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.  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. 

Mechanisms of Forgetting in Human 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 and to explore their potential role in memory and other cognitive and psychological contexts (for reviews, see Murayama, Miyatsu, Buchli, & Storm, 2014; Storm, 2011a; 2011b; Storm, Angello, Buchli, Koppel, Little, & Nestojko, 2015; Storm & Levy, 2012)

Creative Cognition

There are many instances in which it would be impossible to create or generation something new without sufficient context and background.  In other instances, however, existing knowledge can cause mental fixation by impeding the generation of new ideas and creative solutions (e.g., Smith, 2003).  Whether in the context of art, engineering, or science, to create or to think of something new often requires that we dismiss or move beyond what we already know.  Our research has examined the mechanisms by which people overcome fixation to generate creative ideas and solve seemingly insoluble problems (e.g., Angello, Storm, & Smith, 2015; Ditta & Storm, under review; Koppel & Storm, 2012; 2014; Storm & Angello, 2010; Storm, Angello, & Bjork, 2011; Storm & Bui, in press; Storm & Hickman, 2015; Storm & Patel, 2014). 

Learning and Metacognition

Students and teachers tend to create conditions of learning that facilitate effortless acquisition and high levels of immediate performance.  It becomes clear after a delay, however, that these conditions are not nearly as effective as they appear to be (Bjork, 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.  In this line of research, we explore the mechanisms by which forgetting, difficulty, and uncertainty enable new learning.  Specific issues under investigation include spacing, generation, testing, test scheduling, mind wandering, and highlighting, as well as metacognitive considerations related to learning (e.g., Bjork, Little, & Storm, 2014; Bjork & Storm, 2011; Little, Storm & Bjork, 2011; Overoye & Storm, 2015; Storm, Bjork, & Storm, 2010; Storm & Bui, in press; Storm, Friedman, Murayama, & Bjork, 2014; Yue, Storm, Kornell, & Bjork, 2015).

Cognitive Offloading and Digital Technology

The ways in which people learn, remember, socialize, and solve problems have all been profoundly affected by technological innovation.  In this relatively new line of research, we are exploring memory dynamics in the context of computers and the Internet, focusing in particular on how people use digital technology as a form of cognitive offloading.  Our work has shown that saving old information to a computer can make it easier to learn new information (Storm & Stone, 2015), and that using the Internet to retrieve information can influence a person's tendency to rely on the Internet to retrieve other information (Storm, Stone, & Benjamin, in prep).  We look forward to continuing this line of work in many new and interesting directions.

Benjamin Storm