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Psychologist's talk to highlight 'senior moments'

Monday, September 28, 2015

Getting to the kitchen and forgetting why you went there, forgetting whether you paid the mortgage this month (or only thought about doing so), re-telling a joke to the same person who just told it to you last week: We all experience lapses like these in attention and memory every day.

But, such lapses increase in frequency and magnitude as we age, and decline in memory and other everyday cognitive functions can be one of the most distressing aspects of “normal” aging.

On Monday, Oct. 5, psychologist Dr. Karen J. Mitchell will visit Mercyhurst University to explore what cognitive neuroscientists are learning about the processes underlying everyday cognitive acts, the brain mechanisms involved, and how these change with normal aging. 

Her talk, titled “Cognitive Aging: Understanding ‘Senior Moments’,” begins at 7 p.m. in the Walker Recital Hall, located in Mercyhurst’s Hirt Academic Center. It’s free and open to the public as part of the Mini Speakers Series in Psychology sponsored by the Mercyhurst University Psychology Department.

Mitchell, an Erie native and graduate of Penn State Behrend, is an assistant professor of psychology at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She earned her Ph.D. at Kent State University under the direction of Dr. Maria Zaragoza. Before joining the faculty at West Chester, Mitchell did postdoctoral research in Dr. Marcia Johnson's lab at Princeton, and was a senior research scientist at Yale.

Mitchell is a cognitive psychologist who studies human memory and cognition, including cognitive neuroscience, source monitoring (the process by which we attribute mental experiences to a source), eyewitness suggestibility, the impact of emotion and aging on cognition, and cognitive disruptions in such conditions as depression, schizophrenia and PTSD.

She has been researching these topics for more than 20 years, and noted, “I became interested in studying age-related changes because I realized that understanding how cognitive functions change with age can give us insight into how the system works ‘normally.’”  In addition, as the percentage of the population over 65 increases, concern about cognitive changes in the healthy elderly grows. “Developing interventions to offset or even prevent such changes requires a good understanding of the underlying behavioral and brain mechanisms,” she said.

The Speakers Series, funded by an Academic Enrichment Grant, will also bring two Mercyhurst psychology graduates back to campus later in the academic year. They include Dr. Sarah Torok-Gerard ’00, associate professor and chair of the psychology department at the University of Mount Union, Alliance, Ohio, on Feb. 29, 2016; and Dr. William DeCoteau ’92, associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York, on April 20, 2016.

For more information, contact Dr. Marilyn Livosky at mlivosky@mercyhurst.edu.