Ulrich Mayr is an expert in multitasking, brain training, effects of aging on cognitive functioning, eye-witness memory, concussions, ADHD, gender differences in competitiveness and altruism. At the University of Oregon, he is the head of the psychology department. Ulrich’s research examines neuro-cognitive functioning across the entire life span with a particular focus on executive control and memory. He uses neuroimaging and behavioral methods to better understand complex social phenomena, such as altruism or competitive behavior. Media frequently comes to him on issues of brain training (does it work?) and altruism.
Areas of Expertise (4)
Media Appearances (5)
Brain-Training Apps Won’t Make You Smarter ...
MIT Technology Review
The study has been well-received by other academic psychologists. Talking to the Atlantic, Michael Kane from the University of North Carolina called it “a tour de force,” while Ulrich Mayr, from the University of Oregon, thinks that it “leaves nothing out—and the evidence is unimpressive.”...
The Weak Evidence Behind Brain-Training Games
“The review really leaves nothing out—and the evidence is unimpressive,” says Ulrich Mayr from the University of Oregon, who studies mental flexibility. “Seeing it so clearly is a service for the whole field.” Michael Kane from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, who studies attention and memory, agrees. “It’s a tour de force,” he says. “It’s exceedingly fair, and a model of what a skeptical but open-minded evaluation of evidence should look like.” (Both Mayr and Kane recently signed a consensus statement from 70 psychologists and neuroscientists disputing the “frequently exaggerated and at times misleading” claims around brain-training games.)...
UO Team Finds Signs of Pure Altruism in the Brain
People give to charity for all kinds of non-altruistic reasons, such as showing off their generosity to others, says Ulrich Mayr, head of the UO Department of Psychology. To isolate pure altruism from other motivations, his team triangulated methods from the three fields in search of a sweet spot where giving is done for the joy of seeing others benefit without receiving something in return...
Ulrich Mayr Receives One of Germany's Top Academic Prizes
Ulrich Mayr, a leading neuroscientist and chair of the UO’s psychology department, is among the winners of this year’s Humboldt Research Award, one of the most prestigious academic honors in Germany...
UO Lands Top-flight Brain Scientist for Two Key Roles
University of Oregon
David A. McCormick, an enthusiastic supporter of collaborative research, will head the UO's Institute of Neuroscience and serve as co-director of the Neurons to Minds Cluster of Excellence alongside UO psychology professor Ulrich Mayr. He also will be one of only two Presidential Chairs at the university, joining chemistry professor Geri Richmond...
With the goal to determine the cognitive architecture that underlies flexible changes of control settings, we assessed within-trial and across-trial dynamics of attentional selection by tracking of eye movements in the context of a cued task-switching paradigm. Within-trial dynamics revealed a switch-induced, discrete delay in onset of task-congruent fixations, a result that is consistent with a higher level configuration process. Next, we derived predictions about the trial-to-trial dynamic coupling of control settings from competing models, assuming that control is achieved either through task-level competition or through higher level configuration processes. Empirical coupling dynamics between trial n−1 eye movements and trial n response times—estimated through mixed linear modeling—revealed a pattern that was consistent with the higher level configuration model. The results indicate that a combination of eye movement data and mixed modeling methods can yield new constraints on models of flexible control. This general approach can be useful in any domain in which theoretical progress depends on high-resolution information about dynamic relationships within individuals.
Recent evidence suggests substantial response-time costs associated with lag-2 repetitions of tasks within explicitly controlled task sequences [Koch, I., Philipp, A. M., Gade, M. (2006). Chunking in task sequences modulates task inhibition. Psychological Science, 17, 346–350; Schneider, D. W. (2007). Task-set inhibition in chunked task sequences. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 970–976], a result that has been interpreted as inhibition of no-longer relevant tasks. Experiments 1–3 confirm much larger lag-2 costs under serial-control than under externally cued conditions, but also show (a) that these costs occur only when sequences contain at least two distinct chunks and (b) that direct lag-2 repetitions are not a necessary condition for their occurrence. This pattern suggests the hypothesis that rather than task-set inhibition, the large lag-2 costs observed in complex sequences, reflect interference resulting from links between positions within a sequential plan and the individual tasks controlled by this plan. The remaining experiments successfully test this hypothesis (Experiment 4), rule out chaining accounts as a potential alternative explanation (Experiment 5), and demonstrate that interference results from information stored in long-term memory rather than working memory (Experiment 6). Implications of these results for an integration of models of serial-order control and serial memory are discussed.
Civil societies function because people pay taxes and make charitable contributions to provide public goods. One possible motive for charitable contributions, called “pure altruism,” is satisfied by increases in the public good no matter the source or intent. Another possible motive, “warm glow,” is only fulfilled by an individual's own voluntary donations. Consistent with pure altruism, we find that even mandatory, tax-like transfers to a charity elicit neural activity in areas linked to reward processing. Moreover, neural responses to the charity's financial gains predict voluntary giving. However, consistent with warm glow, neural activity further increases when people make transfers voluntarily. Both pure altruism and warm-glow motives appear to determine the hedonic consequences of financial transfers to the public good.
According to the 'conflict-monitoring' model, a leading theory of cognitive control information-processing conflict registered in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) triggers the prefrontal cortex to reduce conflict susceptibility. Here we show that the existing empirical support for an online modulation of susceptibility to conflict through immediately preceding conflict, the 'conflict-adaptation effect' needs to be reevaluated. In a human cognitive control task, we found that it was not the stimulus-independent level of conflict that was responsible for the conflict-adaptation effect but rather an episodic memory phenomenon: stimulus-specific priming.
Flexible control of action requires the ability to disengage from previous goals or task sets. The authors tested the hypothesis that disengagement during intentional shifts between task sets is accompanied by inhibition of the previous task set ("backward inhibition"). As an expression of backward inhibition the authors predicted increased response times when shifting to a task set that had to be abandoned recently and, thus, suffers residual inhibition. The critical backward inhibition effect on the level of abstractly defined perceptual task sets was obtained across 6 different experiments. In addition, it was shown that backward inhibition can be differentiated from negative priming (Experiment 2), that it is tied to top-down sequential control (Experiment 3), that it can account at least partially for "residual shift costs" in set-shifting experiments (Experiment 4), and that it occurs even in the context of preplanned sequences of task sets (Experiment 5).