Cognitive control describes how we use our current context to flexibly adjust attention in line with internal goals. The overarching goal of my research is to examine how memory guides cognitive control—namely, how past experiences and internal goals can shape our responses to demands in our environment, particularly those that require a great deal of attention.
My research broadly falls under three main areas:
Do our past experiences inform how we respond to situations that require a lot of attentional focus? For example, people might approach a new situation with a heightened sense of attention, because similar environments have proven difficult in the past. In order for this mechanism to work, people would need to bind together a specific control state (e.g., heightened focus of attention) and their memory of the attentionally demanding environment. In this line of research, I examine how learned contextual cues guide strategic adjustment to attentional demands, showing that people can generalize cognitive strategies across similar contexts, and which brain regions support this type of control-learning.
How do people learn about, recognize, and flexibly respond to their environments (i.e., cognitive flexibility)? For example, we might recognize repeated elements in our environments and classify these elements as belonging to categories, reducing the amount of attention we pay to any one particular item. On the other hand, the environment may also present us with a number of unique, unfamiliar elements, consistently requiring our attention so that we can determine their value. In this line of research, I examine how different contexts and contextual information impact cognitive flexibility and the brain regions that support learned cognitive flexibility.
My previous learning and motivation research investigated how people performed on attention and memory tasks during and after various social manipulations. For example, in one study, we examined whether neural responses to learning from negative feedback change if participants believe that intelligence is an innate trait and that they just did poorly on a standardized intelligence test. I am currently applying this psychological research to educational contexts so as to inform current pedagogical practices.
I also examine whether individual differences play a role in mental health outcomes. Cognitive control is thought to be altered in many psychiatric disorders, but few studies have examined how this ramifies on a large-scale individual difference level.