Dr. Katie White: Cognition and Aging Lab

The Cognition and Aging Lab seeks to examine factors that influence word retrieval and language production in both younger and older adults. Producing language is deceivingly complex, relying not only on linguistic processes such as access to a word’s meaning and sounds, but also on cognitive resources such as attention.

One method by which we can investigate the role of attention in production is to direct attention away from the task of production, thus impeding language. For example, recent research using emotional distraction has shown that speech production is slowed in the presence of highly-arousing stimuli that automatically capture attention and draw resources away from production. Examples of publications from this research include:

White, K. K., Abrams, L., *Koehler, S. M., & *Collins, R. J. (2016). Lions, tigers, and bears, Oh Sh!t: Semantics versus tabooness in speech production. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Advanced online publication.

White, K. K., Abrams, L., *LaBat, L. R., & *Rhynes, A. M. (2016). Competing influences of emotion and phonology during picture-word interference. Language, Cognition, & Neuroscience, 31, 265-283.

Although language production often appears to occur without much effort (e.g., words seem to “roll off our tongues” in everyday conversation), the process becomes particularly frustrating when we find ourselves at a loss for words, especially when we want to produce a specific word that just won’t come to mind when we want to use it. This experience is known as a tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state, which occurs when we cannot recall a known word. Research on TOT states has demonstrated that there are complex cognitive processes underlying the production of even a single word. With TOT states, the meaning of the word is known, but the word’s sounds are temporarily inaccessible, often as a result of non-recent or infrequent use of the word. Furthermore, access to speech sounds decreases with age, resulting in an increase in TOT states in older adults. Thus, this research is particularly relevant to older adults whose functioning in everyday tasks involving language is critical to avoid both further cognitive decline and social isolation. Examples of publications from this research include:

White, K. K., Abrams, L, & *Frame, E. A. (2013). Semantic category moderates phonological priming of proper name retrieval during tip-of-the-tongue statesLanguage and Cognitive Processes, 28, 561-576.

Abrams, L., White, K. K., & *Eitel, S. L. (2003). Isolating phonological components that increase tip-of-the-tongue resolutionMemory and Cognition, 31, 1153-1162.

White, K. K., & Abrams, L. (2002). Does priming specific syllables during tip-of-the-tongue states facilitate word retrieval in older adults? Psychology and Aging, 17, 226-235. 

Although considerable research has been conducted on speech errors, or “slips of the tongue", little research has investigated comparable errors in written language production, or “slips of the pen”. Speech errors are widely used as tools to understand the processes underlying spoken language production and to investigate the roles of phonology, morphology, semantics, and syntax in production. We designed a new methodology to study slips of the pen where we experimentally induce written errors. Using this methodology, we have investigated how phonology, semantics, and syntax influence written errors, showing that orthographic errors can parallel phonological errors in many respects. Example publications from this research include:

White, K. K., Abrams, L., & *Zoller, S. M. (2013). Perception-production asymmetries in homophone spelling: The unique influence of agingJournal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences.

White, K. K., Abrams, L, *Palm, G. M., & *Protasi, M. A. (2012). Age-related influences on lexical selection and orthographic encoding during homophone spellingPsychology and Aging, 27, 67- 79.

White, K. K., Abrams, L., *McWhite, C. B., & *Hagler, H. L. (2010). Syntactic constraints in the retrieval of homophone orthography. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory, & Cognition, 36, 160-169.

White, K. K., Abrams, L., *Zoller, S. M., & *Gibson, S. M. (2008). Why did I right that? Factors that influence the production of homophone substitution errorsQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 977-985.

Hannah Emery ’12 and Rachel Stowe ’12 and Dr. White present their research at the 2012 Cognitive Aging Conference in Atlanta.

Lauren LaBat ’13 and Anne Rhynes ’13 present their research at the 2012 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Minneapolis.

Mary Godfrey ’13 presents her honor’s research at the 2012 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Minneapolis.

Jason Crutcher ’15 presents his research at the 2014 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Long Beach, CA.

Learn more about Dr. White here.