A major theme of my work at UCLA and Northwestern has been characterizing two distinct mechanisms by which memory for information deemed important is prioritized.
One mechanism has been well-characterized in the cognitive neuroscience literature. When the brain's reward system is activated (by money, novelty, curiosity, etc.), dopaminergic signals from the VTA make the hippocampus more receptive to related information. This mechanism seems to degrade in older adults, and tends to be stronger after a delay.
Another mechanism is more conscious: people use strategies selectively to learn valuable information. These strategies can involve focusing on meaning or other memorable parts of the stimuli, commonalities between stimuli, directing attention, or other means. This mechanism seems to be maintained with age.
Prioritization — Strategies vs. Reward
I am also interested in how people judge what they know, and how people use that knowledge.
A recent project from Northwestern uses univariate and multivariate fMRI methods to examine brain activity during learning and at test for novel abstract images. Confidence in spatial location memory is associated with re-activating representations of the original spatial location in dorsal low-level visual cortex. Confidence on an unexpected forced-choice memory test is associated with a signal in occipitotemporal cortex that is not associated with a specific item, but may instead relate to what aspects of the image were attended to during learning and test (e.g., low or high spatial frequency patterns).
Earlier in my career, at Villanova and UCLA, I examined how people make choices about when to study — specifically, either continuing to study a single piece of information, or spacing out study opportunities over time.
A major focus of my recent work (mentored by Dr. Joseph Kable at UPenn) is understanding the mechanisms by which false information covertly affects judgments, and who is most vulnerable to these effects. I led development of a novel stimulus set of political candidate stimuli that allows for controlled study of when mock novel candidates face misconduct allegations and whether those accusations are corrected; we can then separately assess subjective ratings and voting intentions about those candidates. This work builds on prior studies of Continued Influence Effects (CIEs); our approach is unique in allowing for study of covert effects of misinformation on subjective judgments, rather than only judging explicitly whether information is true or false.
One study using neuroimaging to examine mechanisms was awarded funding by Facebook in 2020; preliminary evidence suggests that brain regions involved in socioemotional processing are particularly important in lingering negative effects of false allegations. A follow-up study examining demographic and psychological factors that contribute to individual differences in CIEs was funded by Facebook in 2021. We found evidence here that self-reported intuitive thinking leads to greater CIEs, and digital literacy leads to reduced CIEs. Aging is also consistently associated with reduced CIEs, even as older adults tend to share more false information on real social media platforms.
At University of Chicago, I am contributing to a project examining the neural and cognitive correlates of "brain fog" associated with celiac disease. I am also contributing to the development of a project examining the cognitive and brain mechanisms of moral reasoning underlying support for political activism and political violence.
2019 - 2022
University of Pennsylvania
Advisors: Dr. Joseph Kable, Dr. David Wolk
2015 - 2019
Advisor: Dr. Paul Reber
2009 - 2015
Ph.D. — University of California, Los Angeles
Psychology (Cognitive Neuroscience)
Dissertation Advisors: Dr. Barbara Knowlton,
Dr. Jesse Rissman, Dr. Alan Castel
Other Mentors: Dr. Robert Bjork, Dr. Eran Zaidel
2007 - 2009
Full-time Research Assistant for Dr. Jeremy Gray
2005 - 2007
M.S. — Villanova University
Primary Advisor: Dr. Thomas Toppino
2001 - 2005
B.A. — Swarthmore College
Major in Psychobiology, Minor in History
2022 - present
University of Chicago
Senior Research Analyst
Advisor: Dr. Jean Decety
A major focus of my work at UPenn was a project examining the brain mechanisms by which memory for financial reward in a single previous "dictator game" task trial affects future decision-making in healthy older adults. An important initial finding is that reward-sensitive brain regions are activated by facial features suggestive of generosity, even though these facial features are unrelated to actual sharing behavior. Behaviorally, older adults rely more on these stereotype cues than young adults, and the neural response to these cues in older adults is associated with poorer performance, suggesting a mechanism for age-related declines in decision-making.