Image with Marcel Proust & his brain by Dan Lee

The Motivated Cognition Lab is directed by Dr. Rebecca Todd. Our research interests lie at the interface between emotion and cognition.  Specifically, we investigate neural and genetic mechanisms that underlie the influence of emotion on what we attend to and later remember.

Our questions focus on how people perceive some aspects of the world as more emotionally important, or salient, than others, and how differences in what people perceive as emotionally salient may be tied to differences in genetic makeup and life experience.  We look at how the relative emotional importance of certain categories of object (for example, happy vs. angry facial expressions) may change across the lifespan, and how these individual differences in what we find salient filter what we initially see and subsequently remember — as well as how we respond emotionally. We are also interested in how neural and genetic mechanisms underlying affective biases contribute to how we respond to trauma (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder) and addiction.

In order to probe these questions from multiple angles we use convergent methods of measuring brain and behaviour, including EEG (brain electrical activity measured at the scalp), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), genotyping, eye tracking, and measurement of behavioral responses in human adults and children.   We are also engaged in a number of interdisciplinary collaborations for better understanding of cognition and emotion at different levels of analysis, from gene to brain to behaviour.