David C. Riccio

(1937 - )

Compiled by Emily DeGarmo (May 1999)

Riccio Biography
Time Line

David C. Riccio was born on July 16, 1937 in Manchester, New Hampshire. He attended Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and graduated Cum Laude with High honors in psychology. He then attended Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey where he received his PhD after three years while serving as a research associate under Byron A. Campbell.

After completing his degree, Riccio joined the military as a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army. Shortly thereafter he received an inter-service transfer and finished his tour of duty with the Navy participating in research on the effects of vestibular stimulation on the behavior of animals, a project sponsored by NASA and the Navy.

Once his military service was complete, Riccio became an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, advancing to Full Professor in eight years. He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association (Divisions 1, 3 and 6) and is a member of various other professional organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Midwestern Psychological Association, New York Academy of Science, and Sigma Xi to name just a few. He has served as president of the Midwestern Psychological Association (1993/94), consulting editor and reviewer for many journals, and has published more than 130 articles, 100 papers, a book, and has given many presentations.


Riccio's research focuses upon memory processes and learning in animals with interest in behavioral aspects of anterograde and retrograde amnesia, ontogenetic changes in memory, memory for stimulus attributes, and extinction of fear. He has generated substantial evidence that memorial deficits long believed to be due to trace disruption are most likely due to retrieval difficulties. Trauma induced forgetting is not due to loss of the engram, but are the result of dissociation. During recall, the absence of critical contextual/state cues can result in total amnesia. This contradicts the hypothesis that the trauma erases the memory, leaving no trace to access.

Evidence for his interpretation includes the observation that the development of retrograde amnesia (RA) is quite slow, leading to high test scores for up to 12 hours after treatment before declining rapidly. He has also shown that RA for an old memory can be established if the memory is briefly cued prior to administration of the amnestic treatment.

The degree of treatment used to induce amnesia was also found to influence memory. The severity of hypothermia used to induce amnesia interacted with the age of the memory, whether it was old or new. Old memory, when reactivated by cue exposure, becomes vulnerable to both mild and severe amnestic treatment, whereas newly acquired memory was only susceptible to severe treatment. However, the severity of amnesia diminished as a function of the delay between reactivation and hypothermia. If RA is due to the failure to maintain the engram, how can a old (consolidated) memory be more readily disrupted by trauma? Clearly, the trauma does not erase the memory. It must affect retrieval.

passive avoidance

Repeatedly, Riccio has shown that the thermal gradient is influential in the formation and retention of amnestic memory. It is relatively close to the changes seen in stimulus generalization and supports the contention that realigning the stimulus context at testing to something closer to that present at training can have a profoundly beneficial effect on memory retrieval (Riccio and Richardson, 1984).

These are some of his observations that are consistent with the view that memory losses are often the result of retrieval failure. It is appropriate to conceptualize the memorial deficit as the result of a lack of correspondence between the situations present at encoding and testing (dissociation).

Memory and memory retrieval have been important areas of research for many researchers in the field of psychology. The way in which amnesia effects memory retrieval has also become important in understanding memory failure in relation to human patients afflicted with such illnesses as Alzheimer's disease. Riccio has been instrumental in a contemporary movement to examine cognitive issues with animal models. Although long viewed as the exclusive realm of human research, animal studies of cognition show great potential for increasing understanding. Spear & Riccio (1994) have demonstrated the utility of such approach in their remarkable text, Memory: Phenomena and Principles.

Time Line
1937--Born in Manchester, New Jersey
1959--B.A. received from Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont
1959--Princeton National Fellowship; E. J. Nobel Fellowship
1962--Ph.D. received from Princeton University
1962--Joined United States Army
1962--Princeton University Research Associate
1963--Transferred from Army to Navy
1965--Assistant Professor at Kent State University
1968--Became Associate Professor at Kent State University
1969--Alumni member of Phi Beta Kappa at Middlebury College
1972--Became Full Professor at Kent State University
1978--President of Kent State University Chapter of Sigma Xi
1979--Received Distinguished Teaching Award, Kent State University
1981--Vice President, PBK
1982--President, PBK
1991--Fellow, AAAS
1993--Elected president, Midwestern Psychological Association
1994--Pubished Memory: Phenomena and Principles with Norman Spear


Riccio, D. C. and Richardson, R. 1984. The Status of memory following experimentally induced amnesias: Gone, but not forgotten. Physiological Psychology, 12(2):59-72.
Spear, N. E. and Riccio, D. C. 1994. Memory: Phenomena and Priciples. Needham Heights, MA: Allyon & Bacon.

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