Amy Overman publishes research on the effects of corrective feedback on memory

The peer-reviewed study was published in the journal Memory, and reports a novel discovery related to memory for contextual information.

Do we remember being wrong better than being right? Amy Overman, professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience program, and assistant dean of Elon College, the College of Arts & Sciences, recently published experimental evidence that contextual details associated with corrective feedback are remembered more accurately than contextual details associated with confirmatory feedback. The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal, Memory.

Overman’s co-authors on the study included Elon alumna Mary Bernhardt ’17, now a doctoral student in Cognitive Neuroscience at Georgia Tech and Joseph Stephens of North Carolina A&T State University. Elon alumnae Ashley Howard ’18, Laura Bernstein ‘19 and Hannah Greenwood ‘20 also assisted with portions of the project.

Overman’s team conducted a series of experiments in which participants were asked to type examples of categories. For example, when prompted with “a part of a house:” a participant might respond “window.” A computer program randomly selected which of the participants’ responses would be counted as correct or incorrect, and gave either confirmatory feedback (e.g., “Correct! Window”) or corrective feedback with a different category member (e.g., “Incorrect. Door”). As an added detail, both types of feedback could be shown on the computer screen with either a yellow or blue font color.

After this learning phase, participants’ memory was tested, both for the category members and for the font colors in which they appeared. Interestingly, memory for the font colors was better when participants received corrective feedback than when they received confirmatory feedback.

“These results provide new evidence that part of how we remember ‘correct’ answers is to remember the event in which we received the correction,” Overman said. “This contradicts theories that propose we learn correct answers without involving episodic memories of the learning events.”

The findings also have implications for educational research and practice, by helping to explain why practice quizzes and tests that incorporate feedback are effective instructional tools.

The recent findings are part of Overman’s systematic program of research on human memory processes. As a teacher-scholar-mentor and principal investigator of Elon’s Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory & Aging (CNMA) Laboratory, Overman mentors undergraduate students in conducting scientific research that advances the understanding of how the brain and cognition work. Overman’s mentoring of undergraduates in her lab fosters students’ sense of belonging.

She describes some of her approaches in a Frontiers in Psychology publication that was cited in “Relationship-Rich Education” by Peter Felten and Leo Lambert. Overman’s scholarly work has been repeatedly funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as by the National Science Foundation and the Colonial Academic Alliance. In 2016, Overman became the first Elon faculty member to be awarded funding from the NIH and she serves as project director for Elon’s first funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).