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Inaugural Gordon Bower Lecture in Cognitive Science

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Event Details:

The Stanford Psychology Department proudly presents the Inaugural Gordon Bower Lecture in Cognitive Science. This inaugural event will include a lecture from Prof. John Anderson, followed by a post-talk reception and celebration of our late, dear colleague, Prof. Gordon Bower.

3:15-4:30 Prof. John Anderson

The Environmental Basis of Memory

An optimal memory system would favor the retrieval of things that are more likely to be needed. Lael Schooler’s past analyses of records of both human and non-human experiences have shown that such a system would produce effects similar to the effects of repetition, delay, and spacing in human memory. In this talk, I will report new results from two large-scale data sets: tweets from popular sources and comments on popular subreddits. These sources are sufficiently large that they enable accurate measurement of how detailed patterns of past appearance predict probability of an item occurring again. None of a current set of memory models of memory does very well at predicting the observed patterns. Anderson & Milson (1989) proposed a model of the environment that assumes that items vary in the probability that they will occur, that these probabilities decay at different rates, and that they can undergo revivals to their original probability. A new model of memory based on the Anderson & Milson environmental model did better than other models at predicting the environmental data and a wide range of behavioral studies focused on how spacing of items affects probability of recall. This model also predicts latency effects associated with presentation patterns at frequencies that are too high to study with probability of recall. These new results suggest that environmental analyses such as these can lead to new insights about human memory.

4:45-6:00 Reception in Honor of Prof. Gordon H. Bower

Gordon H. Bower, Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology Emeritus and one of the most influential psychologists in the latter half of the 20th century, died on June 17, 2020, at his home on the Stanford campus. Bower joined the Psychology Department in 1959 and, across his career, worked with more than 60 PhD students and postdocs, including Prof. Anderson, studying how human learning, memory and reasoning are affected by imagery, language and even emotion. He made fundamental discoveries about associative memory and propositional learning and documented the state-dependence of memory. He also developed a model of category learning, advanced our understanding how humans remember narratives, and delineated the efficacy of organizational devices and other aids to improve memory. These contributions had a broad and deep influence on psychological science, and were recognized through the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1979) from the American Psychological Association, the William James Award (1989) from the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and the National Medal of Freedom (2005).

Post-talk Reception: We welcome tributes to Prof. Bower. Beyond his science and leadership in the department, on campus, and in the field, Bower’s legacy includes the training of the field’s future leaders. Bower’s incisive guidance to trainees was a defining feature of the Psychology Department’s Friday Seminar (FriSem), which is the host forum for the Bower Lecture. We invite brief comments on your “Favorite Gordon FriSem Moment” or a similarly themed tribute.

If you would like to offer a tribute at the reception, please contact Prof. Anthony Wagner at If you are unable to attend, but would like to offer a 1-3 min video tribute, please contact Justin Dixon at to arrange sharing of your video. Finally, please feel free to send any photos of you and Gordon, which we will post along with tribute videos.

The Stanford Psychology Department also thanks and recognizes Sharon Bower for her deep engagement and friendship, and we are grateful to Sharon and the Bower family for establishing the Gordon Bower Lecture in Cognitive Science.