Professor of Gerontology and Psychology Assistant Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs
PhD, Princeton University, 2000
AB, Stanford University, 1994
At the core of our sense of self and personal history are emotional memories. Although emotional or stressful experiences tend to be memorable, emotional arousal can also impair various aspects of memory. In recent years, research into arousal and memory has focused on the key role of the amygdala in enhancing perception and memory of emotionally arousing stimuli. But enhanced memory for arousing information is only part of the story—there is also abundant evidence that arousal enhances some aspects of memory while impairing other aspects. In our lab, we are testing the theory that arousal enhances high-priority neural representations but suppresses low-priority neural representations of stimuli. We also are examining how age-related changes in inhibitory processes affect the influence of arousal.
In a related line of work, we are researching how stress influences decisions. Our work reveals that stress changes how risk-seeking people are in their decisions and how much they are influenced by positive versus negative outcomes. Our findings also reveal both gender and age differences in how stress influences decision processes. We are also investigating how connectivity among different brain regions involved in emotion and cognition change with age, using both structural and functional neuroimaging.