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How does modern life affect memory retrieval: Analyzing news headlines

Kesong Cao
University of Wisconsin-Madison ~ Computer Sciences
Mohsen Afrasiabi
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States of America
Prof. Joe Austerweil
University of Wisconsin - Madison ~ Psychology

Technological advances are speeding up the pace of our lives. With this increasing pace, the rate at which the brain expects items should accelerate as well. How does technology affect memory retrieval? One theory suggests that human memory is adapted to the statistics of our environment (Anderson & Schooler, 1991). Environmental sources, such as newspaper headlines provide a reflection of the retrieval demands from human memory at different times. By analyzing changes in environmental statistics, such as the time-frequency of event occurrences, we tracked and analyzed how the environment affects memory. We focus on frequency and spacing effects, the latter of which is that the spacing between successive repetitions of an item affects how well the item is remembered at different times from the last occurrence. Working with headlines of The New York Times from 1919 to 2019, we captured changes in the spacing effect. We found that the recurring pattern is polarized between the most and least frequent words: popular words become more likely to recur, and uncommon words less likely. However, the overall recurring likelihood remains fairly constant. We fitted Hawkes’ self-exciting point processes well on the data and were able to predict word recurrences with high accuracy.



spacing effect
Hawkes process
news headlines


Memory Models
Reading and Word Processing
Probabilistic Models
Model Analysis and Comparison
Memory in the wild Last updated 3 years ago

Very nice talk, thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this presentation about “memory in the wild” that offers better ecological validity, as opposed to synthetic laboratory settings.

Prof. Jay I. Myung 1 comment
Links related to this talk Last updated 3 years ago

Demo code: China-accessible video:

Kesong Cao 0 comments
Cite this as:

Cao, K., Afrasiabi, M., & Austerweil, J. L. (2020, July). How does modern life affect memory retrieval: Analyzing news headlines. Paper presented at Virtual MathPsych/ICCM 2020. Via