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Rebecca Spencer


Research in our lab broadly explores a range of questions pertaining to cognition and action and the intersection between them. We use a variety of techniques to explore how the brain learns cognitive and motor tasks and how this brain function changes over sleep.

Current Research
Sleep and memory are both processes that change over the lifespan.  In older adults, sleep quality decreases and memory impairments increase.  In one series of studies (funded by the National Institutes of Aging (NIA)), we are interested in whether these processes are related. On the other hand, preschool age children are highly plastic and nocturnal sleep is supplemented with a mid-day nap.  Whether this mid-day nap serves a memory function is important to early education policies.  This line of work is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

In this work, we consider the neural underpinnings of learning and memory, for example, the role of the cerebellum in motor learning.  We use an array of tools to explore these questions.

Learn more at www.psych.umass.edu/people/rebeccaspencer/

Academic Background

  • BS Hope College 1997
  • PhD Purdue University 2002
  • Postdoctoral Training: UC Berkeley, 2002-2007
Allard, T.*, Riggins, T.*, Ewell, A., Weinberg, E., Lokhandwala, S., & Spencer, R. M. C. (in press). Measuring neural mechanisms underlying sleep-dependent memory consolidation during naps in early childhood. JoVE.
Cremone-Caira, A., Root, H., Harvey, E. A., McDermott, J., & Spencer, R. M. C. (in press). Effects of sleep extension on inhibitory control in children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A pilot study. Journal of Attention Disorders.
Hawkins, M., Marcus, B., Pekow, P., Rosal, M. C., Tucker, K. L., Spencer, R. M. C., & Chasen-Taber, L. (in press) Physical activity and sleep quality and duration among Hispanic postpartum women at risk for Type 2 Diabetes: Estudio PARTO. Sleep Health.
Helm, A. F. & Spencer, R. M. C. (in press). Television use and its effects on sleep in early childhood. Sleep Health.
Hawkins, M., Marcus, B., Pekow, P., Rosal, M. C., Tucker, K. L., Spencer, R. M. C., & Chasen-Taber, L. (in press). Physical activity and sleep quality and duration during pregnancy among Hispanic women: Estudio PARTO. Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
Jones, B., Fitzroy, A., & Spencer, R. M. C. (2019). Emotional memory moderates the relationship between sigma activity and sleep-related improvement in affect. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1-8.
Kurdziel, L. B. F. & Spencer, R. M. C. (2018). Sleep-dependent enhancement of emotional memory in early childhood. Scientific Reports, 8, 12609.
Jones, B. J., MacKay, A.*, Mantua, J., Schultz, K. S.*, & Spencer, R. M. C. (2018). The role of sleep in emotional memory processing in middle age. Neurobiology of Learning & Memory, 155, 208-215.
Cremone, A., Lugo-Candelas, C. I., Harvey, E. A., McDermott, J. M., & Spencer, R. M. C. (2018). Positive emotional attention bias in young children with symptoms of ADHD. Child Neuropsychology, 24(8), 1137-1145.
O’Connor, S.*, Sonni, A., Karmarkar, U., & Spencer, R. M. C. (2018) Naps to not change delay discounting behavior in young adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 921.
Cremone, A., de Jong, D. M., Kurdziel, L. B. F., Desrochers, P., Sayer, A., LeBourgeois, M., McDermott, J. M., & Spencer, R. M. C. (2018). Sleep tight, act right: negative affect, sleep and behavior problems during childhood. Child Development, 89(2), e42-e59.
Contact Info

Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences

Neuroscience & Behavior Program

S315 Life Science Laboratory
240 Thatcher Way

Amherst, MA 01003

(413) 577-6128