We study human behavior and associated neural mechanisms across adulthood. Our lab research focuses on decision-related cognitive functions and how they change with age. Importantly, some of the changes to decision making in aging are the result of biological processes, others stem from psychological and social processes — but many can be attributed to an interaction of these factors. To understand these complex mechanisms, we utilize an array of methods including cognitive tasks, manipulations of emotion and task difficulty, biomarker sampling, computational modeling, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We are currently conducting behavioral studies at UCF and fMRI studies at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute.


Interactions of memory and decision making

Many of our decisions are influenced by memory. Often times the details of these memories are lost, but we none the less have a sense of what we should do (nondeclarative memory). Other times, decision making involves retrieving specific details from past events (declarative memory). Thus, decision making can involve different forms of memory — which are thought to be supported by different brain regions. The AD&D Lab is interested in how these two types of memory contribute to decision making and how age-related changes to specific memory regions affect decision quality. Current studies examine memory-dependent decision processing in consumer choice, risk taking, and value learning. We are also interested in determining how stress and emotion affect what we remember about our choice options.


Interventions to improve decision making

Optimal decision making requires learning about choice-relevant options and integrating new information with related prior knowledge. Countless interventions have been proposed to facilitate learning about decision options, but it is often unclear if these interventions are actually effective and whether effectiveness depends on the decision maker’s age. Our lab seeks to determine pathways to improved decision making in domains such as personal finances, health, and social interactions. We also consider whether age-related factors, including changes to cognition and motivation, impact the effectiveness of interventions designed to enhance decision making. Current projects in the AD&D Lab assess the effectiveness of financial disclosures and science-learning platforms in improving younger and older adults’ decision making.


Effects of challenge on decision making

Decision making may be difficult for any number of reasons. Perhaps you’ve just had a stressful experience… or you’re having trouble remembering the critical information you need to make your choice… or perhaps you have many choices in front of you, but no clear winner. What happens to our decision process when we cannot easily determine the best course of action? Studies in the AD&D Lab seek to understand how the brain responds to challenging decision scenarios. We are particularly interested in how decision quality can be maintained or improve in aging, despite declines in memory and executive function. We seek to determine the brain regions and strategies that can help people make good decisions in the face of challenge.