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Sarah Barber

Assistant Professor    ,

Ph.D. Stony Brook University, 2010


Cognitive aging, collaborative memory, age-based stereotype threat in older adults, emotion and memory, future time perspective and the positivity effect


A consistent finding in aging research is that older adults perform worse on memory tests than younger adults. Given that cognition is tied to brain function, these cognitive declines are often attributed to age changes in brain structure and function. However, adopting a purely biological approach to the study of cognitive aging can conceal the key role of social context in contributing to age differences in performance. In my own research, I am broadly interested in how social factors affect memory performance across the adult lifespan. Within this broad topic, three specific lines of research are described below.

  1. Stereotype threat in older adults.  Stereotype threat occurs when people are concerned that poor performance will confirm a negative self-relevant stereotype. In response to this, people often underperform compared to their potential. For example, older adults are stereotyped as being senile and prone to “senior moments”. When reminded of these stereotypes, older adults can experience stereotype threat and underperform on cognitive tests. My research examines the clinical significance of age-based stereotype threat for older adults and identifies which older adults are most adversely affected. I also examine the mechanisms underlying this effect and use this information to develop interventions that can lessen its adverse impact.
  2. The costs and benefits of collaboration on memory. Remembering the past is often a social activity. People collaboratively remember the events of their lives with close others, juries collectively recall trial events before reaching verdicts, and students participate in study groups to master lecture materials. My research examines how various types of social interactions affect the quantity and quality of what people learn and remember.
  3. The positivity effect and future time perspective. As people get older they tend to favor positive over negative information in attention and memory. This is known as the positivity effect and it is thought to be caused by age-changes in future time perspective. My research examines the mechanisms and moderators of the positivity effect. I also examine age-differences in various aspects of time perspectives.