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.
2001 - 2005
B.A. — Swarthmore College
Major in Psychobiology, Minor in History
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.
My current work examines how people learn from reward (particularly social rewards) to make decisions, the degree to which such learning does or does not rely on episodic memory, and how these processes change in aging.
I am currently developing experiments to understand the mechanisms by which misinformation (particularly in the political domain) affects judgments about other people, and why these judgments often resist corrections or "fact checks" of misinformation. Misinformation might affect the reward response to its targets, and corrections may have a more limited impact on the reward response even if it is present in explicit memory. Our proposal to examine this mechanism using neuroimaging was awarded funding by Facebook in 2020. Age might also affect this process, either due to relatively greater sensitivity to social reward in older adults, or due to well-established impairments to source memory in older adults. Our follow-up proposal to examine vulnerability to political misinformation as a function of demographic factors (including age) and social group identity was funded by Facebook in 2021.
I am also working on a project, with Dr. Karolina Lempert and in collaboration with the Penn Memory Center, examining how memory for financial reward in previous interactions (with a person or an inanimate object) affects future decision-making. My focus is particularly on the neural mechanisms involved when older adults use prior knowledge to make effective decisions, as well as how mechanisms may differ between social and non-social stimuli.
2019 - present
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