Psychology Alumnus Awarded Bronze Medal for Dissertation
William Aue G’14, who earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a bronze medal for the James McKeen Cattell Dissertation Award for his dissertation, “Understanding Proactive Facilitation in Cued Recall.”
In a continuing effort to encourage and recognize high standards of dissertation research, the Psychology Section of the New York Academy of Sciences biennially recognizes outstanding doctoral dissertations in psychology through the James McKeen Cattell Award. The competition is limited to students of doctoral programs in regionally accredited institutions who have either attained doctoral degrees or successfully defended their dissertations. Dissertations are judged by the steering committee of the Psychology Section, in consultation with specialists in the area of the dissertation.
“The aim of my research is to better understand when and how we update existing memories with new information,” Aue explains. “It’s well known that old memories can interfere with newer memories. For example, if a friend weds and changes their surname, our memory for their old name may make it hard to recall their new name; a phenomenon called proactive interference. In my dissertation, I examined situations where old memories actually help people recall new information; a phenomenon called proactive facilitation.”
Aue, currently a postdoctoral research associate at Purdue University, further elaborates, “The goal of my dissertation was to understand how proactive facilitation occurs. Drawing upon models of how we think memory works, I identified multiple potential mechanisms that could explain the phenomenon. Based on the results, I suggested that when we study information, we are also covertly checking if we’ve seen it before. If the new information is recognized as having been seen before, then the new memory gets a bit of a boost. This results in it being better remembered later on.”
He currently is working to understand mechanisms that drive learning that occurs when people retrieve information from memory (for example, during a test) and how that knowledge can be applied to educational settings and materials.
Mentors for the awardees’ dissertations are also recognized with a citation certificate. Aue’s mentor was Amy Criss, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, for whom he had high praise. “Working with Amy over the years has been a phenomenal experience. In addition to the countless hours spent discussing research and editing papers, she has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities and open doors to facilitate my professional development. It’s difficult to overstate her role in my success.”
“Billy is everything you want in a graduate student,” Criss says, “an incisive and collaborative scholar and a thoughtful mentor.”
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