Human development is characterised by massive learning about the world. For example, a typical adult knows on average more than 40.000 words. How does the structure of knowledge change across the life span? And what implications does it have for how we search for information in our minds and beyond?

We hope to answer some of these questions by investigating the nature of knowledge representations as well as the search processes that operate on these vast knowledge-stores. Our approach involves understanding commonalities and differences between different types of search, including internal search, such as when we have to recall a name from memory, and external search, such as when we need to search for a product online or seek advice from friends.

Overall, our goal is to use this information to design environments that optimise search and decisions for individuals of all ages. 

If you're interested in this line of work and would like to help by participating in a short online study, check out Small World of Words, an international project that aims to map out the structure of the mental lexicon using word associations - it is available in multiple languages, including English, German, and Portuguese!

Representative Publications

  • Wulff, D., Hills, T., Lachman, M, & Mata, R. (2016). The aging lexicon: Differences in the semantic networks of younger and older adults. Proceedings of the 38th Cognitive Science Society Meeting. 🔗

  • Mata, R., & Helversen, B. v. (2015). Search and the aging mind: The promise and limits of the cognitive control hypothesis of age differences in search. Topics in Cognitive Science, 7(3), 416-427. doi: 10.1111/tops.12139 🔗

  • Hills, T. T., Mata, R., Wilke, A., & Samanez-Larkin, G. R. (2013). Mechanisms of age-related decline in memory search across the adult life span. Developmental Psychology, 49(12), 2396–2404. doi: 10.1037/a0032272 🔗

  • Mata, R., & Nunes, L. (2010). When less is enough: Cognitive aging, information search, and decision quality in consumer choice. Psychology and Aging, 25(2), 289-298. doi: 10.1037/a0017927 🔗