Keeping Soldiers Safe with Memory

man in the army looking through a window in a bunkerAssociate Professor of Psychology Ruth E. Propper is working to save soldiers’ lives. Her work with the United States Army could help keep soldiers safe in the field by improving both their memories of place names and locations in unfamiliar terrains and their navigation skills.

Funded by a three-year Department of Defense contract, Propper’s research builds on findings published in the February 2012 issue of Brain and Cognition that focus on how unilateral gaze (looking in one direction) increases geographical memory of the 50 United States. College students were tested to determine whether the left or right brain hemisphere—or a combination of both—retrieves language-based and location-based memories.

“In practical terms, this means if you can’t remember where you parked your car, our study suggests you could look to the left to activate the right side of your brain’s spatial processing superiority or possibly look to the right to trigger the left side of the brain’s verbal labeling superiority and retrieve that memory,” Propper explains.

 “We are looking at how novel physiological markers might predict performance on various cognitive tasks—like remembering place names and locations. We’re also looking at new ways to improve performance by altering physiological activity,” she says. “Unilateral gaze is one way we investigate this. Another is to study unilateral muscle contractions to see if they might activate brain areas involved in memory retrieval.”