Dr. Roddy Roediger and the Many Contributions to Psychology



Dr. Henry Roediger III is known by most in Psychology simply as “Roddy.”  He is such a defining figure in Psychology that it is difficult to determine where, precisely, he may have had the greatest influence. He is a widely published scholar whose notable works include the classic DRM false memory paradigm which stands among the most cited in Psychology; a long time influential editor of some of the top Psych journals (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review); a past president to many organizations including the Association for Psychological Science, American Psychological Association Div. 3Midwest Psychological Association; and a committed administrator who had served and shaped generations of students as a graduate director, a departmental chairperson, and most recently as the Dean of Academic Planning for Washington University of St. Louis. Whether one measures influence by the impact of scholarship or by the direct involvement and training of students, by one’s service  to program creation, maintenance and growth, or by any other part of the academic and educational system then Roddy has clearly been a critical figure to (conservatively) thousands of students, staff, and faculty.

If I may digress personally, I can offer my own example of his influence. I had not met Dr. Roediger prior to coming to St. Louis last week. Nonetheless, over the past 20 years in academia, I’ve employed his research and the related theoretical development as part of the pedagogy, as  a requisite classroom demonstration, and  in my own studies of perception to guide theory and areas of interest. I’ve used his articles on memory and its applications to pedagogy to help my students study and learn more effectively. I’ve attended conferences he’s organized, submitted to journals he’s edited, and most recently, I relied heavily on an article he wrote on how to be an effective chairperson to a Psychology department — using his influence to the betterment of the experience for my colleagues, my staff, and students where I served in that role. I’m one small example of how Roddy influenced the scholarship, administrative procedures, and enhanced the educational lives of literally thousands in this field and beyond. When it comes to influence in Psychology, Roddy casts a fairly grand shadow.

For what it’s worth, I thanked Roddy for that article he wrote to chairpersons and it drew a chuckle from him. Apparently he’s heard this sort of expressed gratitude a few times and was glad to provide his recommendations to those who needed it. Anyway, that’s Roddy. He’s a little bit of everything to the field of Psychology. If you’ve spent more than a couple of years involved in the field, you know of him.  You’ve probably participated in something, submitted something, worked on something, and/or worked with somebody that was directly influenced by his efforts and is better for it.

He has been fairly candid about his life and his scholarship over the years and there was a trove of documents and statements he’s issued clarifying  some of his influences. Still, I like to dig a little deeper, and so I asked him about the earliest influences and his life as a young kid. I asked about his experiences in primary school and high school. We discussed how his life was impacted by the war in Vietnam (he was born in 1947 and came of age during the major years of the Vietnam draft — he was fortunate to not be drafted), the courses he took, and the essential, primary activities that may have led him to become, as noted above, one of the most influential psychologists of the past decades.

Roddy is quite active: this semester he is teaching two courses and has administrative duties. His scholarship is ongoing and he has active grants. That’s a lot of stuff and it all involves time speaking with and to people, which is not so simple for a guy who recently survived a cancer scare that cost some damage to his articulatory track. Hence, while he was very willing to speak to me and to allow me to share his words with you, he noted that his voice has suffered and communicating requires a bit more effort.  So be warned that his voice is compromised relative to what it had been some years earlier, and I offer much gratitude to Roddy for his permission using it here.

One thing  that comes out very clearly about Roddy is that he is very tough. How tough? He spent four years at Military school opting for that instead of continuing at his local  public school.

Here he describes some of that experience:

As he described, military schools tend to attract two kinds of students. The children of ex-military who want to see their sons follow in that path, with a leg up on being future officers, and the children who no one wants to see. The ones whose parents were given a choice: either this kid goes to military school or he goes to detention and a future life in prison. Roddy was neither of these. His dad had gone to the same military school but did not enter the military. He had no particular ambition to see his children join the military, and also knew that to attend this school would be tough for Roddy — it would  be tough on anyone. Still, Roddy had seen advertising pictures, visited the campus and met some faculty, heard the descriptions lauding its virtues, and had requested to go.

He hated it immediately and asked his parents to relent on his continued attendance there. But he had committed, and now his parents would hold him to that commitment. So he stayed. He toughed it out. For a year. For a second year and a third year. And in the fourth year, at age 17,  rose to the highest ranking position a student can achieve  and was tasked to balance  demands from the faculty and the needs of the students. It must have been awful, but there were good opportunities and Roddy rose to the challenges.

Also it was a chance to get away from some of the distress of being at home in Virginia. This is a very personal and poignant story from Roddy, and so here are his words on losing his mother:

What is the role of memory to a person’s life? Here, Roddy describes just how critical it was to keep his mother in his life. In preserving those memories of her, he went through some self-discovery about how to keep her vivid in his mind. He used a kind of repetition procedure that might anticipate his later involvement with the study of memory and specific paradigms that promoted sustained memory. He used memory, and relied on its fullness, to call  to mind the presence of his mother after she left this absence in his life.

Nonetheless, it would be some years before Roddy had formal involvement with Psychology. While attending that military school, one of the opportunities was for summer study at Stetson College (Fla). It was at Stetson that Roddy started to develop a more formal understanding and interest in Psychology. The topic was fascinating, the errors in the textbook were compelling.

Here, Roddy describes that experience at Stetson:

This gave him a start, and then an education at Washington & Lee, followed by his doctorate at Yale. Moreover (and this will have some echoes of Gus Craik), as Roddy started his first professorial position at Purdue he spent some time going up to Toronto, visiting and studying memory with the Ebbinghaus Empire bunch led by Dr. Endel Tulving.

He describes that here.

Tulving, Slamecka, Lockhart, Craik, Schacter, Moscovitch, with the occasional inclusion of Jacoby and many others. I can’t stress enough how this Toronto group shaped the understanding of memory into the field we are today. And Roediger participated in that. He learned and developed his own approach with this influence.

This covers some ground of Roddy’s life, but what about DRM? That list-based, false memory paradigm that so powerfully demonstrated the structure and features of memories and their storage? Well, Roddy has published on the origins of that paradigm but offered a precis that I can share with you:

There it is! He picks up the paradigm from Deese, finds the beauty and power of this paradigm using a demonstration with his class,  and advances this quickly with his, then, graduate student  Kathleen McDermott, now esteemed Dr. McDermott.

As ever, there is much more more to tell from one of the most influential people in Psychology of the past 30 years. But, alas, some of that will have to be saved for the book…

Here are some of the wonderful publications from Dr. Roediger:

Roediger, H. L. (1974). Inhibiting effects of recallMemory & Cognition2(2), 261-269.

Roediger, H. L. (1980). Memory metaphors in cognitive psychologyMemory & Cognition8(3), 231-246.

Roediger, H. L. (1990). Implicit memory: Retention without rememberingAmerican Psychologist45(9), 1043-1056.

Roediger III, H. L. (1996). Memory illusionsJournal of Memory and Language35(2), 76-100.

Roediger, H. L. (2014).  12 Tips for Department  ChairsAPS Observer. 

Roediger, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition21(4), 803-814.

Roediger III, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & McDermott, K. B. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: Long-term improvements from quizzingJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied17(4), 382-395.

Roediger III, H. L., Balota, D. A., & Watson, J. M. (2001). Spreading activation and arousal of false memoriesThe nature of remembering: Essays in honor of Robert G. Crowder, 95-115.

Roediger, H. L., & Blaxton, T. A. (1987). Effects of varying modality, surface features, and retention interval on priming in word-fragment completionMemory & Cognition15(5), 379-388.

Roediger III, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (2000). Tricks of memoryCurrent Directions in Psychological Science9(4), 123-127.

Roediger, H. L., Meade, M. L., & Bergman, E. T. (2001). Social contagion of memoryPsychonomic Bulletin & Review8(2), 365-371.

Roediger, H. L., & Thorpe, L. A. (1978). The role of recall time in producing hypermnesiaMemory & Cognition6(3), 296-305.

Roediger, H. L., Watson, J. M., McDermott, K. B., & Gallo, D. A. (2001). Factors that determine false recall: A multiple regression analysisPsychonomic Bulletin & Review8(3), 385-407.

Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practicePerspectives on Psychological Science1(3), 181-210.

Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick. Harvard University Press.

(*Image of Washington University, Department of Psychology. This image is temporary and will be replaced by, what I hope, will be an image of a very young Dr. Roediger from his archives).

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