2012 William James Fellow Award

Henry L. Roediger, III

Washington University in St. Louis

Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger, III, one of the world’s best known and most respected researchers in cognitive psychology, has fundamentally shaped the science of memory. His original and creative experimental observations and theoretical ideas have profoundly influenced what is now known and believed about some of the most enduring problems that have faced explorers of memory ever since Hermann Ebbinghaus’ pioneering work in the 19th century. These problems can be encapsulated in the question, “What is memory?”

Several lines of Roediger’s remarkably disciplined, purposeful, systematic, and theory-driven experimental work have produced results that greatly illuminate and clarify that question. The best known and most influential of these has to do with the phenomenon commonly known as “false memory”—the fact that it is possible for perfectly healthy and intelligent people to remember, sometimes vividly remember, events that never happened. Inspired by some early but neglected work by James Deese, and aided by Kathleen McDermott, Roediger created a powerful laboratory method that made it possible to study false memory under the strictest of experimental conditions. It is now known as the DRM (Deese-Roediger-McDermott) paradigm. He and his research group, as well as many other investigators all over the world, have relied on it to pursue “false memory” effectively and fruitfully.

As a result of Roediger’s work we now have a much advanced understanding of this utterly counterintuitive phenomenon, its many theoretical and practical implications, and how it fits into the larger picture. His research has decisively transformed the very concept of memory.