The Emotion and Cognition Lab

Primary Investigator

Mara Mather

Mara Mather, Ph.D.


At the core of our sense of self and personal history are emotional memories. Although emotional or stressful experiences tend to be memorable, emotional arousal can also impair various aspects of memory. In recent years, research into arousal and memory has focused on the key role of the amygdala in enhancing perception and memory of emotionally arousing stimuli. But enhanced memory for arousing information is only part of the story--there is also abundant evidence that arousal enhances some aspects of memory while impairing other aspects. In our lab, we are testing the theory that arousal enhances high-priority neural representations but suppresses low-priority neural representations of stimuli, and that these increases in gain are due to interactions between norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter closely linked with arousal) and glutamate (the brain's primary excitatory neurotransmitter). We also are examining how arousal influences attention and memory differently in late life.

Post Doctoral Scholars

Alex Ycaza

Alex Ycaza, Ph.D.

Current Research Interest: Influence of female sex hormones on the stress response and cognition in younger and post-menopausal women.

Kaoru Nashiro

Kaoru Nashiro, Ph.D.

Current Research Interest: The effect of aging on interoceptive awareness and emotion

Phil Opitz

Phil Opitz, Ph.D.

Current Research Interest: How emotion regulation and cognition may be dependent on one another

Shawn Nielsen

Shawn Nielsen, Ph.D.

Current Research Interest: How age and sex hormone levels modulate brain activity underlying stress and cognition in women.

Graduate Students

Allison Ponzio

Allison Ponzio

Current Research Interest: Impact of emotion on different aspects of memory in younger and older people.

Bruna Martins

Bruna Martins

Current Research Interest: The intersection of emotion, cognition and aging - using both fMRI and psychophysiological methods.

David Clewett

David Clewett

Current Research Interest: the effects of arousal on episodic memory, with a particular focus on the locus coeruleus - norepinephrine system.

Kelly Durbin

Kelly Durbin

Current Research Interest: How age influences how emotional information is processed and remembered.
Additional interests: Neuropsychological changes with age and difference s in emotional regulation strategies.

Staff & Visiting Scholars

Hyun-Joo Yoo

Hyun Joo Yoo, Ph.D.

Current Research Interest: How exercise induced arousal can affect memory selectively.

Rico Velasco

Rico Velasco

Former Lab Members

Sarah Barber, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, San Francisco State University (Publications, Lab)

Steven Greening, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University (Publications, Webpage)

Marissa Gorlick, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University (Publications)

Marisa Knight, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Chair of Psychology Department, University of San Francisco (Webpage)

Tae-Ho Lee, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Illinois (Publications)

Nichole Lighthall, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida (Publications, Lab)

Deanna Novak Carey, Ph.D.

User Experience Researcher, Google (LinkedIn)

Michiko Sakaki, Ph.D.

Senior Research Fellow, University of Reading (Publications, Webpage)

Jo Ann Sison, Ph.D.

Senior Staff Usability Researcher, VWGoA Electronics Research Lab (LinkedIn)

Matthew Sutherland, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto (Publications)

Contact Info

For inquires, please contact:

The Emotion and Cognition Lab
@ The University of Southern California
3715 McClintock Ave
RM: 341
Los Angeles, CA 90089