Cognitive Aging in a Social Context

Training in Cognitive Aging in a Social Context is an area of specialization within the PhD program. The training is for students who wish to pursue research and teaching in life span development with a focus on adult development and aging. The program reflects a multidisciplinary approach to the study of normal aging with special emphasis on the integration of cognitive and social perspectives. It provides Psychology PhD students with the theoretical perspectives and methodological skills necessary to approach the study of aging from a lifespan developmental framework. Students are encouraged to focus on topics that bridge multiple areas such as cognitive, social, personality, or health psychology. The Aging Training program prepares students for positions in academic, government, and health care settings.

Faculty sponsors in the Psychology Department include Angela Gutchess, Margie Lachman, Nicolas Rohleder, Robert Sekuler, Pat Tun, Art Wingfield and Leslie Zebrowitz. Other useful training resources are at the Heller School at Brandeis, where there are several other faculty members specializing in aging and our National Policy Center for Women and Aging is housed. In addition, we have a cooperative agreement for training sites with the Boston V.A. Normative Aging Study (NAS), and the Roybal Center for Research in Applied Gerontology in the Boston area.

Faculty Research

Angela Gutchess

Angela Gutchess' research focuses on the effects of aging and culture on memory and social cognition. She uses both behavioral and neuroimaging (fMRI) methods to investigate the ways that life experiences and biology impact the use of strategies and the recruitment of neural regions. More information can be found on the Gutchess Lab website.

Margie E. Lachman

Margie Lachman's research focuses on personality and cognitive changes in middle and later adulthood. Lachman is currently exploring how sense of control is related to memory, physical activity, and health in laboratory studies and in a large national survey. She also is interested in designing intervention programs to enhance the sense of control over memory and physical exercise in later life. More information can be found on the Lifespan Lab website.

Nicolas Rohleder

Professor Rohleder’s main research interest is the role of peripheral inflammation as a major mediator linking adverse psychological states, such as acute and chronic stress, depression, and traumatization with somatic diseases, such as coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Peripheral low-grade inflammation has been identified as a major pathophysiological factor in the abovementioned somatic diseases in recent years and is, therefore, a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Western societies. More information can be found on the Health Psychology Laboratory website.

Research is emerging connecting psychological factors such as stress and depression with the biological factor low-grade inflammation. Cross-sectional data shows that individuals who are suffering from depression, are chronically stressed, or have experienced a trauma also have higher concentrations of inflammatory mediators. However, more research is needed to establish temporal and causal relationships between psychological factors and inflammation. Professor Rohleder’s research program aims at establishing these relationships by (a) experimentally inducing acute stress in the laboratory and assessing inflammation and biological factors regulating inflammation; and (b) longitudinally assessing inflammation and inflammatory regulation in groups of individuals who are suffering from psychological distress, such as for example caregivers of cancer patients, or people who have been traumatized. Inflammatory regulation is assessed at several different levels, for example at the intracellular level by determining the relative expression of pro-and anti-inflammatory gene products using real-time RT-PCR, in cultures, using in-vitro models of inflammatory regulation, and at the systemic level, by measuring stress hormone concentrations in blood and saliva using immunoassays.

Robert Sekuler

Professor Sekuler's research interests include visual perception, cognitive processes, particularly visual memory, navigation of complex environments, imitation of seen actions, and age-related changes in cognitive function. More information can be found on the Vision Lab website.

Patricia Tun

Patricia Tun, who works in close collaboration with Art Wingfield, has a special interest in the effects of background noise on comprehension and memory for spoken language in older adults. She is especially interested in the question of why multiple speakers talking at the same time has a greater negative impact on older adults' recall of what has been heard than is the case for younger adults.

Arthur Wingfield

Arthur Wingfield's research focuses on effects of age-related changes in hearing and cognitive function in older adulthood, and their impact on language comprehension and memory. Of particular interest in his work are the compensatory operations older adults may employ to maintain good levels of language understanding. More information can be found on the Memory and Cognition Lab website.

Leslie Zebrowitz

Leslie Zebrowitz's research concerns the role of physical qualities in age stereotypes. More specifically:

  1. What contribution do nonverbal physical qualities (facial appearance, voice, gait) make to age stereotypes?
  2. Why do perceivers respond as they do to these physical qualities?
  3. What social and psychological consequences result from the contribution of physical qualities to age stereotypes?

For more information please visit the Face Perception Lab website.