|FOCUS ON THE FACULTY
PROFESSOR EXPORES MYSTERIES OF HUMAN MEMORY
Have you ever wondered what time of day your brain functions the best?
If you ask Cindi May, she will tell you that adolescents’ and young adults’ cognitive functioning is better during the evening; by contrast, older adults’ cognitive functioning is better in the morning. Professor May has been researching the topics of circadian arousal and rhythmicity for the last 15 years in hopes of improving cognitive performance and memory. Circadian rhythms and arousal relates to the internal body clock that regulates the 24 hour cycle of biological processes. To evaluate her theory, she has synchronized an individual’s ideal time with the time of testing. She has found that tasks that require careful rehearsal or planning are performed better at an individual’s peak time.
In addition to circadian arousal, May has been researching the role of emotional information to understand cognitive deficits among age groups. Though her research is still in progress, she believes that memory for perpetual information decreases with age. May gives the example, “If you know that orange juice reduces the risk of heart attack, where did you hear this? Your doctor or an orange juice commercial? Remembering the source is important because it helps you determine the validity.”
Older adults, instead, are better at associating emotional information (value-based or more meaningful details) to recall memories. When no emotional information was given, older adults had poor memory. When emotional information is added, it helps older adults recall the perpetual details. There are many factors that affect this performance, including: declining eyesight, brain processing, and hearing. Rick Heldrich, C of C’s undergraduate research director, speaks about May’s research, "This study is the first finding to show not only that older adults have better memory for emotional rather than perpetual details, but also to show that emotional cues can be successful for triggering perpetual memories," he says.
The ultimate goal of May’s research is to improve performance and develop methods of compensation, especially among older adults. She says if performance can be improved, older adults will be more self-reliant and independent. “Essentially my goal is to try to understand the cognitive deficits that occur when we get older and develop mechanisms to compensate,” she says. Some specific aspects she would like to improve for older adults are: remembering to take medication, bettering eyewitness situations, and preventing social embarrassment. She hopes that her research will aide in eliminating the practice of ageism. May would like to maximize life expectancy with her research findings. When asked what drives her research, May responds, “A fundamental interest in aging.”
College is a great place to find young adult
participants, but older adults are not as readily available. Professor May recruits her older participants
from senior residential complexes, churches, and through newspaper
advertisements. She has collaborated with
Professor May has been teaching at
Will May's academic work ever come to a conclusion? Probably not. She has been building on her research for 15 years and has no plans of stopping now. The more she discovers, the more questions she has. Cortese says, “Cindi has worked very hard to be a top-notch teacher and researcher, as well as wife and mother, and she has succeeded with flying colors in all of these areas.” Cindi May is busy to say the least, but enjoys every minute of her profession.