The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Rosie Cowell

Associate Professor

Work in the Cowell lab investigates memory and visual perception, and examines the neural underpinnings of these cognitive functions. We use computational models, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and behavioral studies of memory in healthy humans as well as in individuals with brain damage. We are also building a mathematical models of the BOLD signal measured in fMRI, in order to be able to "mine" fMRI data for more fine-grained information than it is currently possible to obtain.

Current Research
How does the brain make sense of the visual world and enable us to remember things about it? Does the brain use the same neural representations for visual perception and for memory? Are there common brain mechanisms for perceiving objects, faces and scenes? How do memory and visual perception change with age?

Experimental studies in the Cowell lab are guided by a theoretical framework which assumes that the neural mechanisms for different cognitive functions (e.g., recognition memory and high-level visual perception) and for different classes of stimuli (e.g., faces, objects, scenes) are shared. For example, the theory predicts that memory and perception of objects are closely intertwined in the brain, so in one fMRI study we are examining how perceptual interference -- seeing lots of the same type of objects in immediate succession -- changes the neural representations of objects in the parts of the brain that underpin object recognition memory. In addition, a critical assumption of the theory is that visual representations build up in complexity along the ventral visual pathway of the brain, starting with simple features in visual cortex that are combined into ever more complex conjunctions towards the anterior temporal lobe. So, in another fMRI study, we have developed a novel technique to measure the 'conjunctiveness' of visual representations: the technique demonstrates that conjunctions do indeed emerge along the ventral visual stream, and it allows us to explore how and where they emerge.

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Academic Background

  • BA University of Cambridge, UK, 2001
  • PhD University of Oxford, UK, 2006
  • Post-doctoral Training: CNRS, Dijon, France; University of Kent, UK; UC San Diego, USA
Cowell, R.A., Barense, M.D. and Sadil, P.S. (2019). A roadmap for understanding memory: Decomposing cognitive processes into operations and representations. eNeuro.
Sadil, P.S., Potter, K., Huber, D.E. and Cowell, R.A. (2019). Connecting the dots without top-down knowledge: Evidence for rapidly-learned low-level associations that are independent of object identity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(6): 1058-1070.
Wilson, D.M., Potter, K., and Cowell, R.A. (2018). Recognition Memory Shielded from Semantic but not Perceptual Interference in Normal Aging. Neuropsychologia, 119: 448-463.
Ross, D.A., Sadil, P.S., Wilson, D.M. and Cowell, R.A. (2018) Hippocampal Engagement during Recall depends on Memory Content. Cerebral Cortex, 28(8): 2685–2698.
Cowell, R.A., Leger, K. and Serences, J.T. (2017). Feature-Coding Transitions to Conjunction Coding with Progression through Visual Cortex. Journal of Neurophysiology, 118(6): 3194-3214.
Sadil, P.S. and Cowell, R.A. (2017) A Computational Model of Mnemonic and Perceptual Deficits in Medial Temporal Lobe Amnesia. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(6): 1075-1088.
Cowell, R.A. & Cottrell, G.W. (2013). What evidence supports special processing for faces? A cautionary tale for fMRI interpretation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(11):1777-93.
Cowell, R.A. (2012). Computational Models of Perirhinal Cortex Function. Hippocampus, 22: 1952-1964.
Cowell, R.A. & French, R.M. (2011). Noise and the emergence of rules in category learning: A connectionist model. IEEE Transactions on Autonomous Mental Development, 3 (3): 194-206.
McTighe, S.M., Cowell, R.A., Winters, B.D., Bussey, T.J. & Saksida, L.M. (2010) Paradoxical false memory for objects after brain damage. Science, 330: 1408-1410.
Cowell, R.A., Bussey, T.J. & Saksida, L.M. (2010). Components of recognition memory: dissociable cognitive processes or just differences in representational complexity? Hippocampus, 20 (11): 1245-1262.
Cowell, R.A., Bussey, T.J. & Saksida, L.M. (2006). Why does brain damage impair memory? A connectionist model of object recognition memory in perirhinal cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 26 (47): 12186-12197.
Contact Info

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Tobin - T 431
135 Hicks Way
Amherst MA, 01003

(413) 545-1832