Balancing stability and plasticity in the human memory system

balance This series of studies explores how the human memory system maintains a balance between stability and plasticity. On the one hand, the system needs to store information about past events that may be advantageous in future situations (stability). On the other hand, the system needs to update old information in order to stay relevant in a changing world (plasticity). Currently it is unclear whether old information can be directly updated by new learning (encoding-based effects), and/or whether the apparent ‘updating’ of an old memory arises through competition between rival memory traces activated during retrieval (retrieval-based effects).

A large portion of my PhD work has addressed the theoretical and empirical credibility of a theory called reconsolidation, an encoding-based theory which proposes that plasticity is achieved through repeated cycles of memory de-stabilisation and re-stabilisation.

My work also explores how the complex, associative structure of some information stored in memory (schemas) might give rise to indirect updating effects through mechanisms operating during memory retrieval. Such mechanisms may afford the system an element of stability by preserving old information whilst also retaining the capacity for incorporating new information over time.

Open science in the wild


Following my visit to The Center For Open Science, I am involved with two active projects investigating the efficacy of initiatives designed to promote open science practices in the research community. Many of these initiatives sound promising in theory, but are they effective in practice?

The first project is running in parallel with The Pre-Registration Challenge, a scheme that is distributing $1,000,000 of awards to researchers who pre-register their study and analysis plans. Our study will track the prize entries and measure various outcomes that might shed light on the efficacy and practical feasibility of the pre-registration process.

The second project is examining the effect of open science badges (see images above) on the availability of study data and materials. Our team is working through a back-catalogue of articles in the badge-adopting journal Psychological Science, and comparison journals, to see whether the opportunity to provide data and materials actually increases rates of open sharing.