Cynthia May, Ph.D.


Address: 55 Coming Street, Office 103
Personal Website:
Curriculum Vitae: Download


Duke University, Durham, NC
Ph.D., 1995

Research Interests

Wrapped presents are the best. Not only do they offer a gift, but they elicit the sweet sense of curiosity as you wait to open them. Some of my research examines human curiosity and explores the contexts in which curiosity can be helpful (for example, by driving discovery) and harmful (for example by exposing us to unpleasant experiences). What makes us curious, and does that change with age?

I’m also curious about a number of other things related to human cognition, including finding ways to optimize intellectual functioning for people who face cognitive challenges, like older adults and individuals with intellectual disabilities. Some of my research examines how we remember to execute important tasks in the future (e.g., paying a bill, calling a friend on their birthday, taking medication). Other work examines whether we can use emotion to help boost our memories for events in the past. Still other work examines the ways in which emotion might influence the way those memories change over time. For example, my colleagues and I have explored memories for a receiving a serious medical diagnosis and have found that the way a health care provider delivers a significant diagnosis can affect a patient’s memory for that event years and even decades later.

It's important to me that basic research inform and improve our lives and for that reason some of my work examines how we can improve outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Some of the questions my work has examined include: Why are so many people with autism unemployed or underemployed? Do biases during the job interview process play a role? These are some of the questions that have motivated my research over the past few years. My research has examined the factors that created and perpetuated segregated settings for people with disabilities, with the aim of improving options for all people.

Nearly all of my work involves collaboration with undergraduate students, who team with me on grant proposals, conference presentations, and publications. I also write a teaching column for APS and enjoy writing about new research findings for Scientific American. You can check out some of my articles at:

Courses Taught

Cognitive Psychology
Applied Cognitive Psychology
Sins of Memory
Advanced Cognitive Psychology with Lab
Honors Psychology
Introduction to Psychological Science


Whelpley, C., & May, C. P. (2022). Seeing is disliking: Evidence for bias against individuals with autism spectrum disorder in job interviews. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 10.1007/s10803-022-05432-2

May, C. P., Desplaces, D., & Wyman, D. (2021). Universal Design: A Problem-Based Exercise in a Fast-Paced Competitive Environment. Management Teaching Review. DOI: 10.1177/2379298121995177

May, C. P., Dein, A.*, & Ford, J. (2020). New insights into the formation and duration of flashbulb memories: Evidence from medical diagnosis memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 34(5), 1154 -1165. DOI: 10.1002/acp.3704.    

May, C. P., & Hasher, L. (2017). Synchrony affects performance for older but not younger neutral-type adults. Timing and Time Perception, 5, 129 -148.

Plotner, A., & May, C. P. (2017). A comparison of the college experience for students with and without disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities. DOI: