Broadly, my research examines cognitive abilities like working memory, attention control, long-term memory, and reasoning. Much of my research leverages individual differences to test theories about human cognition. I also utilize experimental techniques, eye tracking and pupillometry, and combined experimental/individual differences designs. I have three specific lines of research that I am currently pursuing.
Individual differences in working memory capacity and attention control
Although we know that working memory capacity and attention control are important predictors of a host of cognitive outcomes, it is still not entirely clear what causes this underlying variation in the population. I've been using a combination of behavior and pupillometry to investigate where this variation might come from at a neural level. Dr. Nash Unsworth and I have proposed a theory that one source of variation is caused by differential functioning of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system. We argue that people with relatively poor LC-NE functioning have difficulty regulating their arousal, which can lead to lapses of attention and poor cognitive performance. Recently I've extended this methodology to examine how dysregulation of the LC-NE system also affects cognitive abilities like fluid intelligence and visual working memory.
I am particularly fascinated by sustained attention. Anyone can attest that sustaining one's attention on a particular task for an extended amount of time is difficult. Why is this the case? There are many theories that attempt to account for this phenomenon, but none have yet been able to explain it completely. I have been using experiments, individual-differences investigations, and physiological measures (pupillometry and EEG) to understand why sustained attention is something that is so difficult for most people.
Although we have known for a long time that memory and attention are integrated aspects of cognition, there is still much to learn about how attention guides memory processes. How do we utilize our attention to flexibly manipulate the contents of memory? For example, how do we use cues in the environment to determine which information is most relevant to remember? Further, how does this relate to the self-generation of cues we use to guide our memory system? From the opposite direction, my research also examines how our memories guide attention. How can we use past experience to more effectively control our attention in the future? I leverage individual differences and well-established attention and memory paradigms to answer these questions.