Robert A. Bjork & Elizabeth L. Bjork, Ph.D.

16: Robert A. Bjork & Elizabeth L. Bjork, Ph.D. – Dynamic Duo and Pillars of Cognitive Research in Psychological Science

Drs. Elizabeth and Robert Bjork have enjoyed long, illustrious careers as cognitive researchers in psychology and have been with the UCLA Department of Psychology for over 45 years. They have received multiple awards and recognitions for their research, teaching, mentorship, and leadership within the field of psychology. To say they have had a profound impact on psychology would be an understatement. In this podcast interview, Drs. Robert and Elizabeth Bjork reminisce about their professional and personal journeys over the past 50+ years in hopes that their experiences and advice inspire those interested in the field of psychology and motivate those already in the field.

Robert and Elizabeth each grew up in different parts of the United States yet had several things in common even before they met. They both began their academic journey by earning their B.A. in Mathematics – Robert at the University of Minnesota and Elizabeth at the University of Florida. Both were drawn to psychology late in their undergraduate career when they took a course in psychology. When they each started their graduate careers, they gravitated even more toward psychology after finding the research in psychology more interesting than the research being done in physics and math. Robert states “I, like Elizabeth, had just taken a course in psychology very late and I said ‘Well, that looks like a field where there’s a lot to learn and it’s early in its history as opposed to physics,’ and so I switched to psychology, mathematical psychology, in particular.”

Another similarity they shared is how and why they each selected their graduate program and school. Elizabeth selected the University of Michigan because her advisor said it had the best psychology program in the country. Robert selected Stanford University because his advisor informed him that it had the best psychology program and that a prominent figure, William (Bill) Estes, was moving to Stanford. As it turns out, at the time, Stanford University was ranked number 1 among all graduate programs in psychology and University of Michigan was ranked number 2. Both of them also ended up working with Bill Estes – Robert at Stanford University and Elizabeth at Rockefeller University.

Now, how did they meet? As Dr. Robert Bjork explains, the first time he met Elizabeth was “when she came in to drop my course at the suggestion of her then boyfriend.” She was an advanced graduate student at the time, and he was a new professor. From the moment they started their academic and professional careers, they each blazed a trail and broke through barriers to become respected and revered researchers, mentors, and leaders within the field of psychology. They were among the first couples in the University of California system to hold professorial positions in the same psychology department and in this interview, they discuss some of the challenges associated with being a professional couple working in the same department when nepotism was still prevalent in the academic field.

Drs. Robert and Elizabeth Bjork have received many honors and awards in their distinguished careers. In 2016, they both received the James McKeen Catell Fellow Award which is a lifetime achievement award for their research contributions addressing critical problems in society. The Bjorks are also revered and respected mentors and have been recognized for their teaching and mentorship. Recently, they received the 2020 APS Mentor Award for their work as co-directors of the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab as well as their work mentoring others throughout the years. According to the APS article highlighting them for their Mentor Award, of the more than 80 “honors, graduate, and postdoctoral students and scholars the Bjorks have co-mentored at UCLA, a staggering 57 (70 percent) have had successful academic careers in areas related to learning and memory.” Both of the Bjorks have also received Distinguished Teaching Awards, Distinguished Service Awards, and other Distinguished Mentoring Awards. You can view all of their awards on their faculty pages or on their vita.

One final fun fact about our guests. What do Robert and Elizabeth Bjork have in common with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy? The Reverend Cyril Jenkins married both couples. Robert and Elizabeth were married in 1969 in New York while Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy were (apparently) married in 1984 in the movie “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” The Bjorks shared a funny story and explained that after they saw this movie with their kids and told them they were married by the Reverend Cyril Jenkins, their kids were concerned if they were actually married. Rest assured, their marriage is real, and they have been happily married for over 53 years.

Connect with Dr. Elizabeth L. Bjork: Faculty Page
Connect with Dr. Robert A. Bjork: Faculty Page
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Interests and Specializations

Drs. Robert A. Bjork and Elizabeth L. Bjork are well-known cognitive research scientists in the field of psychology. Robert Bjork’s research focuses on memory and learning and the application of the science of learning for instruction and training in many different areas. Elizabeth Bjork’s research has been the study of memory and the role that inhibitory processes play in creating an adaptive human memory system. Recently, both of them have extended the work and application of “desirable difficulties” and “spacing” in the work they and their graduate students conduct in the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA.


Robert A. Bjork
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Mathematics (1961); University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Psychology (1966); Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Elizabeth L. Bjork
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Mathematics (1963), University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
Master of Arts (M.A.), Psychology (1966), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Psychology (1968), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

Other Sources and Links of Interest

Dr. Elizabeth L. Bjork – Publications
Dr. Robert A. Bjork – Wikipedia
Dr. Robert A. Bjork – Google Scholar
Dr. Robert A. Bjork – Publications

Podcast Transcription

00:00:14 BradleyWelcome to the Master’s in Psychology podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Drs. Elizabeth and Robert Bjork to the show. Dr. Elizabeth Bjork is Professor of Psychology and has served as Senior Vice Chair in the Psychology Department. She has also chaired UCLA’s Academic Senate and received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Robert Bjork is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Psychology. He is Past President or Chair of numerous societies, including APS, Western Psychological Association, and the Council of Editors of the APA. He has also received UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award. Today, we will learn more about their academic journey, advice for those interested in the field of psychology, and discuss the Bjork Learning and Forgetting lab. Elizabeth and Robert…welcome to our podcast.
00:01:18 ElizabethThank you good to be here.
00:01:20 BradleyWell, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m so excited to learn more about your academic journey. You guys have had a long and distinguished career within the field of cognitive psychology, and you’ve traveled a lot as well. It’s always surprising to see how much you travel with each other and then with your team on the on the lab as well. And then many sabbaticals. But to start us off.
00:01:48 RobertIt’s not very much traveling recently of course.
00:01:49 BradleyWell, that’s fine. You can, you can look back to all those times that you did travel though, so it’s, it’s. I’m excited to have you on the show. Let’s go ahead and just get started and kind of open it up and tell me a little bit more about yourself. Elizabeth, why don’t you go first?
00:02:09 ElizabethOK, uhm. Well, I have always. I guess I have always been interested in learning. Just and not really how it works, but, uh, as a, as a child, you know, going through the grade school and so forth, I, I never found school aversive or drudgery or anything, I found it this opportunity to learn about new things and so I always found it sort of exciting. So, I always thought, and I also liked to uhm, I enjoyed interacting with friends who say I don’t understand this problem, can you help me, and I would work with them. So, I kind of early on thought I wanted to somehow stay involved in education and learning. I didn’t actually know anything about psychology. My undergraduate degree was in mathematics. I only took psychology because I needed it to fulfill a general education requirement my senior year. And. And there I found there was this, uhm, this field called mathematical psychology. And it sounded so intriguing. And I really, uh, I, I was drawn to the various problems that they, people on this field were working on. I then actually sought out at the University of Florida, which is where I was at the time, uh, the faculty there in psychology and, and, and I, and I interacted with some of the graduate students were there. How did you get interested? Uh, and decided, well, maybe I’ll try to do something in this field, and so that’s what kind of got me started in a very general way. As I said, I went to Graduate School knowing very little about psychology. Other than there was this field called mathematical psychology.
00:04:13 RobertSo that’s pretty different kind of story than mine. I just realized to some extent now that, uh, I was much more interested in sports and so on than I was in academics. And, uh, a somewhat accidental thing helped me quite a bit, which is that a close friend with whom I played golf, basketball, whatever, Thomas Hofstedt, this is back in Minnesota, for whatever reason I don’t know. We were in the same classes like the senior year and we had bet and had we, we had contests on everything, and I don’t know which one of us suggested that we do a, a penny a point on all the exams. And under that crude motivation, I think our senior year is we were right near the top of this class, back in MN. And that then led to being able, actually, to get admitted to different places. And another somewhat accidental thing was that I had caddied every summer as just a way to make money and found out, eventually, after a year of college or so, that there was an Evans Scholars Program and that’s for former caddies and that I qualified and that, that, I’m gotta make the story a little short, but that that led me to transfer from Saint Olaf College, where I was the University of, of Minnesota and meant I could live on campus in the Evans Scholar House is a little some similarities with Elizabeth is I didn’t have any intention to major in psychology. I was in physics until I found saw what people were doing in the laboratories and that, that, that that didn’t interest me as much as sort of more theoretical physicist and, uh, a crisis point, then I asked a counselor and she said, well, look, you can just declare yourself a math major, and then what are you interested in? And I, like Elizabeth, had just taken a course in psychology very late and I said, well, that looks like a field where there’s a lot to learn and it’s early in its history as opposed to physics, and so I switched to psychology, mathematical psychology in particular, at that time, and did one year of graduate work at Minnesota before, uhm, my advisor then somewhat magically and mysteriously in the middle of that year, said. You know, I just heard that this prominent figure, William Estes, who went on to win the National Medal of Science, is moving to Stanford, that was already the best program in math psych, you should go there. And I, one reaction I had was he was like rejecting me and another was, well, he knows what. OK, I’ll do that so that let me go to Stanford.
00:07:17 BradleyThat’s interesting that you mentioned that because one similarity that I found when researching both of you is both of you received your B.A. in Mathematics. Elizabeth, you at the University of Florida and then, as you mentioned Robert, University of Minnesota. And then you guys moved on and it’s kind of interesting you brought up a second similarity where at the end you guys finally took a, a psychology class and then, all of a sudden, became interested in that. So, you kind of already answered my next question, Robert, why did you select the U of M in the first place? But I’ll let you elaborate. How did you find the U of M and then what made you decide to attend there versus a different school?
00:07:58 RobertWell, I was, I was nearby in the sense that I had grown up in Minnesota. But it was, it was financial, meaning financial reasons more than anything else. Uh, plus I kind of knew very little of the academic program. I kind of remember one of my high school friends getting all excited that he was getting, got admitted to Dartmouth and was trying Harvard or something. And, and I, I didn’t know. Like I thought Minnesota is the best university there was, and that’s where you go. I lived about a 30–40-minute drive away and I had a short period of commuting early in the morning to classes and so on. And that led Elizabeth and I to think our own sons should never do that. And so even though they were right here, a nice walk to the UCLA campus, we really didn’t want them to live at home and so, uhm, one of them our, our younger son went to Rice and our older son, after a year in a small college, wanted to transfer back and but, but he, uh, lived with a friend in a student apartment and so on, so it’s kind of like, you know, I, I didn’t have much. I was not in any kind of academic family, so I didn’t in advance know and even the, mathematics when I thought it was going to mathematical psychology that was kind of like, OK, I’ll sort of fit learning curves and whatever. But then when I got to Stanford, I got really interested when, when some of these predictions and math things were wrong. Well, how does the system work? And that that really was a sort of ignition point for me, and that that’s driven my interest ever since.
00:09:57 BradleyWell, I think you, in my research, you lived in Minnetonka right.
00:10:01 RobertThat’s right, you’re right, near Lake Minnetonka. There’s only one poor section there in that affluent area and we lived in, in that one poor section.
00:10:11 BradleyWell, you, you also went was it, I can’t remember what golf course when I was looking at everything. But you mentioned that you were a caddy. Was that the same golf course that I saw in your PowerPoint?
00:10:19 RobertYes, and as a matter of fact, uh, I’m indebted to them when I found out about Evan Scholar, they didn’t even belong to the group of golf courses. But they joined just so that I could get that fellowship so.
00:10:37 BradleyAren’t you? Aren’t you special, Robert? That’s awesome.
00:10:39 RobertThat that was really that. That was so important and, and such a chance kind of thing.
00:10:47 BradleyNow, I’m not sure if you realize, but I’m actually in Minnesota and so I, I know the area pretty well.
00:10:51 RobertOh, really.
00:10:53 BradleyYeah, U of M and my daughter attended U of M in psychology as well. So, my mother is a licensed psychologist, so that’s, that’s why I’m so interested in this field as well so.
00:11:03 RobertOK. Yeah, well, it’s a. Yeah, except for except for thinking back to a few things, even, even winter was fine actually, but mosquitoes there was like otherwise on every other dimension during our time. Minnesota was innovative, supportive. I had a lot of confidence in the state government that that they would do sort of good things as far as protecting lakes and various other things, but uhm, you know adapting to mosquitoes was a little bit of a problem, but, but we’ve been back visiting some relatives and so on, and it seems like things have happened. It’s been, which struck every time we’re back there.
00:11:54 BradleyYeah, it’s all, they’re always growing, it’s, it’s a, it’s amazing the town that I grew up in it was Woodbury, MN and back in high school for me they only had 10,000 people, 10,296, I still remember the sign and now they’re over 65,000 people in that town, so it’s, it’s unreal…
00:12:10 ElizabethWow, yeah wow.
00:12:15 Bradley…I don’t, I don’t want to skip over you, Elizabeth. Why did you choose the University of Florida?
00:12:20 ElizabethWell, some of it was, uh, had nothing really to do with academics. It was family sort of thing, but uhm. Once I got it, but once I got there, uh, I did. I was interested in going in part because it had a strong engineering department which meant it was going to have a strong math department and., uhm, but one of the great things about Florida the, the program in Florida, uh, is that, uh, they have this, uh, goal that you know you can major in, you can major in sciences, you can major in mathematics, physics, whatever but you also have to take a certain number of units in what they call sort of the liberal arts program. And, uh, that was how I sort of first got interested and, or found out about humanities and, uh, uh, I had to take, uh. In fact, this course that I took was called Humanities in Contemporary Life or something like that. And, uh. He learned about music he learned about literature cover it kind of made…art, painting music, literature, drama uh it went through, you know, all the things that you sort of think of as being in your, it was a classical liberal arts education and then you could branch out as you felt after that, if you if you really liked art or art history, you could go on and study that or you really like some other aspect. Uh, but that really opened my eyes to all these additional, uhm, interesting aspects of the intellectual world. So uhm, I really, that was, I feel very grateful to the University of Florida that I was exposed to that kind of.
00:14:36 RobertIt’s interesting that they probably don’t have it there anymore, so… one point.
00:14:40 ElizabethOh, they might.
00:14:43 Robert…but, you know, this kind of humanities thing was, was pretty common, and, uh, an interesting thing is the very prominent programs like MIT and Caltech, you know technology growth, they have instituted a humanities program for all freshmen runs across the whole year. So, you really, a kind of hyper specialization in some technical area really is missing out on education more broadly, I think these programs are terrific where they exist. But a lot of places they, they don’t exist anymore.
00:15:23 BradleyWell, I can. I can tell you I’m looking at University of Florida right now offers a Ph.D. in Psychology, Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, Clinical Psychology, an Ed.S. and a Ph.D. as well. And then they also have a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and Research and Evaluation Methodology.
00:15:43 RobertBut you should be looking at the undergraduate major, what they require there is probably. Undergraduate program probably doesn’t include. The undergraduate program.
00:15:54 BradleyExactly right, yeah, yeah, I’m looking, I’m looking at it right now on my other screen here. I have multiple screens and, and I, I don’t see that at the undergrad level.
00:15:59 RobertOK, all right.
00:16:04 BradleySo yeah, exactly right, yeah.
00:16:05 ElizabethThat would be a shame if they’ve gotten rid of that program. It was really.
00:16:09 RobertAnd some schools have a great books program. You know that the, the freshman year. That’s the main focus for everybody. Whatever they’re gonna major in is a great books program.
00:16:21 BradleyAnd Elizabeth after Florida you went on to receive your master’s and doctorate at the University of Michigan. For our audience kind of tell us your thought process of how you ended up there and why you chose Michigan.
00:16:35 ElizabethWell, as, as Bob sort of indicated, mathematical psychology was sort of a new field and there weren’t all that many universities that had a graduate program in it. And, unlike Bob, who was told Stanford was the best place to go for mathematics program, mathematics psych program, I was told University of Michigan was the best place to go. Uh, so that was one of the reasons that I went there. They also, uh, there was a lot of, of. When I got accepted, when I applied there, I applied both to the math graduate program and the psych graduate program. I didn’t think I’d get into the psych program ’cause I knew so little about psychology, but I think people are very impressed with people that have a math degree. They sort of assume that if you can do math, you could do anything. So, uhm. I got accepted to both programs, I went back for a visit and the people in math said, you know, here you can do both for a couple of years and then decide. By that time you’ll, you’ll know which area you wanna, you know, you want to focus on. And so that’s what I did and that really impressed me that they had that sort of flexibility in that. Uh, sort of broad way of thinking about psychology and math, and to some degree, like Bob. I discovered that the way you do research in psychology was much more interesting to me ’cause it’s much more collaborative. You’re part of labs. You usually have colleagues that you do research with lots you can easy to involve a lot of students in your research. Whereas mathematics is much more of a sort of isolated and solo kind of endeavor, which is perfect for some people. But I really like the collaborative nature of how progress was made in psychology versus mathematics. So, I eventually came over and, and finished up my Ph.D. in psychology.
00:19:01 BradleyYep, and I see that you finished that umm…I think, you know, Bob, your journey is a little different. You already mentioned and gave a teaser. Hey, you went to Stanford University and I’m going to ask you why in a second, but it’s interesting some of our audience members, some of them don’t realize that some universities offer a terminal master’s and then a separate Ph.D. versus others you go through the entire Ph.D. program and then you get the master’s, kind of, in passing while you’re, while you’re doing that. So, tell us a little bit more about, well, you already know. You should go to Stanford. It’s the best university out there. You didn’t have to follow that, but you at that point in time you’re thinking, well, I got to be competitive with all my other people who are just bragging about going to these other schools. So, maybe, I should go to Stanford.
00:19:53 RobertYeah yeah.
00:19:53 BradleyIs that your thought process?
00:19:54 RobertAnd, and when I arrived at Stanford it was a very different world. I mean it was, there was an institute for Mathematical Studies and Social Sciences that had these several faculty, not just William Estes as we mentioned, but several other people. Gordon Bower and three of those people went on to get the National Medal of Science and the, the one who didn’t, Richard Atkinson, went on to chair the entire University of California and, at one point, the National Science Foundation. So, this is all in one building that had been a nurse’s dormitory but now is this Institute for Mathematical Studies in the social sciences. And so, it had those faculty, uh, just astounding when I look back at it. And then the, the graduate students became their own sort of culture and initially I had a reaction, how do I compete in this world? As we just kind of found this, this student was second in their class at Yale and this student had won this or that, and, and I thought I’m, I’m a Minnesota boy here, coming from, you know, like I didn’t have the background that a lot of them did. But anyways, very exciting place to be. And it was. We stayed around this this, this building that housed that I mentioned had been a nurse’s dorm, so it had like a living room and a kitchen. And late at night, we’d be in there arguing with each other, and it was just when, when you could, computing centers were starting to become very important, and we found that we stayed there late. We could get a. Rapid turnaround by walking over to the computer center, but I, I better not get stuck in that story tonight. But so that was in contrast and now it was a time when there was when we finished there were a lot of jobs. And uhm, somehow the faculty there at that center sort of, I don’t know what they were telling us that the different, you know, it’s kind of what’s now referred to as the old boys’ network. It was not an egalitarian way of applying for jobs. It was kind of senior people, mostly men. You know. Do you have a really good student? Kind of thing. But so, uhm. I had several offers, but when I talked to my mentor about MSC’s, he said, you know, when you have offer from Michigan, you just can’t consider these other places. I was very excited by this, but when I arrived at Michigan, uhm, one of the things I taught was a brief kind of survey course, and when I met Elizabeth was when she came in to drop my course at the suggestion of her then boyfriend. So, as I mentioned she was an advanced graduate student at the time. And I was a beginning, Professor. So, in any case, uh, that is initially how we met there and then she went off to Rockefeller University as a first job. And, uh.
00:23:11 ElizabethWorking with one of the great math psychologists, uh, Bill Estes. I was in this lab.
00:23:17 RobertYeah, then and, and to cut this story a little short, when we decided to get married uhm, we, we know we had a funny period of meeting in exotic places between Ann Arbor and, and New York City like Cleveland and so on, it, it was far enough ago that you weren’t having Internet things like this, for example, but they didn’t want it, when we decided to get married, they didn’t want to lose Elizabeth quite that fast, so William Estes arranged that I would come there, I think was just half a year, wasn’t it?
00:23:51 ElizabethThink it is, yeah half a year.
00:23:52 RobertAnd then. And together and then Michigan. Really, we’re indebted to them ever since. When we came back they appointed, give Elizabeth a professorial appointment, given all she’d done. Then that was extraordinarily rare. Across the whole country there were almost, I mean, you could count only two or three cases, probably, of a husband and wife having the same appointment. You know both being a professorial appointment? Because it was considered nepotism and, uhm, it took quite a while for that to change and so usually what happened in about 90% of the cases is the woman would find something else to do, and that was true of a lot of really women who quite prominent find some other position with where the, the husband had the professorial position.
00:25:02 BradleyWell, it’s interesting that you brought that up because I did some research on when I went through my master’s and started my doctorate I did have married couples that were within the same department and before I got ready for this interview with you, I thought, well, is that common now versus back then? And you’re exactly right, Robert, back then it was extremely rare to have that happen, and now it’s more of a common. You see it. More, more common, I’ve seen anywhere from 25 to 40% of the time that they do accept both, both people in that program.
00:25:37 RobertWell, you can it. It can become a strategy for department. They can hire two people that they wouldn’t. Be able to…
00:25:47 ElizabethWithout that…
00:25:47 RobertBecause they in expensive areas and so on. They can. But so yeah, it’s changed a great deal and part of it was one place where the government played a really big role. Because when they looked at the statistics and so it was always basically unfair to the women. Uhm, rules were instantiated that. As if you were going to get funding from certain of the government agencies.
00:26:18 ElizabethYou had to fix it.
00:26:19 RobertYou had to fix that.
00:26:20 BradleyRight?
00:26:21 RobertAnd so that made a big difference, but I think it’s.
00:26:24 ElizabethThen there were suddenly many, many women who had been working at various universities for you know, 20-30 years, uh, in like lectureships and other things, but they had been accumulating, uh, a research record, a teaching record, etc. and they had to all be sort of, uh, evaluated, or reviewed to see where they should go, and of many women went from, you know, this lecture position to a full professor just because of this, uh, and yeah, yeah, as Bob said, it was mostly the government saying if you want us to keep receiving federal funds, you have to get rid of this nepotism rule ’cause people really were using it as sort of a cheap way to get really, uh, good service from the wife, uh, of a professor they were hiring.
00:27:27 BradleySo, one of my…
00:27:28 RobertWe think we, we think we’re the second couple, uhm, to be hired in the same department in California in psychology. You know now it’s a, now we typically 2/3 of psychology majors are, are, are women though, yeah.
00:27:49 ElizabethIs it really that high?
00:27:50 RobertIt’s a little higher than that, actually, and so we see this when we’re admitting graduate students that we actually get, our department gets somewhat worried, uh, about our psychology graduate student population now being in some areas of the department just close to 100% women. We don’t, we don’t think that’s perfect either, but so it’s changed a lot.
00:28:20 BradleyYeah, so a couple things that you’ve shared a lot and a couple things that I kind of wanted to remind everybody leading up to my next question, which is what advice would both of you offer to those seeking a master’s or doctorate degree in psychology? One thing you mentioned earlier was go ahead and live on campus or near campus instead of staying at home, immerse yourself in that culture.
00:28:43 RobertYeah, yeah.
00:28:43 BradleyIs, is one thing that I, I picked up on earlier. What other advice do you have for those who are interested in getting that graduate degree in psychology?
00:28:53 ElizabethI should say that, uh, as you know, as an undergraduate, if possible, you should seek out faculty who are doing research in psychology and often like we have, you know, got anywhere from half a dozen to about 10 or 15 undergraduates working in our lab doing various things for us and, uhm, you know they maybe they’re getting an honors project, or they’re doing a senior thesis or something, as well as working in the lab. But they get really exposed to what it would be like to do this in Graduate School and what it would be like to do this as a future career. And, uh, some, a few, not many, but if you say this is not what I thought it would be, and you know then they look elsewhere. But many, that’s the sort of turning point for them. This is, I love doing this. This is what I want to keep doing. So that’s at the undergraduate level. That’s to help you make this decision. I want to go on for some kind of an advanced degree in psychology. And then I think you should do the sort of things that, and to make yourself eligible to be accepted to programs, it’s really good as an undergraduate to get involved in somebody’s lab. It hardly even matters what they’re doing just to get that research experience. And that is really looks very good on your, you know, your application and it makes people think, well, this is somebody who knows what they’re getting into, so, you know, it’s very expensive to train somebody for it through the master’s or the Ph.D. program. And you don’t want to use up that spot for somebody who really doesn’t, is gonna just leave after a year or drop out of the program.
00:30:56 RobertAnd then plus then somebody can write an informed recommendation letter. You know that. We get students who just don’t take advantage of everything that’s like UCLA. All we could say is that, well, we taught this course to 300 students and they made an A or something. But so, if, if you’re involved in research, yeah and the way it works in practice at, at, at the sort of prominent research universities as an undergraduate, probably end up working more closely with a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow than you will, unless it’s an honors or something, but that, that’s not a drawback. These, these graduate students and postdocs, they work with, you know can be models they, they, they have time to do it, it, it’s, it’s a terrific experience to have on your record. Now one thing as far as thinking of the master’s as a terminal degree there, I think it matters a lot what you want to go on to do? I think in basic psychology of, of the kind we’re involved in that probably the only real alternatives for a master’s student might be in some high-tech companies or something like that where they took a lot of, a lot of mathematics, but in other some other areas of industrial, there are there, there are other domains where a master’s degree might lead to more job opportunities, but, but that you said what an undergrad ought to know, and I think that’s crucial to realize if you’re considering the master’s, uhm, what opportunities will that open up for you? And what fields? And on those instead of field you want to work in?
00:32:50 ElizabethAnd one clue there I would say is if it’s a school, but if the department you’re looking at it offers what you were referring to as a terminal master’s program, then that probably means it’s a field where it’s valuable to have that master’s and it opens up doors for you in terms of the kind of positions that you can then get. But if it as Michigan does is they don’t accept terminal master students, so you have to be applying for the Ph.D. program but, uh, as was mentioned in the introduction, often you sort of get that gets sort of a just becomes a map, you just automatically fill the requirements for a master’s degree on your way to the Ph.D.. So you just sort of apply for that at some point. But uhm, so that’s one way of, of sort of helping you decide is it, would a master’s degree really be worth it? Uh, so you know, in law schools for example, they tend to be, they tend to have terminal master’s programs that are valuable economics. I think engineering and so forth, but in psychology there’s not a lot. There’s not a lot that buys you in terms of your future career, so it’s just something to think about.
00:34:21 BradleyWell, very good advice. Thank you for sharing that. The other thing that I’d add is, you know, based on my other conversations with other professors and practitioners in the field, you mentioned seek out those professors that are doing research in psychology, and I’d even go further and saying, hey, seek out those that are doing research in the area that you’re really interested in, because that kind of leads to my next question about some, some undergrad think well, how can I make all these decisions? Which area or branch of psychology can I go into and look at and you know the one thing that a lot of people look at is all of the different branches of psychology as I mentioned, and if you can see my screen, you know there are many things out there where you could look at, but my question for you is you see all these different branches and these, this is not exhaustive by any means, but you guys focused on cognitive psychology. So how did you guys decide on, on doing that. Did you decide ahead of time or all of a sudden you just did something that was really interesting and then all of a sudden realized Oh my gosh, this is, this falls into the area of cognitive psychology, so tell, tell us how you guys found yourself in that particular area.
00:35:37 RobertI’ll, I’ll do this one first. I guess I, I mean, I just uhm. Oh, you know, a lot has to do with what the faculty or that you might be working on are working on. But uh. I had developed through somewhat other means, quite a strong interest in how is it that people learn and what can they do to improve performance? Again, some of that early on was just related to sports and what could you do to get better there and, uhm, but just eventually the very fundamental issues of, of how we learn and then, some years later, a strong concern that both of us had versus how do we think we learn? So that’s been a big theme of our lab in recent years, which is, uhm, people’s understanding of themselves of what activities create durable learning and which do not. It’s, it’s really didn’t fascinating to us that people’s own kind of mental model of themselves as learners, it can be so far off. And that that just got us to think, well, how much better could schooling be could, could, could training it for the fields be? If it really meshed with the way people learn, I mean really we can take what a typical student does as far as preparing for exams and so on and, and that is for, for the payback for the time spent of rereading notes and underlining and, and all, all kinds of things that we know now are, are nowhere near as productive. Blocking their practice by topic and, and basically not exercising the retrieval practice, the encoding variability, the other things that are powerful. Uhm, so that that got us eventually and that that was sort of happened to each one of us, somewhat independently, to sort of at some point, say, wait a minute, this stuff we’re doing in a very basic theoretical way, right is really important in, in real world contexts of schooling and how people study and so on.
00:37:59 ElizabethSome fields lend themselves to doing more of the good things like where it’s very important to learn how to solve problems and things like in math. Uh, so that a lot of, a lot of what’s going on there is students learning how to solve different problems they have to do it themselves. They work at it, then they maybe have to get some hints and then they go on and try again. So, they’re incorporating some of the things that we’ve found really do lead to true learning, but the, the problem with so many other fields is the, our intuitions just lead us astray. And what is a good thing to do, like one of the favorite things students have is I like to read the chapter over and over again, and a lot of this is because when you read it a second time, you start recognizing a lot of the thing. Oh yes, and you interpret that recognition, which is pretty, happening at a pretty low level. Uh, more of a perceptual level, really, then, uh, you interpret that as an understanding that you have comprehended this, that you’ve got it, that you’ve learned it. But that’s not going to be at all supportive of doing well on a later exam. Uhm, so I think that’s one. Of the problems that keep people from discovering the better things to do is that our intuitions, uh are not, a particularly good guide for, uh, whether we’re doing something that’s, that is really making us learn versus just started giving us a false sense of comprehension at the moment.
00:39:43 RobertAnd that’s what led, that’s what eventually led us to come up with the phrase “desirable difficulties” which is that things that create a sense of greater difficulty, so, for example, rereading something a second time is much easier activity to do than trying to summarize everything you can remember or recall from the first time you read it. And so, in that case, your, your resistance are to kind of uh, you know who wants to make things difficult on yourself? But so that’s what we’ve had to emphasize in all sorts of different ways that these activities that create a sense of difficulty. Uh, retrieval practice, burying where you study rather than when keeping it fixed or in how you study, all this array of things, they create a greater sense of difficulty, but then lead to better long-term memory and transfer. So, it’s yeah, to become maximally effective is a kind of challenge because you have to, uhm, have kind of a long-term goal and, and sort of accept challenges right now for benefits later.
00:41:15 BradleyOne thing that I found interesting in preparing for this interview for you is the idea of forgetting is actually beneficial versus everybody tends to think, oh, I forgot that I, I’m not very good at studying and in actuality, when you look at some of the research, forgetting actually helps you guys, or it helps the person recall better later on and then put it into long term memory as well.
00:41:43 RobertYeah, I mean there’s so many examples of that but, the prime one is the so-called Spacing Effect. That is, if you’re going to study something twice, there’s huge benefits, often 2 to 1 of spacing those sessions apart rather than doing it right again. But, uh, you know you’re, you’ll not only have a sense that you’re doing better with mass practice, but uh. You know, so it’s, it’s a prime example, because when you space you let forgetting happen before you restudy it and that makes the restudying, we don’t want to get into all the theories too much, but that makes the re studying far more effective than, uhm, when it’s all still there from the first time you study.
00:42:36 BradleySo, since I’m already sharing the screen on, you know this is one of your pages. The research on your lab of course. UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab. I, I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe one of my questions was how soon after both of you arrived at UCLA did you start the lab? I think my math is correct about four to five years after you arrived at UCLA, you started the lab and what’s interesting if for those who are listening and watching this interview, you, you can actually go and look at the history and then they even you know they talk about the principal investigators, the research. What I really liked here was you have a useful links and media page that that gives you the “History of Bob” and for those of you who want to know a little bit more, this is a little misleading because it’s actually a lot about Bob and Elizabeth. Their mentors, mentees, their sabbaticals I, I’d really encourage you to take a look at the slide show and then you recently, well about eight years ago, had a 35th anniversary poster that you guys show and shared and then here’s that 35th anniversary poster. And then you gave a timeline. I like this because it, it shows you the timeline of all the people that were involved in the lab all the way from its inception in ‘79 all the way through the current. When you scroll down. So, I, I really enjoyed all of the information on each of the lab pages. Tell me how has the lab evolved or, or changed throughout the years? Think back when you first started and then you, you did have different eras here. Early Era and then The Generation Generation all the way leading up to Interleaving. Tell me how it’s evolved in the structure and how you envision it moving forward.
00:44:30 RobertI want to say one background thing before then you can respond more directly to this. You know just to relate a little bit to or talk about before when we both got positions, uhm, in the department psychology, UCLA. Uh, there was still a code that you should, if you’re a couple, you should work on different things. And so, Elizabeth was the one, often women, she was the one that kind of says she had a phase of doing work on, on perception, on infant memory and so on, so that we would look more independent. And it wasn’t till I think, 20 years after we were married, that we’ve, we felt free to both be on the same article. So the, a kind of nepotism persisted informally even after you could have a. So there was a period where Elizabeth was struggling to, to have a separate identity. Uh, but then, at some point it really was kind of influenced by some of our earliest graduate students, who, who now have gone on to be major figures themselves. Uh, create this central lab and, and a meeting that’s quite famous, now called the, I won’t say why it’s called the CogFog meeting Friday mornings. Uh, and that came to tie a lot of things together. And so, uhm, I think you could go on Elizabeth and talk a little bit about the nature of the lab and so on.
00:46:09 ElizabethYeah, and I should say today there are many, uh, uh, many male and female partners, couples who collaborate together in research and publish together in research, but uhm. Yeah, when I first came back to Michigan from Rockefeller University, uhm I felt obligated to uhm sort of not continue the research that I had been doing on learning and memory and focus more on just other research that I had done and was interested in, in the field at that time called Visual Information Processing. It probably is now better known as visual cognition, but uhm. So that’s the way I went for a while, and then I also, as Bob said, I got interested in developmental aspects of learning and memory and worked with a number of our developmental graduate students on that. But cognition, and particularly learning and memory, you can do that in any field, I mean there’s no field that escapes the influence of learning and memory. And there’s no field where cognition which involves, you know, perceiving, thinking, reasoning, and learning, and memory that those processes aren’t involved. So it wasn’t that hard for me to keep a, keep a toll in the, the learning and memory world, which is where I what I’ve done my Ph.D. in and also did research, uh, there at Rockefeller both in visual information processing and learning and memory. Uh, but it was nice when we felt comfortable to go ahead and start publishing together and uh, because we talked about research. Particularly, I would say we’ve talked about, uh, the, the research that Bob was doing in learning memory we would talk about that and so I was involved in it, but, you know, it wasn’t showing up in terms of a record anywhere.
00:48:33 RobertShe was in footnotes for a while before, before, well, but then you know, things did change and the Association for Psychological Science in their publication decided to have a series in what they called Dynamic Duos, and I don’t know if we shared that article with you, but we were, we were the first of the, of the couples asked to write about our experience and, uh, and that, that was an interesting exercise for us to think back on that and so yeah. It’s hard to do. It was hard to do and uh.
00:49:09 BradleyWell, what’s interesting is you brought that up ’cause I did have a question later on about how, how did you guys work together at the very beginning? Because you guys both had that math background and then psychology. And then you kind of teased an answer to one of my questions. Well, how did you guys meet? Well, you, you feel unfortunate for that boyfriend who told you, Elizabeth, you gotta, you gotta drop his class as soon as you did then from there then you know everything else happened and, and that was just before, I believe, you went to Rockefeller and then a year later, Robert went to Rockefeller, so I based on just the timeline, assumed that you guys met at Rockefeller, but it was actually just before you, you both went to Rockefeller, so I do have a follow up question.
00:49:49 RobertRight, right, yeah?
00:49:53 BradleyKind of an interesting one, off topic. I saw in the PowerPoint presentation about what about Bob, Reverend Cyril Jenkins married Kermit and Miss Piggy and did he actually marry you two as well?
00:50:09 ElizabethYes, yeah.
00:50:13 RobertYeah, and we, we just, by chance had gone to seeing that with, you know, that movie took our two kids there and that’s the finale scene in the movie where Kermit’s unsure, it’s supposed to be part of the play, but now they…
00:50:28 ElizabethSkip, yeah?
00:50:29 RobertNow there’s a real.
00:50:32 ElizabethA minister suddenly appears.
00:50:33 BradleyMinister there, right, right?
00:50:35 RobertAnd so, it ends up with this, well is it, has Miss Piggy arranged for real marriage. But anyway we were stunned and we sat there in the theater afterwards looking at each other.
00:50:44 ElizabethTo look at the credits to make sure.
00:50:45 RobertLook at the credits.
00:50:46 ElizabethWas that really Cyril Jenkins?
00:50:50 RobertAnd then when we mentioned to our two very young sons at that time. The one who married us. Then they began concerned, were we actually married?
00:51:01 BradleyThat’s funny, so I should mention that you guys have…is it two or three children?
00:51:08 RobertWell, we have 3. Elizabeth has the first son that we adore and then we’ve got 2 of our own.
00:51:15 BradleySo, I think David was from Elizabeth before and then Orlin and Eric were from both of you.
00:51:21 RobertRight.
00:51:21 ElizabethYeah, yeah.
00:51:22 BradleySo, that’s interesting. And then just as a side note, I looked at their history as well. Both of them did very well, went on for their graduate degrees as well. I think one was in computer science and I can’t recall the other one was in what area?
00:51:39 ElizabethWell, it’s a, it’s a, it’s an intersection of computers and English literature.
00:51:48 BradleyOK.
00:51:48 ElizabethAnd so that’s.
00:51:50 RobertA kind of modern humanities in some respects, but yeah.
00:51:53 ElizabethA lot of people call it digital humanities now, I think.
00:51:56 BradleySure, OK.
00:51:57 RobertYeah, that’s what. He teaches at the University of Houston.
00:52:01 BradleyAnd so just to bring our audience up to speed, we started with a kind of chronologically, you know, discussing where you guys were and then after both of you finished your, your doctorates, you went to Rockefeller and each for two years, and then you had one year where you kind of overlapped there. How did you guys find yourself at UCLA then? Tell us, you know, what led both of you to UCLA?
00:52:30 RobertWell, uhm, when I finished at Stanford, it was one of these rare times when there were a lot of jobs. Current grad students could probably find it hard to believe there were that many openings. And so, the place is that I received, you know, sort of invitations, were Indiana, they were the University of California, Irvine, which had just, was just starting then and was very appealing to me to get to stay in California and to go there. Uhm, and then, uh, Princeton. But uhm. You know in terms of our, the, the mentors, and particularly William Estes, just Michigan was, at that time, Stanford was ranked one among all graduate programs in psychology. Michigan was two and so basically so you’re not going to do better than going to Michigan, which is wonderful place. So, you’re going to waste, if you interview at these other places, you’re wasting their time. You know, I mean, that is almost impossible for any current grad student to believe that could ever happen, but, but I took his advice and Michigan is a wonderful place to be so we did, we did keep in mind always all the, the time we were at Michigan that, uh, that might like to get back to California and at one point, we…
00:54:16 ElizabethWell, Bob, I had never been…
00:54:17 RobertYeah, and well, you love the idea of…
00:54:17 ElizabethI liked the idea of warmer weather.
00:54:22 RobertWarmer weather and we, we did, we did interview at the University of California, Santa Barbara at one point. But, but there were various reasons why that was just professionally not as good as staying at Michigan. And you know when you’re at Stanford, and probably Berkeley too, one of the things they do is to convince you that Los Angeles is the worst place in the world. Uh, you know, and so. I don’t know that we would have interviewed there except we were on a, uh, six month leave at UC San Diego to, to work with some people there and that just being in at in La Jolla and so on, that had already changed our image of what Southern California was like. And then when we got.
00:55:20 ElizabethWell, actually even while we were there, uh, UCLA approached us and I think we said, at the time, well, we’re not sure we want to live in Los Angeles and, right, and, and my, my image of what the University of California would be like is, was a, a university in the middle of freeways going over it and so forth. So, they said, well, you’re so close just come up and have lunch here and you know, take a look around. And we did, and we were kind of blown away. UCLA has an absolutely gorgeous campus and it’s very non freewayey and so it’s actually surrounded by beautiful neighborhoods, probably too beautiful…
00:56:14 RobertYeah, Bel Air and.
00:56:14 ElizabethThey’re too expensive.
00:56:17 BradleyRight.
00:56:17 ElizabethBut it’s, it’s a. So that immediately changed our perception of what might, may be living in Los Angeles and would be. And we had the two little kids, so I guess we only had one little kid at that time. And uhm, so that all factored in too and then they became serious about offers and we went out to visit and that’s how, yeah.
00:56:44 BradleyWell, I think the, the one thing to keep in mind is you you’ve had a successful career, both of you, on your own right as well as together and Robert to your point earlier I, I did look at your Vita and, and I saw no dual, you know, both of you weren’t, worked on the earlier ones and then eventually it started to creep up where you guys you know had cites together.
00:57:04 RobertYeah, yeah.
00:57:08 BradleyYou’ve been at UCLA since 1974. You started the lab in 1979. Both of you focus on human learning and memory, and based on what I was looking at for each of your vitas, one was I, I think Elizabeth you were more focused on the memory aspect and, and Robert and, and it might have changed since then, but it seemed like you were more focused on the implications of the science of learning on instruction and training. But now I see both, and so I’m going to while you kind of tell me, what are your current areas of study and what do you see yourself studying in the future? While you answer that, I’m going to share the screen again and kind of bring up another thing on the screen here. So, what are you focused on now and where do you see yourself, each of you, focusing on in the future in terms of your areas of study?
00:58:05 RobertWell, I think. One thing that’s more of a focus now than it might have been earlier is, is try to do what we can to help the, the grad students and postdocs and honors undergrad the undergrads working with us, to, to help them sort of achieve their goals. Uhm, in our own case, it’s not that we want, we have a goal like moving to any other place or, or getting, you know five more research articles and stuff. It’s, it’s we’re, we’re, you know, we’re more nearing the end of our careers and kind of focused. We take great joy in what our students have done over the years and, and their prominence in the field. And I, I’d say that’s more of a focus than it’s ever been ’cause whatever our images may be in the field and whatever our accomplishments, we’re just gratified by those and, and we don’t really think that we need more recognition ourselves as much as just that as we get closer to the end that we can keep doing, uh, creating an environment in which the, the students still working with us and so on can succeed.
00:59:39 ElizabethWe would like to see, and I think this is something you brought up at some point, we would like to see more of our sort of theoretical work and our, this concept of desirable difficulties. We would like to see more of the, more of the findings from the science of learning get, find their way into public education at the you know, the K through 12 level. And, uh, and that seems to be happening more so for strange, strangely in England, than it does seem to be happening in the United States. But there are more and more teachers who are sort of discovering desirable difficulties. The importance of retrieval practice, the, the importance of spacing, etc. for actually helping students, uhm, maintain and keep remembering the learning that they accomplish in one year onto the next and the next and the next. Rather than, it’s like at the end of the year they take a test on what they, you know, had learned that year, but by the next year they, they do very poorly on that test, so, that same test. So, we’d like to see that. I’ve stayed more involved, probably in our undergraduate program, than, than Bob has one of the things I find very exciting is I chair this committee called Undergraduate Student Initiated Education or USIE. And this is a program in which seniors, juniors and seniors can offer a seminar to freshmen and sophomore students. Where they talk about some area that they have fallen in love with and think it’s so exciting and they propose, they propose this idea of a course and then it’s, it’s, you know, vetted and they go through a pedagogy seminar and then they offer it. And it’s been this huge success not only for the students who take it, but also for the students who do it. And a lot of those people have decided I’ve got to involve teaching somehow in my future career. This has been, had been so rewarding. So, I think again as an undergraduate if there are programs like that at your university try to get involved in them. Or Bob made the comment about if you go on for master’s somewhere you don’t, you want to make sure you can live on campus, but that’s not always possible. I know sometimes you have family, responsibilities and so forth that should that makes that impossible. But try to get involved in some activity. Some club, something, uh. That does take place on campus so that you will meet and interact with other individuals than just the ones that are in your particular classes, and I think that way you can introduce some of the aspects of being on campus into your experience.
01:03:04 BradleyVery good suggestion. One thing that I did notice when looking at your well-known careers I, I have to say to the audience. If you haven’t done any research on the Bjorks long distinguished careers and cognitive research scientists well known in their field. You recently received an award. You know one thing I should, I should preface this one thing that resonated with me when I was doing research on both of you is the consistent teaching and mentoring awards and recognitions throughout the years, so I congratulate you on, on all of that recognition. It’s obvious that your fellow teachers, and students, advisee’s really look up to you, respect you. You have this warm, welcoming environment. I, I remember reading about the lab that a lot of people loved your openness to having that open discussion. Most recently, both of you received the 2020 APS Mentor Award and I’ll, I’ll share the screen again for our audience so you can see this. And here’s the APS Mentor award that you guys received about a year ago and in here, you can, they even refer to, you know, your modesty and focus on the collective good. You love your science and the students, and one thing that I really liked here is of the more than 80 and growing number of honors graduate and postdoctoral students and scholars that you have mentored or co-mentored at UCLA, a staggering 57, or 70%, have had successful academic careers related to learning and memory. So, congratulations to the both of you on this established and well-deserved career. Robert, you mentioned earlier that your goal isn’t necessarily to publish more and you don’t need to. I looked at your Vita, it’s pages and pages and pages, both of you, and not only that, but you guys have been recognized multiple times for your contributions. In 2016, both of you received the James Mckeen Catell Fellow Award, which basically is a lifetime achievement award for your research contributions addressing critical problems in society. So again, first of all, congratulations on a wonderful career. One thing that you guys mentioned and Elizabeth you mentioned near the end of your last talk was you wanted to see more of the application in, in our world, is that part of the reason why you both, uhm, got involved as Academic Partners in, and I’m not sure if I’m going to pronounce it correctly, COGx? Am I saying that correctly?
01:05:52 RobertIn in COGx yes, and then there’s a company we’ve been involved it’s called Amplifire which works on, on trying to upgrade the learning in various supplied environments, uh, especially in, in, in hospitals, uhm, to make nurses more effective in, for example, recognizing symptoms of sepsis and so on, if they’re not recognized within about 48 hours, there’s nothing you can do for that patient. And they’re, they’re a company devoted to drawing on the science of learning to upgrade. In a number of fields a lot, a lot in hospitals now, but other fields too so, so that’s, that’s been gratifying that I chair that board Elizabeth on it and. So it’s, there are, there are things happening that are, are exciting. Sometimes we think it’s, things are slow to change and people will get captured by something like the styles of learning and with there no support for that. But they just think if everybody else, some teacher will just teach things in some way that fits their style of learning everything will kind of magically happen. And anyway, I shouldn’t have even brought that up. It’s a touchy topic for some people.
01:07:31 ElizabethSpeaking of, of getting out our ideas about how to be more efficient learners, effective learners and efficient learners. One of our graduate students, Saskia Glee, is ahh…or Giebl, I guess I mispronounce her name, uh, she uh, as part of a group known as Lasting Learning, she goes into the valley, what twice a week.
01:08:01 RobertSan Fran, San Fernando Valley.
01:08:03 ElizabethSan Fernando Valley and teaches in a, uh…
01:08:05 RobertYeah, that’s her.
01:08:08 Elizabeth…minority, uh, a school and tries to teach both the, both the teachers, the instructors and the students. How to apply desirable difficulties in their learning.
01:08:22 RobertThese are struggling schools and some in the San Fernando Valley and it’s kind of amazing what she’s managed to do there. And got a, got a university, got, got a major award for that effort from UCLA.
01:08:38 ElizabethThe Division of Life Sciences.
01:08:39 RobertThe Division of Life Sciences in terms of, uhm, an award for engaging outside the university and in so yeah, so we, we’ve been, I mean, a huge plus is UCLA draws terrific students as you might or might not know there’s more applicants for, for at the undergraduate level, more applicants to UCLA than to any other university, even though there’s some universities have many more, larger freshman enrollment. Uh, so. It’s been kind of a privilege and something similar happens at the graduate level that we’ve, yeah, we’ve had terrific students working with us.
01:09:39 BradleySo, one thing that I did want to ask and you’ve touched on a few things, but based on all of the amount of research that you have read, conducted, what are some of the study skills that you can share with our audience, especially those in Graduate School or undergrad to help improve their learning or maximize performance. I know you have a number of YouTube videos out there and one of them I’m, I’m sharing on the screen right now, which focuses just on that topic, but kind of between the two of you kind of come together and give us the cream of the crop, best advice that you have for us, anybody out there who wants to improve their learning or maximize performance?
01:10:23 RobertThat video, which is pretty short, would be one good thing to look at. I never I, I, I never thought it was great ’cause it seemed like Elizabeth was so much better than I was. And, but, but with funny thing is just, uh, funny little story. We, we, we didn’t realize that we would both, you know we had this thing but we didn’t realize that when one person is talking the other would still be on the screen and so in particular in my case I was doing somewhat awkward things when Elizabeth was speaking. But in any case, it’s really, as far as the most important things. There just are certain principles that you just have to know. For example, the, the power of retrieval practice. Just if you want to maximize learning, that’s just incredible that when, when you retrieve something, you not only make it more recalled in the future, you make things in competition with it less recallable. And that’s a really important thing. Plus, you will get a far better idea of what you know and don’t know from retrieval practice. And then you alluded earlier to Spacing that basic effect has been around from, you know, over 100 years in different ways and just to a student, just it’s really important. Don’t just decide you’re going to read this chapter a second time and try to see what you missed right away. You gotta go on to other things and then come back to it. Uh, so that’s crucial and then the variability kind of results that, that, uh, a simple one is environmental variability, but there’s other things where you know we’re still trying to figure out the limits and nature of it. But if you, students get advised to find a great place on campus and to do all their study in that place, and in fact that may get them to…
01:12:30 ElizabethSit down and study.
01:12:30 RobertSit down and get to work, but in terms of their later recall the information, you recall more if you’ve studied something in two different locations than the same location. And so environmental variability is very important and I don’t know what you want to add to that Elizabeth. These things are there, there are only a few principles, but they, they can lead a student to change dramatically how they go about things.
01:12:57 ElizabethAnything that you can do that, uh, uh, makes you have to generate what it is you’re trying to learn, whether it’s from memory or trying to solve a problem or whatever that. Whatever it is, that is much better than just studying it. So, uh, and I think I actually learned this when I was a math student, although I didn’t think of it in terms of, of these principles at that time, but it’s very easy if you’re looking at a theorem to go through it and say, oh, OK, I see why that was the next step. Oh, now I see why that’s the next step. I see why that’s the next step. Oh yes, and. And you know, you feel like you know it. But if you’re then asked to prove a similar kind of theorem later on some kind of exam, you have no idea even how to get started on it sometimes. So, uh, we get, as I said, you can’t trust these intuitions. These feelings that you have learned something when all you have done is just reread it and restudied it and restudied it, you have to see, test yourself. Can I retrieve this from my own memory when I don’t have all these supports in front of me when I haven’t just heard how to solve this problem, can I do it on my own and you’ll only be able to find that out if you engage in retrieval practice at some other time.

And then the one other little queue that we’re sort of working on now or one over the new things is this advantage of actually taking some kind of test. Answering questions about some sort of material before you even read that material. So, like if you, like, you know, you’re assigned a chapter in a book. If you go to the back of the end of the chapter, there’s usually questions. Read those questions and see if you have any idea how to even approach the answers. And that then somehow makes, when you go back and actually read the text or the chapter for yourself, it makes you a more effective encoder of that information that you have sort of thought about it a little bit beforehand and become. We don’t know exactly what the mechanism is, maybe you’re just your curiosity has been increased so you process the material in a more attentive, deeper way when you read it, that after you’ve tried to answer some questions about it first, but that’s just a hint to might make your studying more interesting to you.
01:15:46 RobertThis is perhaps the newest theme because we’ve known for a very long time that retrieval practice you know, after you’ve studied practice is very powerful effect. But this this new work that even before you go into something trying to answer questions even when you’re wrong, just about all the time it does something to make you, uh, it, it activates relevant knowledge structures even if you aren’t coming up with quite the right answer, we think. And that makes you study the upcoming material more effective. This is a topic going on right now in laboratories. Several laboratories in the country, so.
01:16:27 ElizabethSometimes you’ve heard it’s pretesting. Sometimes it’s forward-testing.
01:16:31 RobertYeah, and what one other thing should mention is, the practical advice, is the evidence for benefits of collaborative learning is really huge, so you know definitely recommend that, that students create little partnerships or little groups where you just do some of these things, like, you know, if you and I are studying together, I’ve got the textbook in front of me and I ask you some question. You do your best to answer it and then I, I try to refine your answer into a more complete answer and then you take the textbook and you ask me, and that, that when you start to think about if that collaborative process is done correctly and will exercise all these other things, retrieval practice, spacing, variability, one of our grad students, Megan Imundo, has done quite a bit of work on, yeah, and the benefits of that so. You know, plus that can make your college life kind of more interactive, more enjoyable too, yeah.
01:17:36 BradleySure, so the other thing that I, I had a couple thoughts here and you guys have probably looked at this before, but when you were talking about the pretesting or forward testing, I remember back in grad school when I was testing myself and getting ready for a test or an exam, I would, I would read some of the questions at the end of the chapter even before I, I read it and it almost acted like a cue or a flag. And so when I’m reading through the chapter, Oh my gosh that that that clicked right there and here is the answer, yeah, so.
01:18:09 RobertYou were, you were, ahead of the research.
01:18:11 BradleyWell, it, it benefited me a little bit, but the other things that I remember was I would sleep on it so I, I’d, I’d do some memory and, and everybody has to realize that there’s difference between long term and short-term memory and how you recall that as well, but the, the one thing that benefited me and everybody is different, but for me it really helped when I would test myself and, and memorize stuff one day, sleep on it, do some other things and it’s it goes along the same lines as what your spacing is what you’re talking about before and then doing that again. The other thing that I would tell I was a teacher, for a number of years as well, is I’d tell my students try to first of all, envision yourself in that testing environment, and so you’re going to put that in your mind. Therefore, you’re not going to be as anxious in that new environment, kind of visualize yourself in that environment, first of all, and then, secondly, you know I helped a lot of students with SD or Systematic Desensitization and you could apply that, I believe, to almost memory and recall as well and, and trying to get yourself to feel more confident, comfortable in recalling that information. So, I find all of your research very interesting. I do have one question though. Does spelling matter? I looked at some of your research. I liked it. I looked at some of your research that I found a couple of articles and I’m going to share that on the screen now. So, in, in a high-level view, tell me what it does spelling matter.
01:19:46 RobertYeah, so we need to credit here. A postdoc who worked with us, Steven Pan who, who eventually put this together and, but uhm. There’s been, you know, we, at one point spelling was part of a curriculum in the public schools, and it was, you know, thought that that was something that had a kind of Halo effect with that, that you could spell things correctly now with the, the, what motivated this article with the advent of the Internet, people are, are writing in a way that is violating all, not just spelling, but other rules as well, and there’s seem to be prevailing idea, well, this doesn’t matter and sometimes we even get, it’s amazing to me, but we will even get inquiries about our, whether from undergrads, or sometimes the high school students, uhm, inquiries about if there’s a way for them to get involved in the lab and this message to us will be full of spelling and grammatical errors. And you know, on the one hand should say, well, their, their early, but, but you know you we can’t avoid thinking if they’re not careful in this thing to us, what, what makes us think they’d be careful when running the experiment, when tabulating the data, when doing other things like that, so it that’s what we referred to as a Halo effect that if they don’t.
01:21:24 ElizabethOr the lack of Halo effect.
01:21:27 RobertWell, it’s a Halo effect on us, namely that if they, if they’re writing to us, they don’t care whether things were grammatical or spelled right in something.
01:21:29 ElizabethOh yeah.
01:21:39 RobertThen our reaction is to think, well, they, they if they got involved in our lab, they wouldn’t care either about whether the numbers added up right or something, yeah. So that, that short article, we went just kind of did a, we need to credit again Steven Pan for that as postdoc that we looked at it somewhat historically when at one point that was considered a central, uh, kind of part of the curriculum. But now it’s largely advantage. It disappeared from schools. Even any ending training on spelling. So just an issue, does it? Does it matter? And if so, how? In terms of, uh, in the current environment and we conclude it does matter, basically.
01:22:32 BradleyWell, I’m glad to hear that ’cause I, I’m a teacher at heart and my area is communication, interpersonal communication and broadcast communication. And when I was teaching students, they would say, well, it doesn’t matter. They know the overall message and I said, well, think of it this way, those who are erudites who are educated will be able to identify when you end with a preposition. When you misspell your grammatical errors. And when you do it correctly, you will gain more respect from them versus if you do it incorrectly. The back of their mind they’re thinking, oh are they really careful? Did they put the time and effort into it? Do they really know how to spell or you know, use grammar correctly, so I’m glad to hear that…
01:23:18 RobertYou’re flooding, so like a automatic response, it’s like you, you might think. Well, I shouldn’t, wait a minute. This is a young person, I shouldn’t, but…
01:23:26 ElizabethYou can’t help it, yeah?
01:23:30 RobertI mean you just can’t help thinking well, gosh, how can they?
01:23:33 BradleyAnd maybe it depends on the context to, to your point. You know the environment, chatting messages, text messages. Of course, you have all these abbreviations, acronyms and everything else. But anything that the public will see and not only in the academic world, but I’d say outside the academic world as well, whatever job you’re in, I, I, I’m outside of the academic world now, but I, I cringe when I see upper management, higher above me, sending out these memos or these notifications these messages, wrong spelling, wrong grammatical, you know structure and I can’t go up to them and say, hey president, did you know that you have this wrong? I can’t do that, but I cringe and, and you know, it’s our, it reflects our reputation not only as an individual, but if you’re working for a company or, or university as well. So, I, I have a, a few fun questions here at the end for you and, and both of you can respond or one of you can respond, but I always ask all of my podcast guests some of these questions. Number one. What is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why? What is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why?
01:24:53 ElizabethWell, one of them is desirable difficulties.
01:24:57 RobertOr said differently, that the difficulties can be desirable.
01:25:00 ElizabethThat difficult can be desirable, yeah.
01:25:03 RobertThere’s, uhm, I think a lot of what we found out goes back to, uh, a principle in an article a very long time ago that we didn’t write. Levels of processing principle to just realize that when you’re trying to learn something, there’s different kind of levels at which you can process it from just sheer perceptual reading to relating it conceptually to other things you know and, and it matters what level you’re processing things at.
01:25:43 BradleyOK. The next one is just a general one. It could be inside academic world or outside. What is something new that you have learned recently? Something new that you learned recently?
01:25:58 RobertWell, one kind of narrow thing that we mentioned was the pretesting effect is, is new.
01:26:04 ElizabethSeems very powerful.
01:26:06 RobertAnd, uhm, I think it, it’s a kind of broad category, but uhm, I think the, the relevance of the kind of things we’ve studied to fields that we might not have thought they were relevant to before, like on artificial intelligence and, and uhm, other domains like that has been kind of recently occurred to me.
01:26:41 BradleyOK. Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology? Just general advice, high level advice, or anything else that comes to mind.
01:26:54 RobertWell, somebody had a strong interest in for whatever reason they, it had to follow a different route through their education and occupation. It is now a case that people can, can develop a hobby or a special interest, uhm, you know, I, I, it comes in a long story, but in a domain of people getting interested in bird watching. And all the things it involves in perceptual learning and other aspects for people to become very avid about that. And there is again in that domain and other domains like you decided you’ve never played a musical instrument and you want to just maybe pretty late in your life pick up one. These kind of principles are all relevant to that, so it’s kind of like as we’ve said in a couple articles, uh, these principles go well beyond having implications for the, the, the normal years of schooling because almost any occupation you have to continue to learn these days and there’s avocations and, like I mentioned.
01:28:12 ElizabethOne of my favorite story is related to what Bob just said is a friend of ours who was a violinist and, uhm, he heard about retrieval practice and then these desirable difficulties, and without telling us about it at all, he started introducing what you might call expanding retrieval practice into his violin practicing and he said he used to always, you know he’d work on one piece and then it keep working on it and work on it again and play the same passage over and over again. Instead of doing that, he would you know, practice that piece and then he’d move on to something else and practice it. And then maybe something else. And then he’d come back to that first one and practice it. So, he was getting the same amount of retrieval practice for all these pieces. But he was spacing them out. And, uh, he was feeling I think, I’m getting better at these things, uh, and then he said he finally realized, yes, he really was because groups that used to not invite him to play with them now started inviting him to play with them. So that was his data point.
01:29:26 BradleyYeah, that’s a funny story. Yeah, that’s a funny story. The other thing that I, I read someplace was ’cause a lot of these different memory tactics and learning tactics help offset the onset of Alzheimer’s. If you start doing something and playing a different game that you’ve never played before, or you start doing something different, it creates more brain pathways and allows to push back the onset of Alzheimer’s so.
01:29:59 RobertYeah, it’s not understood real well, but even you know, learning a second language seems to have benefits in delaying. I’m not sure the physiology is understood, but a quite close colleague of ours has gathered pretty convincing support for, for that.
01:30:19 ElizabethI think for a long time it was thought you know you, after certain age, uh, you couldn’t form new neural memory circuits and so forth, and that seems to not be true at all. That and in fact, and that may be part of this underlying business, because you start learning something new, you start developing new neural connections and so forth. And maybe that’s part of, uh, it doesn’t mean you never, you know, develop Alzheimer’s, you’ll never suffer from dementia, but it prolongs its onset?
01:30:59 RobertYeah, delays it.
01:31:01 BradleyDelays it…yep, so 2 two other questions. Number one is if you had any time or money, any, as much time or money as you, you wanted to complete one project to go on one trip, what would you do?
01:31:23 ElizabethWell, one trip I’ve, I’m very anxious to do, and you Bob may have a different one, I haven’t seen all the things just within the United States that I would like to see. And we were planning actually to go up the coast, drive up the coast. We both play golf, and so we’re going to drive up the coast and stop at various places where they have golf courses and play golf on our way up and, uh, I have been to Oregon and I know a little bit about the Oregon coast and so forth, but it was mostly when I was a little kid and I don’t remember it very well. And also Glacier National Park. There are a bunch of parks up there. The Redwoods, the Grand Canyon. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, but it was for about what, 30 minutes, yeah, so, a lot of things like that I would like to do.
01:32:14 RobertYeah, it’s a little bit of background for what Elizabeth said is we’ve done a fair amount of traveling, but as, as it’s been almost always the case that we took advantage of some professional invitation, so go somewhere in Europe, somewhere else to give a talk and while we’re there, we could do something else. And that’s been great to be able to do that, but it it’s been nothing like, you know, a real…
01:32:42 BradleyVacation
01:32:43 RobertThat we carry that job with us and so.
01:32:46 ElizabethOr you feel free to stop and explore and things like that.
01:32:49 RobertYeah, and we, we. So, there’s, I think, we’ve done too little of just the kind of seeing the world and learning about it from different places. It may have had a bit of a too much of a professional orientation over the years or something like that. And, and we had to cancel, we were really upset for our 50th anniversary we had complicated, we had to cancel, we were going to take the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver across Canada to like Banff and Lake Louise and stuff and set that all up and for complicated reasons had to cancel it, so we’re still thinking about how we got to celebrate that anniversary two years later.
01:33:37 BradleyRight, well, you know I, I, I did notice that you guys, both of you, have had multiple sabbaticals and you mentioned that for work reasons you’ve been able to travel, I know you went to Saint Andrews I.
01:33:50 RobertOh yeah, that was an amazing summer.
01:33:50 BradleyAnd I, I assumed you would love that Robert because you’re an avid golfer and the other thing that our audience doesn’t know is you’ve applied some of your techniques and learning techniques and, and findings to the golf, learning and improving your skill at golf. And you’ve been in a couple of podcast shows that focus on golf and how to do that so.
01:34:14 RobertI’ve been invited to talk to, uhm, groups of actual golf teachers and so on. So not, not about how to play the game of golf, but how to structure, practice, and so on.
01:34:26 BradleyThe final question for you is, is there anything else that you would like to discuss or bring up in this podcast?
01:34:34 RobertBoy, you have done a great job of…
01:34:36 ElizabethOf covering things.
01:34:37 RobertOf covering things. No, and I’m not…
01:34:39 ElizabethMaybe just consider, you know, the world of academics as a possible future career for you. It’s a great place to be. I would say particularly for women. Uh, uh, it’s very accepting. Most fields are very accepting some of women and, uhm, and, uh, it’s flexible so you can also have a family and do things like that as part of it.
01:35:08 BradleyOK, well I really appreciate your time and willingness to share your thoughts and experiences. Elizabeth and Robert. Thanks again for sharing your story and advice with us.
01:35:17 RobertYeah, you’re very welcome.
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