Alexa Morcom

Lecturer

  • Psychology
  • School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
Street
Room F31, Psychology Building
City
7 George Square, Edinburgh
Post code
EH8 9JZ
  • My office hour in Semester 1 will be Wednesdays 12-1pm - except 12th October - or drop me an email.

Biography

My group's research focuses on human memory and how it changes in normal ageing, using brain imaging – functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electrophysiological event-related potentials (ERPs) – as well as behavioural methods. As we age it becomes increasingly difficult to learn new information and to remember accurately, although many mental abilities are preserved. With the population getting older and more people staying in work longer, there is a pressing need to understand these memory changes and what is taking place in the brain.

My teaching is on topics related to my research, both on memory and brain imaging methods. Currently, I am also Director of Teaching in Psychology.

Qualifications

PhD, MSc, MB BChir

Undergraduate teaching

At Honours level, I currently teach Learning and Memory for Year 3, and supervise Year 4 dissertations.

Postgraduate teaching

I organise and teach on our three MSc Brain Imaging courses. Specialist Techniques in Psychological Research is a team-taught core course based on lectures and workshops. It provides a grounding in a selection of specialist research techniques including brain imaging (fMRI/ ERPs). In Brain Imaging in Cognitive Neuroscience students are invited to become expert and critical readers of cognitive and clinical brain imaging papers. This course is also team-taught, focusing on a range of applications of different imaging methodologies and related techniques in cognitive and clinical neuroscience, with an emphasis on the strengths and limitations of different approaches. Imaging Mind and Brain is a highly interactive, participatory course which aims to give students a deep understanding of what Brain Imaging can - and cannot - tell us about the mind. Its goal is to engage students critically in discussion around several cutting-edge conceptual and methodological issues, with use of eclectic examples.

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?

Yes

Areas of interest for supervision

Please contact me directly if you're interested in doing a PhD in my lab. Possible projects encompass all the interest areas outlined in my current research. For those with a Psychology or related background, current funding opportunities include those from the ESRC as well as various University of Edinburgh schemes. If you have a computational background, there may be other options (please ask).

If you'd like to know more about life in neuroscience research, this recent video curated by Edinburgh Neuroscience and an Edinburgh MSc student features some work from my lab involving two of our own postgraduate students.

Research summary

A major focus of research in my lab is age-related memory decline, and we are interested in its mechanisms at both the cognitive and neural levels. Our work is mainly concerned with memory for events encountered at a particular time and place (‘episodic’ memory). What we can recall about events seems to become less specific with increasing age and is thought to be due to some combination of difficulties with mental control and loss of integrity of mental representations.

Some of our current work is investigating to what degree age-related differences in the specificity of recollection reflect changes in mental control. We are particularly interested in processes operating before a memory is retrieved which can help people to control what they remember (Morcom, 2016). 

Another key set of questions concerns apparent large-scale changes in brain activity patterns in older compared to young people – do older brains reorganise? If so, does this reflect compensation or impairment? We introduced a new formal approach to measuring differences in brain activity patterns (Morcom & Friston, 2012), explained in this 1 minute video. In a recent review we also discussed the interpretation of these kinds of results (Morcom & Johnson, 2015).

More generally we are interested in how false memory can reflect inability to form and retrieve specific memories. A recent study in young adults used scalp-recorded electroencephalographic event-related brain potentials (EEG/ERPs) to show how young adults use recollection signals to determine if memories are true or false (Morcom, 2016). In work on ageing, we found support for the notion that meaning has a greater impact on memory as we get older, and contributes to the increase in false memory (Pidgeon & Morcom, 2014). A study of memory using functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI) also showed that distributed brain activity in older adults was less specific to the events being remembered (Abdulrahman et al., 2015). Modulation of this activity by drugs acting at dopamine receptors tracked individual differences in memory performance in older adults, providing a link to one of the proposed biological mechanisms underlying cognitive change in older age, a decline in dopamine signalling (see also Morcom et al., 2010). 

In other, collaborative, projects we are investigating working memory and cognitive control, and musical cognition (e.g., Parra et al., 2013; Schaefer et al., 2014). See my research profile on ResearchGate for more information, and see Publications (below) for links to papers.

Knowledge exchange

Edinburgh Neuroscience's Ages of the Brain (this recent video) featuring our lab, and two of our PG students doing an EEG experiment

A Daily Mail article walking through the decades of life in terms of memory

 

Affiliated research centres