By Shannon Cuthrell
Grant Funding Awarded to ASU Professor Studying Mood-Memory Connections
fter earning her bachelor’s degree and working in a nursing home, Dr. Lisa Emery has always wondered why patients with Alzheimer’s disease could remember her face, but not her name. Now an associate professor in psychology at Appalachian State University, Emery uses that same curiosity as a basis for her research and recently was awarded a three-year grant to study the impact that mood can have on memory in older adults. Emery developed an interest in psychology while pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology. She then spent years studying memory and aging in graduate school, earning her doctorate’s degree and working in a laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More recently, through reading and conducting research in autobiographical memory, Emery learned that older adults cannot remember specific details about past events as well as young people can, but that older people tend to report feeling happier about their memories than younger adults do. “I think these two things are related,” Emery said. “Older adults both forget the details of past negative events and re-construe negative events to be both less detailed and more positive.” This idea is based on theories about “psychological distance,” which claim that an individual will feel better about a certain event if their mental image of the event is fuzzy. To pursue her research in this field, the National Institutes of Health awarded Emery
a three-year Academic Research Enhancement Award of $270,375 just three days before the beginning of the current fall semester at ASU. In the studies she and her graduate students will be conducting, Emery will ask participants to recall events from their lives under different instructions, some in detail and others focusing on general remembrance. Researchers will then look to see how that will make people feel. Other times, the instructions will tell participants to either control their emotions or to be as accurate as possible, and the researchers will look to see how that impacts their memory. Karen Fletcher, the director of Grant Resources and Services in ASU’s Office of Research, said that funds provided by grant dollars might pay for a student position on campus or for lab equipment and supplies or resources that are not typically supplied by the state. “When faculty on our campus compete for national grants and are awarded the grants, it is evidence that our faculty members are on the cutting edge of their science or their particular field,” Fletcher added. “This provides students with the most up-to-date opportunities to learn and be engaged in that field.” In addition to conducting research that will impact her focus of study, Emery also serves as chair of the psychology department’s honors program. Also, she sits on the university’s Institutional Review Board and has additional professional responsibilities, such as reviewing others’ manuscripts and grant applications. Emery said, “It’s a busy but happy life.”
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