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Rebecca Spencer

Associate Professor

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
Kurdziel, L., Duclos, K.*, & Spencer, R. M. C. (in press). Sleep spindles in mid-day naps enhance learning in early childhood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Baran, B., Daniels, D.*, & Spencer, R. M. C. (in press). The effects of sleep and wake on value based learning. PLoS ONE.
Pace-Schott, E. F., Spencer, R. M. C., Vijayakumar, S.*, Ahmed, N.*, Verga, P. W.*, Orr, S. P., Pitman, R. K., Milad, M. R. (in press). Extinction of conditioned fear is better learned and recalled in the morning than the evening. Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Spencer, R. M. C. (2013). Neurophysiological basis of sleep’s function on memory and cognition. ISRN Physiology, 2013, 1-17.
Owen, R.* & Spencer, R. M. C. (2013). Female body ideals and anxiety after viewing image of typical and healthy weight models. Body Image, 10(4), 489-94.
Valera, E. M., Spencer, R. M. C., Zeffiro, T. A., Makris, N., Spencer, T. J., Faraone, S. V. Biederman, J., & Seidman, L. J. Neural substrates of impaired sensorimotor timing in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 15:68:359-67.
 
Contact Info

Psychology and Neuroscience & Behavior Program
Tobin Hall
135 Hicks Way
Amherst, MA 01003

(413) 545-5987
rspencer@psych.umass.edu

www.psych.umass.edu/people/rebeccaspencer/