School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences


Dr Alexa Morcom

Photograph of Dr Alexa Morcom
0131 651 3232
F31 (7GS)
Research Interests
Cognitive neuroscience of memory and ageing


My group's research focuses on human memory and how it changes in normal ageing, using brain imaging – functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electrophysiological event-related potentials (ERPs) – as well as behavioural methods. As we age it becomes increasingly difficult to learn new information and to remember accurately, although many mental abilities are preserved. With the population getting older and more people staying in work longer, there is a pressing need to understand these memory changes and what is taking place in the brain.

One key set of questions concerns apparent large-scale changes in brain activity patterns in older compared to young people – does this reflect compensation or impairment? We recently introduced a new formal approach to inferences about patterns of cortical coding in ageing (Morcom & Friston, 2012). Here's a 1 minute video explaining this. In our recent review we also discuss the interpretation of these kinds of results (Morcom & Johnson, in press).

Other work investigates mechanisms of age-related memory decline, at the cognitive and neural levels. We are interested in false memory and its flip side, the ability to form and retrieve specific memories. At the cognitive level, recent data support the notion that meaning has a greater impact on memory as we get older, and contributes to the increase in false memory (Pidgeon & Morcom, 2014). At the neural level, an fMRI study of memory showed that distributed brain activity in older adults was less specific to the events being remembered (Abdulrahman et al., 2015). Modulation of this activity by drugs acting at dopamine receptors also tracked individual differences in memory performance in older adults, extending our previous findings (Morcom et al., 2010). 

In other collaborative projects we are investigating working memory and cognitive control, and musical cognition (e.g., Parra et al., 2013; Schaefer et al., 2014).

See my research profiles on ResearchGate and Edinburgh Research Explorer for more information and links to papers.


I teach cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience in years three and four and at Master's level. In third year I teach about human memory and in fourth year I teach on memory and ageing with a brain imaging focus. My master's teaching is around applications of brain imaging, the techniques themselves, and what they tell us. Finally, I supervise undergradute dissertations, MSc, and PhD students.

My normal office hours are Tuesdays 11-12 and Thursdays 1-2. Or just drop me an email.

Prospective PhD students

Contact me directly if you're interested in doing a PhD in my lab. Possible projects encompass all the interest areas outlined above. For those with a Psychology or related background, current funding opportunities include those from the ESRC as well as various University of Edinburgh schemes. If you have a computational background, there may be other options (please ask).

If you'd like to know more about life in neuroscience research, this recent video curated by Edinburgh Neuroscience and an Edinburgh MSc student features some work from my lab involving two of our own project students.


Representative Publications

  • Morcom, A.M. (in press). Mind over memory: cueing the aging brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science
  • Pidgeon, L., & Morcom, A.M. Cortical pattern separation and item-specific memory encoding. Neuropsychologia, in press.
  • Morcom, A.M. (2015) Resisting false recognition: An ERP study of lure discrimination. Brain Research. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2015.07.049. [Epub Aug 6 2015]
  • Abdularahman, H.; Fletcher, P.C., Bullmore, E.T.; Morcom, A.M. (2015). Dopamine and memory dedifferentiation in ageing. Neuroimage. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.03.031. [Epub Mar 21 2015]
  • Morcom A.M.; Johnson, W. (2015) Neural reorganization and compensation in aging. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 27(7):1275-85. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00783
  • Pidgeon, L.M.; Morcom, A.M. (2014) Age-related increases in false recognition: the role of perceptual and conceptual similarity. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 6:283. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00283
  • Schaefer, R.S., Morcom, A.M., Roberts, N. & Overy, K. (2014) Moving to Music: Effects of Heard and Imagined Musical Cues on Movement-Related Brain Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 8:774. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00774
  • Morcom, A.M. (2014) Re-engaging with the past: recapitulation of encoding operations during episodic retrieval. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8(351):1-13. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00351
  • Parra, M. A., Della Sala, S., Logie, R. H., & Morcom, A. M. (2013). Neural correlates of shape-color binding in visual working memory. Neuropsychologia, 52c, 27-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.09.036
  • Morcom, A.M.; Rugg, M.D. (2012). Retrieval orientation and the control of recollection: An fMRI study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 12(24), 2372-2384, DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_00299
  • Morcom, A.M.; Friston, K.J. (2012). Decoding episodic memory in ageing: A Bayesian analysis of activity patterns predicting memory. NeuroImage. 59(2):1772-82. E-published Oct 2011, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.08.071
  • Morcom, A.M.; Bullmore, E.T.; Lennox B.; Praseedom, A.; Huppert, F.A.; Fletcher, P.C. (2010) Memory encoding and dopamine in the aging brain: a psychopharmacological neuroimaging study. Cerebral Cortex. 20(3):743-57, DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhp139
  • Meunier, D., Achard, S., Morcom, A.M., Bullmore, E.T. (2009) Age-related changes in modular organization of human brain functional networks. NeuroImage. 44(3):715-23, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.09.062
  • Morcom A.M., Li J., Rugg M.D. (2007) Age Effects on the Neural Correlates of Episodic Retrieval: Increased Cortical Recruitment with Matched Performance. Cereb Cortex. 17(11):2491-506, DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhl155
  • Morcom, A.M.; Fletcher, P.C.F. (2007) Does the brain have a baseline? Why we should be resisting a rest. Neuroimage 37(4):1073-82, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.09.013
  • Morcom, A.M.; Rugg, M.D. (2004) The effects of age on retrieval cue processing: an ERP study. Neuropsychologia 42 (11), p.1525-42.