In my research I examine how to improve the accuracy of both memory performance and the judgments people make about their cognitive functions. My research takes basic memory processes as a starting point, but extends to questions that have direct applied relevance: How can we help students choose optimal study strategies? Why are test scores sometimes so surprising to students? And how can we be sure that what we are remembering actually happened?
Improving Retention Through Retrieval Practice
In a post-doc funded by the McDonnell foundation grant "Applying Cognitive Psychology to Enhance Educational Practice", I examined how students could autonomously implement retrieval practice to enhance their academic performance. Although retrieval practice produces superior test performance compared with re-reading, this study technique requires instructor-generated practice questions. In Weinstein, McDermott, and Roediger (2010), we compared cued-recall retrieval practice to a technique that involved students generating their own practice questions. This study strategy produced equivalent performance to using the instructor-generated materials, thus giving students a viable alternative in the absence of such materials.
I also study how effective memory techniques can be used outside of educational settings. In Weinstein, McDermott, and Szpunar (2011) we demonstrated that the learning of face-name pairings can be greatly improved by intermittent testing. I enjoy communicating with people outside of academia about memory improvement and disseminating these research findings to the public (see, for instance, the talk I gave at the British Psychological Society "Psychology for All" event).
Illusions of Memory and Cognition
In graduate school, I worked on identifying the basic processes by which people come to believe they have seen something that they did not see. I designed a procedure that very rapidly produces false recognition of previously unseen but imagined pictures (Weinstein & Shanks, 2010), and used it to examine the contribution of perceptual and conceptual processes to false recognition (Weinstein & Shanks, 2008; Weinstein & Nash, manuscript submitted for publication). This line of work fits into the current search in cognitive neuroscience for the neural substrates of true versus false memories.
I have recently begun exploring how faulty metacognition affects students. One source of errors I have studied arises from the use of irrelevant cues in self-evaluations of performance. I discovered that students' judgments of how well they did on a test can be altered simply by rearranging the questions on the test (Weinstein & Roediger, 2010). The broader application of this line of research is to help identify how students form impressions of a test, and the effects of this impression on performance. Students may also suffer because of unrealistic predictions with regards to their study strategies. In a recently completed project (Weinstein, Finn, McDermott, & Roediger, manuscript in preparation) we examined how students intend to allocate their study time to different material, and how their actual study time allocation relates to their intentions. Determining how we can better align students' actions with their intentions is the next step for this line of research.
Increasing Student Motivation to Self-Test
My long term goal is to combine my interests in improving memory performance and reducing metacognitive errors. I have designed a large-scale survey to assess students' attitudes towards retrieval practice, with a view to using the results of this survey to design and develop interventions that would encourage efficient study strategies and improve student motivation. I have developed this research plan with a grant application in mind.