Associate Professor of Psychology
Phone (718) 405-3245
Fax (718) 405-3249
Founders Hall 222A
Areas of Expertise
The focus of my research is this question: “How accurate is autobiographical memory?”
Autobiographical memory comprises memories of specific episodes in our lives (e.g., the day when I chose to play viola in 3rd grade), more general events (e.g., orchestra concerts I have played in) and lifetime periods (e.g., playing viola in college). These types of autobiographical memories are thought to be organized around themes such as relationships, achievements and major life changes.
Why do we store these memories and what use are they? One of the functions of autobiographical memory is to create a coherent sense of self. For example, recalling events in which I was generous and helpful to others may reinforce my sense of myself as a thoughtful and caring person. But how accurate is my memory of these events? Our autobiographical memory is notoriously biased towards recalling positive events. Maybe I’m not as generous as I think I am!
In our lab, my students and I attempt to determine the accuracy of autobiographical memory in two ways. One is by asking participants to recall information we can verify, such as grades. A second is by having participants report specific events (such as lies told over one week) and later recall the details of those events. Most of the time, we find that participants do not accurately recall many details of these events and that they tend to distort their memory of events to make them more positive. Further research will examine how this distortion relates to behavior and which theories of autobiographical memory can best explain it.
Berger, S.A. (2011, November). Short Term Distortion of Autobiographical Memory. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Seattle, WA.
Berger, S.A., Perla, L., & Owens, K. (2011, March). Autobiographical Memory for Characteristic and Uncharacteristic Behavior. Poster presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference, Cambridge, MA.
Gordils, L, King, K. & Berger, S.A. (2010, March). Comparing true and false excuses to find differences between truth and lies. Poster presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference, Brooklyn, NY.
Bracchitta, K., Berger, S.A., & McCausland, M. (2007, March). A unique approach to outcomes assessment of cooperative psychology department. Paper presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA.
Berger, S. A. (2006, April). Memory for Everyday Lies: Where did you say you were last night? Invited Speaker, Long Island Psychology Conference, Hofstra University, Hempstead, L.I.
Berger, S. A.., Lucas, C. M. & Budhu, K. (2006, March). Accuracy of Autobiographical Memory: Recall of Lies. Presented to the 77th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Baltimore, MD.
Berger, S. A. (2005, November). Verifiable Autobiographical Memory: Recall of Lies. Presented to the 46th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Bahrick, H.P., Hall, L.K., & Berger, S. A. (1996). Accuracy and distortion in memory for high school grades. Psychological Science, 7, 265-271.
Bahrick, H. P., Hall, L. K., Goggin, J.P., Bahrick, L.E. & Berger, S. A. (1994). Fifty years of language maintenance and language dominance in bilingual Hispanic immigrants. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 123, 264-283.