Michelle Rizzella

Associate Professor of Psychology

Joined the faculty in 1996

B.A., SUNY at Stonybrook
M.A., University of New Hampshire
Ph.D., University of New Hampshire

Current Scholarly Interests:
Cognitive psychology
Research interests in discourse processing and creation of false memories.

Courses Routinely Taught:
Quantitative Methods
Cognitive Psychology
Topics in Cognition
Laboratory in Cognition

Published Works:
O'Brien, E.J., Albrecht, J.E., Hakala, C.M., & Rizzella, M.L. (1995). "Activation and suppression of antecedents during reinstatement," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 21, 626-634.

Rizzella, M.L., & O'Brien, E.J. (1996). "Accessing global causes during reading," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 22, 1208-1218.

O'Brien, E.J., Rizzella, M.L., Albrecht, J.E., & Halleran, J.A. (1998). "Updating situational models," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 24, 1200-1210.

Rizzella, M.L., & O'Brien, E.J. (2002). "Retrieval of concepts in script-based texts and narratives: The influence of general world knowledge," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 28, 780-790.

Professional Affiliations:
Phi Beta Kappa
Sigma Xi
America Psychological Association
American Psychological Society

Personal Statement:
Cognitive psychologists are interested in the mental aspect of human behavior: how humans take in input from the environment; how that input is represented in memory in a meaningful way; how information is organized in memory; how it is retrieved and used for certain tasks such as making decisions and solving problems. Because cognitive processes are not directly observable, we make three assumptions regarding the nature of cognitive processes: 1. they are systematic, lawful events; 2. they are open to scientific examination; and 3. how they operate can be revealed by the use of time and accuracy measures.

My research program has focused on the area of reading comprehension. Of particular interest to me is the nature of the mental representation of text in memory and the type of processes involved in the development of the representation. In order to successfully comprehend written discourse, readers must have both quick and easy access to vast amounts of information necessary to aid interpretation and to "fill-in" the gaps between ideas.

Consider the following sentences:
The pitcher threw wildly to first base.
The ball sailed into the stands.

In order for these sentences to be coherent, readers must provide important bits of background information from memory (e.g., the knowledge that pitchers throw baseballs and that sometimes a throw may be errant.). Without this additional information, the two sentences would not make sense. This example makes clear that in order for comprehension to be established, certain cognitive activities must occur (some of those activities are not open to conscious awareness): reactivating information from memory; integrating that information with what we're currently reading; making inferences; etc.

Two major components of the comprehension process are those involved in the activation of the knowledge necessary for comprehension and those involved in the integration of that information. Although these are not necessarily discrete components, they can be examined as such. The primary focus of my research has been to gain a better understanding of the activation component (e.g., Rizzella & O’Brien, 2002; 1996).

More recently, I have become interested in the factors involved in the creation of false memories. The bulk of research has suggested that false memories are common, especially when they are consistent with general world knowledge. For example, try to remember the setting of one of your professors’ offices. Most likely, you will remember many things that are in the office. But, you’re also likely to recall confidently objects that was there although their presence makes sense with general world knowledge. Presumably, when asked to recall objects in an office, information regarding what offices are like is reactivated from general world knowledge. Once reactivated, that information may become incorporated in the creation of the current memory.

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