• Elizabeth J. Marsh

  • Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
  • Psychology and Neuroscience
  • 212 Soc/psych Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
  • Campus Box 90086
  • Fax: 919-660-5726
  • Homepage
  • Overview

    Why do people sometimes erroneously think that Toronto is the capital of Canada or that raindrops are teardrop-shaped?  How is it that a word or fact can be “just out of reach” and unavailable?  What changes, if anything, when you read a novel or watch a movie that contradicts real life? Have you ever listened to a conversation only to realize that the speaker is telling your story as if it were their own personal memory? Why do some listeners fail to notice when a politician makes a blatantly incorrect statement? These questions may seem disparate on the surface, but they are related problems, and reflect my broad interests in learning and memory, and the processes that make memory accurate in some cases but erroneous in others. This work is strongly rooted in Cognitive Psychology, but also intersects with Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Education.
  • Specialties

    • Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Research Description

    My research focuses on understanding learning and memory, and the processes that make memory accurate in some cases and erroneous in others. One interest is how people acquire and update their knowledge bases. Of interest are the conditions that promote learning and long-term retention of knowledge, the mechanisms through which errors enter the knowledge base, the correction of misconceptions, and the phenomenology of knowledge representations. These interests coincide with the goals of educators, meaning that this work has implications for educational practice. A second interest involves remembering the personal past. Of interest is how people retrieve and use memories in social contexts, and the memorial consequences of such behavior. The ways memories are recalled in everyday situations typically differ from how recall is studied in the lab, and a complete understanding of memory must encompass how memory is actually used. My training was in cognitive psychology, with an emphasis on behavioral experiments. While much of my work focuses on memory in young adults, new research is extending this work to young children and older adults, to capture a lifespan perspective on remembering.
  • Areas of Interest

    Acquisition, maintenance, and updating of knowledge bases
    Representation and processing of fiction
    Correcting student misconceptions
    Personalized learning
    Misattributions of familiarity and déjà vu
    Story-telling: Essay-writing and autobiographical retellings
    False memories
  • Teaching

    • PSY 757S.01
      • Perkins 060
      • M 03:05 PM-04:35 PM
    • PSY 763S.01
      • Languages 312
      • M 03:05 PM-04:35 PM
  • Education

      • Postdoctoral Research Fellow,
      • Washington University in St. Louis,
      • 2003
      • Ph.D.,
      • Cognitive Psychology,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1999
      • A.M.,
      • Cognitive Psychology,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1997
      • B.A.,
      • Psychology,
      • Drew University,
      • 1994
  • Awards, Honors and Distinctions

      • Langford Lecture Award,
      • Unknown,
      • December 2010
      • post doctoral fellowship,
      • National Institutes of Mental Health individual National Research and Service Award,
      • 2000-2003
      • Graduate Research Opportunity Grant,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1997
      • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship,
      • Office of Naval Research,
      • 1994-1997
      • National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship,
      • 1994
      • Phi Betta Kappa,
      • Psi Chi,
      • 1993
  • Recent Publications

      • LK Fazio, NM Brashier, BK Payne and EJ Marsh.
      • 2015.
      • Knowledge does not protect against illusory truth..
      • Journal of experimental psychology. General
      • 144:
      • 993-1002
      • .
      Publication Description

      In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumors. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements. The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement "The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth" will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption using both normed estimates of knowledge and individuals' demonstrated knowledge on a postexperimental knowledge check (Experiment 1). Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. Multinomial modeling demonstrated that participants sometimes rely on fluency even if knowledge is also available to them (Experiment 2). Thus, participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences. (PsycINFO Database Record

      • SA Deffler, AS Brown and EJ Marsh.
      • 2015.
      • Judging the familiarity of strangers: does the context matter?.
      • Psychonomic bulletin & review
      • 22:
      • 1041-1047
      • .
      Publication Description

      Context affects face recognition, with people more likely to recognize an acquaintance when that person is encountered in an expected and familiar place. However, we demonstrate that a familiar context can also incorrectly lead to feeling that a stranger is known. More specifically, we asked whether a familiar place can increase the belief that a stranger has been encountered outside of the experimental context (e.g., in the news or in real life). Novel faces were paired with novel places, famous places (landmarks), or neutral (solid color) backgrounds, and participants rated the pre-experimental familiarity of each novel face. Across four experiments, participants misinterpreted the familiarity of the landmark backgrounds as evidence of knowing the faces outside of the experimental context. This effect only disappeared when participants failed to integrate the face with the place, judging that the two did not fit together. Our findings suggest that familiarity is not judged in isolation; rather, people are unable to completely disentangle the familiarity of the individual components of a scene.

      • AS Brown, K Croft Caderao, LM Fields and EJ Marsh.
      • 2015.
      • Borrowing Personal Memories.
      • Applied Cognitive Psychology
      • 29:
      • 471-477
      • .
      • AD Cantor, AN Eslick, EJ Marsh, RA Bjork and EL Bjork.
      • 2015.
      • Multiple-choice tests stabilize access to marginal knowledge..
      • Memory & cognition
      • 43:
      • 193-205
      • .
      Publication Description

      Marginal knowledge refers to knowledge that is stored in memory, but is not accessible at a given moment. For example, one might struggle to remember who wrote The Call of the Wild, even if that knowledge is stored in memory. Knowing how best to stabilize access to marginal knowledge is important, given that new learning often requires accessing and building on prior knowledge. While even a single opportunity to restudy marginal knowledge boosts its later accessibility (Berger, Hall, & Bahrick, 1999), in many situations explicit relearning opportunities are not available. Our question is whether multiple-choice tests (which by definition expose the learner to the correct answers) can also serve this function and, if so, how testing compares to restudying given that tests can be particularly powerful learning devices (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). In four experiments, we found that multiple-choice testing had the power to stabilize access to marginal knowledge, and to do so for at least up to a week. Importantly, such tests did not need to be paired with feedback, although testing was no more powerful than studying. Overall, the results support the idea that one's knowledge base is unstable, with individual pieces of information coming in and out of reach. The present findings have implications for a key educational challenge: ensuring that students have continuing access to information they have learned.

      • LK Fazio, PO Dolan and EJ Marsh.
      • 2015.
      • Learning misinformation from fictional sources: Understanding the contributions of transportation and item-specific processing.
      • Memory
      • 23:
      • 167-177
      • .
      Publication Description

      © 2014, © 2014 Taylor & Francis. People often pick up incorrect information about the world from movies, novels and other fictional sources. The question asked here is whether such sources are a particularly potent source of misinformation. On the one hand, story-reading involves transportation into a fictional world, with a possible reduction in access to one's prior knowledge (likely reducing the chances that the reader will notice errors). On the other hand, stories encourage relational processing as readers create mental models, decreasing the likelihood that they will encode and remember more peripheral details like erroneous facts. To test these ideas, we examined suggestibility after readers were exposed to misleading references embedded in stories and lists that were matched on a number of dimensions. In two experiments, suggestibility was greater following exposure to misinformation in a list of sentences rather than a coherent story, even though the story was rated as more engaging than the list. Furthermore, processing the story with an item-specific processing task (inserting missing letters) increased later suggestibility, whereas this task had no impact on suggestibility when misinformation was presented within a list. The type of processing used when reading a text affects suggestibility more than engagement with the text.

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  • Postdoctoral Students

    • Katie Arnold
      • 2013 - present
    • Andrew Butler
  • PhD Students


Elizabeth J. Marsh