school. They will gain valuable experience with a number of techniques that will be valuable to potential graduate students, such as capping EEG participants, using an eye-tracker, cleaning EEG data, analyzing ERPs and summarizing behavioral data. Previous RAs from the AVAL lab have gone on to successful applications to medical school, law school and PhD graduate school programs in cognitive neuroscience. In addition to presenting at the OUR Summer Symposium, we will ask the student to complete a final presentation for the lab based on what they have learned during their time in the lab. If the project is successful, the student may be asked to be an author on subsequent publications and international conferences where this work is presented.

Trafton Drew
Assistant Professor

College of Social & Behavioral Science

My mentorship style is very collaborative. I typically begin by asking the student to read relevant research and then tell me about what they find the most interesting so that we can try to cater the student’s experience based on the their particular interests and skills. The student will be expected to be present at bi-weekly lab meetings during the summer. The student will also be expected to meet with either the PI or a senior grad student on a bi-weekly basis to ensure that the project is making sufficient progress. I like getting different perspectives on our research and am very open to new ideas and try to cultivate a culture in the lab that encourages active participation from all members.