Welcome! Research in the Markant Lab examines interactions between learning, memory, and decision making. How do people take action to navigate uncertain or changing environments? How do learners monitor and control their own learning experience? How do learning and memory influence the tendency to take risks or explore new behaviors?

We use behavioral experiments and computational modeling to investigate cognitive mechanisms involved in effective learning and decision making. In addition to basic research in cognitive science, the lab explores implications of these processes for learning and decision making in other contexts, including real-world instructional environments and among populations of learners with diverse cognitive abilities. Learn more about our research by reading the posts below or by browsing our list of publications.

The Markant Lab is part of the Department of Psychological Science at UNC Charlotte. We operate a shared space and engage in collaborative research and mentorship with the lab of Dr. Alexia Galati. We actively contribute to academic programs in health psychology, cognitive science, and computer science. If you are a student who is interested in the lab's research, see how you can get involved.

News & Updates

Charlotte GRS [poster] - Best poster award to Shaina Glass!

Congratulations to Shaina Glass, a Health Psychology Ph.D. student in the lab, for winning the Best Poster Prize at this year’s UNC Charlotte Graduate Research Symposium! Shaina presented work from her M.A. thesis examining connections between emotion regulation habits and the preference for self-verifying feedback (see below). Congrats Shaina!


Chained study and the discovery of relational structure [paper]

Imagine that you’ve started a new job and you’ve noticed some perplexing patterns in how your co-workers interact. For example, you observe Bill being rude to Anna, but then shortly after he is perfectly nice when interacting with Carol. What might explain why Bill acts differently in these situations?

Social hierarchy

One explanation is that Bill’s behavior reveals an underlying hierarchy (or ranking) of the kind commonly seen in social environments, whether they are formal (e.g., based on a management structure) or informal (e.g., based on popularity). Bill might be rude to Anna because he’s ranked higher in the social hierarchy, but deferential to Carol because he’s ranked lower than her. By observing differences in how people interact across different contexts, you can discover the underlying hierarchy and make sense of seemingly inconsistent behaviors.

In a new paper now out in Memory & Cognition, I examine how people acquire this kind of relational knowledge through trial and error learning. This work focuses on a more difficult version of this problem where people are unaware that an underlying hierarchy exists (compared to social situations, in which people can rely on prior knowledge about how social groups are commonly organized and interact). Past research has shown that some people nevertheless are able to discover that underlying hierarchy, and in this paper I examine the kinds of learning experiences that are most likely to facilitate that relational discovery.

To learn more, watch a talk related to this project, or take a look at the paper.

VIS 2020 [paper] - Belief updating from scatterplots

Do people change their beliefs when they see a data visualization like a scatterplot? Communicating science and making evidence-based arguments often involve data visualizations like the one below. It can be tempting to think that “the data speaks for itself”—that it paints a clear, relatively unambiguous picture about the relationship between a set of variables. But the mere presentation of statistical evidence, no matter how strong, does not guarantee that people will change their minds, particularly when they have strong preexisting beliefs that run counter to the data.1

Mask use
A recent figure showing a strong negative correlation between mask-wearing and COVID19 case counts. Would this change someone's mind if they believe these variables are unrelated?

In a new VIS 2020 paper, my colleagues and I examined how people update their beliefs about statistical relationships when viewing scatterplots. We developed some new methods for eliciting beliefs about these relationships and used computational modeling to evaluate the impact of different types of scatterplot visualizations on belief updating. This project adds to a growing number of studies that aim to better understand (and model) how people learn through interactive data visualizations, including cases where such visualizations fail to persuade.

  1. A favorite paper of mine which reviews the many ways people avoid updating their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence is Chinn and Brewer (1993)

CogSci 2020 [talk] - Chained study and relational discovery

How do people discover relational knowledge through experience? I recently presented a talk on this topic at the all-virtual 2020 Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. See the embedded video below for an overview of the project, or the proceedings paper for more detail.

CogSci 2020 [poster] - Risk preferences and option generation

It’s well-known in the behavioral sciences that people differ in their attitude toward taking risks. Some individuals are risk-seekers who like to roll the dice, while others are risk-averse because they prefer to play it safe.

Past studies of risk attitudes have typically focused on well-defined choices in which the set of possible actions are predetermined by the researcher and the possible outcomes of each action are known. For example, a person might face a choice between:

  • Option A (safe): earning $5
  • Option B (risky): earning a lottery ticket with a 5% chance of winning $100

An individual’s risk preference is thought to influence whether they will go with the safe or risky option in this kind of well-defined decision.

But many real-world choices are ill-defined, in that a set of choice options is never explicitly provided to you. Instead, you have to generate possible courses of action for yourself. Do risk preferences affect how people generate actions in ill-defined, uncertain situations, just as they affect choices between predetermined options?

This is the question behind an ongoing project in the lab (with Meagan Padro and Mitra Mostafavi) and the topic of a poster that will be presented at CogSci 2020. To learn more, click on the image below to get the PDF of the poster. If you attend CogSci swing by the (virtual) poster session on August 1, 11:00-12:40 EDT!