Psychologist awarded prestigious readership

Tuesday 25 March 2003

An expert in the study of human memory at the University of St Andrews has been awarded a prestigious Research Readership by the British Academy.

Dr Malcolm MacLeod, of the University’s School of Psychology, has been awarded funding which will allow him to concentrate full- time on his research into the complex interactions between remembering and forgetting.

Dr MacLeod, a Reader in social and applied cognition, is one of 15 academics to be awarded a two-year Readership by The British Academy, the national academy for the humanities and the social sciences, this year.

The award, which will take effect from September, has been granted specifically to Dr MacLeod to explore the role of suppression mechanisms in memory for emotive events.

“Typically, we tend to think of forgetting as inconvenient, occasionally upsetting, and sometimes embarrassing. Current thinking on this topic, however, suggests that some forms of active forgetting may be important for the efficient updating of memory. The suppression of related but unwanted material at retrieval may, under certain circumstances, have the effect of promoting recall for information we wish to remember. It is also possible that inhibitory mechanisms may be involved in people’s attempts to actively forget upsetting events in their lives,” said Dr MacLeod.

The project will comprise a series of empirical studies designed to assess the extent to which it is possible to inhibit memory for emotive material, whether such suppression is controllable, and the effects of repeated inhibition on recall performance. Could inhibition provide a mechanistic explanation for the phenomenon of repressed memory or might it lead, perversely, to increased accessibility? In addressing such questions, Dr MacLeod hopes that we will be better placed to understand the role of memory in adjustment to trauma and, as a consequence, develop effective strategies to support people following traumatic episodes.

The Research Readership scheme is aimed at established scholars who are in mid-career in UK universities and who have already published works of intellectual distinction. The awards are designed to allow successful candidates to undertake or to complete an approved programme of sustained research, while relieved of their normal teaching and administrative commitments. The research should not only be an important contribution to knowledge and understanding, but also help to enhance the future career and career prospects of the award holder.

This is only the fourth such award that The British Academy has bestowed on a psychologist and is the second awarded to the School of Psychology at St. Andrews; Professor Andrew Whiten received a Research Readership in 1999 for his work on the evolution of mind.

St Andrews currently holds one other BA Readership – last year, an award was made to Professor Paul Magdalino, a Medieval Historian in the School of History.

Further information on the Readerships is available on the BA website at: de/readfell.html


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref: MacLeod BA readership pr250303.doc View the latest University news at

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