Research

Our research uses different kinds of memory tasks and two types of brain imaging: scalp-recorded electrical brain potentials (EEG/ERPs), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

One focus of our research is how people sustain cognitive function in later life. There has been intense scientific debate about whether it is important to maintain a more “youthful brain” or whether compensatory reorganisation is needed for optimal function. Either could explain the common observation that brain activity is increased rather than reduced in older people. In a new fMRI study (Morcom & Henson, 2018), we tested these competing theories (see Morcom and Johnson, 2015, and Morcom and Friston, 2012). In two different memory tasks we found evidence that elevated frontal brain activity in older people was less specific or less efficient rather than a way to maintain cognitive function. This converges with our earlier finding that distributed brain activity in older people was less specific to the type of events being remembered (Abdulrahman et al., 2015). This may mean that older people engage more generic mental processes across different a range of tasks, consistent with results of our recent meta-analysis (Hoffman & Morcom, 2018). Together, the data support the view that good cognitive function in old age is more likely if an older brain operates like a younger one. 

Another line of work concerns memory errors in young and older people. People's existing knowledge can help them to remember events, but this knowledge can also bias memory. We are testing whether this bias to remember the 'gist' of events happens more with increasing age. So far there are conflicting findings: older and young people made just as many gist-related errors a recent study (conducted by Psychology dissertation students; Burnside et al., 2017). In related work we ask about how age differences in recollection accuracy and detail reflect changes in mental control. We are using ERPs to test when and how effectively older people are able to engage control of what is brought to mind before a memory is retrieved (Morcom, 2016; Keating et al., 2017).

Across all these project we are interested in improving transparent and reproducible research practices and now publish data with papers and preregister most things on the OSF. Ask if you would like access to any old data or code, we will do our best. 

See my research profile on ResearchGate for more information, Twitter feed @alexa_morcom, and see Publications list for links to papers.