An important challenge for cognitive psychology is to understand how information processing is biased in service of goal-directed behavior. Sitting on a public bus, you are immediately reminded of the variety of stimuli confronting you at any one time: the sound of people talking, the sight of cars passing by, the smell of the person next to you. Now imagine you decide to read a newspaper on that bus. The conversation, the cars, and the person next to you are now irrelevant sources of information, and the newspaper is now the relevant source of information.
Reading on the bus demonstrates a fundamental function of so-called “cognitive control”: the biasing of information processing in the service of internally generated goals. As everyone has experienced, the efficiency of cognitive control varies. At times we find it easy to sit down at our computers and work on a paper. At other times we end up checking our email every three minutes. What causes this variability in performance? Broadly, research in our lab seeks to understand the factors that influence the efficiency of cognitive control and how these are influenced by healthy aging.