Steve Smith’s Memory, Metacognition, & Creative Cognition Lab
Where do ideas come from? Research in our laboratory examines the cognitive and neuroscientific mechanisms that bring memories and creative ideas to mind. Much of our current research concerns blocks that obstruct memory, creative thinking, and problem solving, a phenomenon known more generally as fixation. That is, we study how memories and ideas come to mind by focusing on what prevents them from coming to mind.
Currently, our lab is engaged in creative cognition research that examines the roles of various memory processes in causing and strengthening fixation, using laboratory manipulated materials to induce blocks in memory and creative problem solving. Our studies of automatic retrieval vs. deliberate recollection of fixating stimuli show separate effects of these memory processes on problem solving. A second memory mechanism of interest is context-dependent memory; problems are solved more poorly in the fixation context, and they are better resolved if they are retested in new contexts. A third mechanism of interest is suppression of unwanted pre-potent (dominant) responses, a process that may be essential in creative thinking; common or inappropriate ideas may crowd out more unusual ones. In addition to the cognitive mechanisms, we are beginning to study the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie the causes of fixation, the ways that fixation can be overcome or avoided, and the consequences of resolving fixated problems.
Current memory research in our lab deals with context-dependent memory, and with memory blocks. We have been interested in a number of topics, such as factors that make memory more contextualized vs. what makes memories context-independent. One line of research has examined effects of varying your learning contexts vs. keeping learning contexts constant. Our research has shown some interesting paradoxes; for example, we find that material seems more poorly learned when practice contexts are varied, yet retention is enhanced by varying one’s learning contexts. In addition, we have found that confidence in one’s learning is lower when practice contexts are varied, motivating learners to study more.
Our memory research has also examined strong laboratory induced memory blocks, and recovery from them. Currently, we are examining the roles of automatic retrieval and deliberate recollection of retrieval competitors, and the roles of those processes in the formation of memory blocks.