Research Interests:

I study human memory. Though I study a broad range of issues related to human memory processes

and performance, my primary research interest is in people's ability to show memory when they

experience retrieval failure. For example, people sometimes fail to recall the information that they are

searching for in memory. When experiencing such memory failure, people often still have other infor-

mation available to them about the memory—information that can at times be used to make decisions

with remarkable accuracy.  An example is the phenomenon recognition without identification and a

seemingly similar phenomenon, recognition without recall.  I am interested in the various ways that

people can show memory when recall fails, and I am also interested in the neural mechanisms that

underlie memory that occurs when retrieval fails. In my lab, we use many methodological techniques

for addressing these questions, including behavioral paradigms, virtual reality technology, brain

electrophysiological techniques, and, in collaboration with other laboratories and facilities, functional

magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI).


Familiarity-based Recognition. One example of a form of memory that can occur in the face of

retrieval failure is familiarity, which is the feeling of having experienced something before, without

being able to pinpoint exactly why the feeling is occurring. One branch of my research aims to study

familiarity as a basis for recognition and how it differs from other processes that enable recognition.


Features that Produce Recognition when Recall Fails. One branch of my research attempts

to identify what features of an item or situation can produce recognition when recall fails. For example,

when retrieval fails, do geometric shapes contribute to a sense of recognition with pictures and objects?

Do phonemes contribute to a sense of recognition with spoken words? Can rhythm contribute to a sense

of recognition with songs? Can more abstract features, such as semantic features, produce a sense of

recognition when retrieval fails?


Subjective Memory Experiences that Occur During Retrieval Failure. The ability to

recognize having had a prior experience with a situation when recall of the exact prior experience itself

fails is related to the subjective experience of sensing that something is in memory.  Besides the feeling

of familiarity, an example of one such type of subjective experience is the déjà vu experience, which occurs when one has a feeling of having experienced something before, despite evidence to the contrary. Most commonly, déjà vu occurs with places—people experience a feeling of having been somewhere before, despite knowing that they have never been there. Déjà vu may result from a memory that fails to be retrieved, as is humorously illustrated in this commercial. One branch of my research aims to better understand déjà vu as a memory phenomenon, and virtual reality is one of the tools that we use in my lab to investigate this (click here for a video description). 

Another example of a type of subjective memory experience that occurs during retrieval failure is the tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) phenomenon, whereby one feels that a word is in memory, but cannot currently access it. One branch of my research investigates this phenomenon and how it differs from other seemingly similar subjective memory experiences that occur during retrieval failure. Another branch is aimed at investigating how TOT states affect other cognitive judgments during the uncertainty of retrieval faiure.


Unconscious Recognition. Other ways that people can show memory when retrieval fails may

be unconscious. Recent evidence, from my lab and others, suggests that people may sometimes be

influenced by prior memories to choose certain items over others or to react in certain ways to

situations, yet be completely unaware that situations in memory are driving those decisions.

Another branch of my research aims to study this ability and how it differs from conscious forms

of memory that occur when retrieval fails.


Representative Publications:

Cleary, A.M. (2014). The sense of recognition during retrieval failure: Implications for the nature                  of memory traces. In B.H. Ross’s Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Volume 60,                  pp. 77-112. Elsevier.

Cleary, A.M. (2014). On the empirical study of déjà vu: Borrowing methodology from the study                  of the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. In B.L. Schwartz & A.S. Brown’s Tip-of-the-                 tongue States and Related Phenomena. .  pp. 264-280. Cambridge University Press

Cleary, A.M., Staley, S.R., & Klein, K.R. (2014). The effect of tip-of-the-tongue states on other                  cognitive judgments. In B.L. Schwartz & A.S. Brown’s Tip-of-the-tongue States and                  Related Phenomena. pp. 75-94. Cambridge University Press.

Ryals, A.J., Cleary, A.M., & Seger, C.A. (2013). Recall versus familiarity when recall fails for words                  and scenes: The differential roles of the hippocampus, perirhinal cortex, and category-                 specific cortical regions. Brain Research, 1492, 72-91.

Ryals, A.J. & Cleary, A.M. (2012).  The recognition without cued recall phenomenon:

Support for a feature-matching theory over a partial recollection account.

               Journal of Memory and Language, 66, 747-762 .

Cleary, A.M., Brown, A.S., Sawyer, B.D., Nomi, J.S., Ajoku, A.C., & Ryals, A.J. (2012).

Familiarity from the configuration of objects in 3-dimensional space and its relation

to déjà vu: A virtual reality investigation. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 969-975.

Cleary, A. M., Ryals, A. J., & Nomi, J. N. (2009). Can déjà vu result from similarity

to a prior experience? Support for the similarity hypothesis of déjà vu.

              Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 1082-1088.

Kostic, B. & Cleary, A. M. (2009). Song recognition without identification: When

people cannot “name that tune” but can recognize it as familiar. Journal of

              Experimental Psychology: General, 138, 146-159.

Cleary, A.M. (2008). Recognition memory, familiarity, and déjà vu experiences.

                 Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 353-357.

Cleary, A. M., Winfield, M. M., & Kostic, B. (2007). Auditory recognition without

identification. Memory & Cognition, 35, 1869-1877.

Cleary, A. M. (2006). Relating familiarity-based recognition and the tip-of-the-tongue

phenomenon: Detecting a word’s recency in the absence of access to the

word. Memory & Cognition, 34, 804-816.

Cleary, A. M., **Langley, M. M., & *Seiler, K. R. (2004).  Recognition without picture

identification: Geons as components of the pictorial memory trace. P

sychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 903-908.

Cleary, A. M. (2004).  Orthography, phonology, and meaning: Word features that give

rise to feelings of familiarity in recognition.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,

11, 446-451.


Anne M. Cleary, PhD

Human Memory Lab

Contact Information:

Mailing Address:

1876 Campus Delivery

Department of Psychology

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO  80523-1876



Phone: 970-491-7701

FAX: 970-491-6363