Benjamin Storm


Our research focuses broadly on human memory with a special focus on the causes and consequences of forgetting.  We are particularly interested in the role of forgetting in resolving competition during retrieval, overcoming fixation in thinking and problem solving, updating autobiographical memory, and facilitating new learning in educational settings.  We believe that developing a more complete understanding of how people learn, think, and remember requires a more complete understanding of how and why they forget.

Dynamics and Consequences of Retrieval in Memory

When attempting to retrieve a target item, non-target items associated with the same retrieval cue can become activated, creating competition, and requiring that the items causing that competition be selected against, or inhibited.  This inhibition may explain a rather unintuitive observation—that retrieving some items from memory causes the forgetting of other items in memory, a phenomenon known as retrieval-induced forgetting (Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994).  Our research has sought to elucidate the mechanisms underlying retrieval-induced forgetting in order to better understand the role of inhibition in human memory (e.g., Koppel & Storm, 2014; Little, Storm, & Bjork, 2011; Storm & Angello, 2010; Storm, Bjork, & Bjork, 2005; 2007; 2008; 2012; Storm, Bjork, Bjork, & Nestojko, 2006; Storm & Jobe, 2012a; 2012b ; Storm & Nestojko, 2010; Storm & White, 2010; for reviews see Storm, 2011a; 2011b; Storm & Levy, 2012). 

Inhibition and Creative Cognition

Individuals who are most creative are often least capable of inhibiting, or controlling, their thoughts and actions.  There are instances, however, in which inhibition appears to have the power to enhance creative cognition.  Many creative tasks are difficult because old and inappropriate ideas cause mental fixation (see Smith, 2003), preventing the generation of new and appropriate ideas.  Our research suggests that inhibition, and forgetting more generally, can facilitate creative cognition by providing a means by which to overcome fixation (Angello, Storm, & Smith, in press; Koppel & Storm, 2012; 2014; Storm & Angello, 2010; Storm & Patel, in press).  Interestingly, we have also found that thinking and problem solving can cause the forgetting of information causing fixation (Storm, Angello, & Bjork, 2011; Storm & Koppel, 2012; Storm & Patel, in press; for a review, see Storm, 2011b).

Collaboration in Memory and Creative Brainstorming

When someone is having a hard time remembering or solving a problem, it is often suggested that teaming up with another person would be beneficial; after all, "two heads are better than one!"  But research on collaboration has suggested that this is not always the case.  Although groups may produce more output overall than a single individual, they consistently under-perform when compared to a nominal group formed by combining the outputs of the same number of individuals working alone (e.g., Rajaram & Pereira-Pasarin, 2010).  In this line of research, we are seeking to understand the factors limiting collaborative performance in a variety of contexts as well as the ways in which such limitations can be overcome (Ditta & Steyvers, 2013). 

Memory, Metamemory, and Learning

There is great potential to apply the principles of cognitive psychology to enhance learning.  In educational contexts, students and teachers tend to create conditions that facilitate effortless acquisition and high levels of immediate performance.  After a delay, however,  these conditions are clearly not  as effective as they appear to be (Bjork, 1994, 1999).  The crux of the problem seems to lie in people’s view of forgetting as the undoing of learning, rather than as a critical component of learning.  Research has shown that manipulations that induce forgetting between learning opportunities often lead to better long-term retention than manipulations that prevent forgetting.  In this line of research we are exploring the mechanisms by which forgetting and difficulty can enable learning.  Issues under investigation include spacing, generation, testing, test scheduling, highlighting, and various metamemory considerations related to learning (Bjork, Little, & Storm, in press; Bjork & Storm; 2011; Bjork, Storm, & DeWinstanley, 2011; Little, Storm, & Bjork, 2011; Storm, Bjork, & Storm, 2010; Bjork, DeWinstanley, & Storm, 2007; Storm, Friedman, Murayama, & Bjork, 2014; Yue, Storm, Kornell, & Bjork, under review).

Benjamin Storm