Experts excel at remembering items from their specific domain of expertise. For example, a car expert is more likely than a novice to remember what models of cars he passed on his way to work. The mechanisms underlying these abilities are the foundation of performance in everyday life when, for example, a grocery cashier can readily discriminate different types of apples and remember the pricing code associated with each. Most of us experience the phenomenon of perceptual expertise with faces, a domain akin to expertise with other visual stimuli. We are all face experts, but mostly for faces that share ou own racial background, because we have less experience identifying faces from other races. Although the memory enhancing effects of expertise are well known, the underlying cognitive and neural processes are not. The proposed project will elucidate the mechanisms that lead to expertise-related facilitations in memory encoding (i.e., learning) and retrieval. It will also idetify the neural markers of brain activity that reflect facilitations in memory encoding and retrieval, which can be achieved by long-term perceptual and semantic learning as seen in perceptual expertise. The project will in addition examine the fine-tuning of perceptual processes that is often associated with expertise by investigating how and when facilitations in perception and memory develop during the initial stages of becoming an expert. This research will also determine whether learning processes in episodic memory causally influence learning processes in the perceptual system. To achieve these goals, the brain activity of subjects who vary widely in their level of expertise will be recorded with event-related potentials while subjecs engage in behavioral tasks. With this approach, associations can be established between behavioral improvements and changes in the neural processes of perception, memory encoding, and memory retrieval. In addition, training tasks will be used to simulate the initial stages of becoming an expert. Finally, the drug midazolam will be used to simulate anterograde amnesia to gain a better understanding of how amnesia affects expert memory and expertise learning. Studying perceptual expertise, which usually develops over the course of many years, will provide a framework for investigating the mechanisms of long-term learning and the long-term plasticity of the human perceptual and memory systems. This project will advance our understanding of the sub-processes of human memory encoding, retrieval, perception, and their interactions. This basic research will deepen our knowledge of human learning and memory, a vital undertaking for developing interventions for individuals whose memory has been compromised by aging, mental disease, learning disabilities, developmental disorders, or injury. This project will also facilitate the future development of treatments that enable people to maintain or return to employment after having suffered memory problems because all people are experts in some domain, most often in their profession.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed project will provide a deep basic-science understanding of the cognitive and neural sub- processes underlying memory encoding, retrieval, perception, and the interaction of memory and perception. The focus on expertise-related changes, which result from extensive learning experiences, will identify the potential for plasticity in sub-processes of memory and perception and shed light on the mechanisms of long- term learning, which are of particular relevance for developing interventions for memories impaired by aging, mental disease, learning disabilities, developmental disorders, injury, or the like. The project will also facilitate the development of treatments that enable people to maintain or return to their employment after having suffered memory problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cognition and Perception Study Section (CP)
Program Officer
Osborn, Bettina D
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Colorado at Boulder
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
StrĂ³?ak, Pawe?; Bird, Christopher W; Corby, Krystin et al. (2016) FN400 and LPC memory effects for concrete and abstract words. Psychophysiology 53:1669-1678
Earls, Holly A; Curran, Tim; Mittal, Vijay (2016) Deficits in Early Stages of Face Processing in Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review of the P100 Component. Schizophr Bull 42:519-27
Earls, Holly A; Curran, Tim; Mittal, Vijay (2016) A Meta-analytic Review of Auditory Event-Related Potential Components as Endophenotypes for Schizophrenia: Perspectives From First-Degree Relatives. Schizophr Bull 42:1504-1516
StrĂ³?ak, Pawe?; Abedzadeh, Delora; Curran, Tim (2016) Separating the FN400 and N400 potentials across recognition memory experiments. Brain Res 1635:41-60
Cho, Sun-Joo; Wilmer, Jeremy; Herzmann, Grit et al. (2015) Item response theory analyses of the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). Psychol Assess 27:552-66
Herzmann, Grit; Bird, Christopher W; Freeman, Megan et al. (2013) Effects of oxytocin on behavioral and ERP measures of recognition memory for own-race and other-race faces in women and men. Psychoneuroendocrinology 38:2140-51
Herzmann, Grit; Curran, Tim (2013) Neural correlates of the in-group memory advantage on the encoding and recognition of faces. PLoS One 8:e82797