Marcia K. Johnson

Photo of Marcia K. Johnson
Marcia K. Johnson
  • From:

    Yale University │ New Haven, Connecticut

  • Year:

    2019

  • Subject:

    Computer and Cognitive Science

  • Award:

    Benjamin Franklin Medal

  • Citation:

    For developing innovative models of human memory with applications in psychology, brain science, human development, and our understanding of the malleability of memory in real-world settings.

Can you tell the difference between a memory rooted in a real-life experience versus one you had in a dream? Or an original thought and something you overheard? Marcia Johnson says you can’t. Not always, that is. Where reality and imagination seem black and white, this Yale psychology professor finds shades of gray. Where facts are paramount, even a measure of unchecked confidence in your memories can stretch the truth by a mile. Johnson provides a framework for understanding how our memories from different sources can be confused, and the cognitive processes that allow us to function in the world despite imperfect memory. Her theories on “reality and source monitoring” clarify mechanisms by which we attribute memories to sources—sometimes the wrong source—and have broad implications for areas such as eyewitness testimony, unintentional plagiarism, memory development in children, changes in cognition associated with aging, and hallucinations, confabulation and delusions in psychopathology and brain-damaged patients. Johnson’s extraordinary body of research, derived from rigorous experimentation and neuroimaging, using functional MRI, sheds light on these and other domains. Our memories are so fundamental to our personal identities and understanding memory so vast in its implications for society that Johnson’s research is relevant to us all.