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). See our new paper on this in PLOS ONE (Keating et al., 2017).
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, Twitter feed @alexa_morcom, and see Publications (below) for links to papers.
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