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Toronto Metropolitan University

Dr. Julia Spaniol

Professor and Undergraduate Thesis Coordinator
EducationPhD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Phone416-979-5000 ext. 552268
Areas of Expertisecognitive aging, memory and decision making, motivation and reward

 Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Aging (Tier II) 


Dr. Spaniol received her doctorate in cognitive psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and subsequently completed postdoctoral work at Duke University Medical Center and at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest in Toronto. Since 2007, Dr. Spaniol has directed the Memory and Decision Processes (MAD) lab in the Department of Psychology at Ryerson University. In 2014, Dr. Spaniol received a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Cognitive Aging.

Research in the MAD lab examines the interplay between cognition, emotion, and motivation, as well as age-related changes in these domains. Current research projects investigate (1) the impact of emotion and arousal on decision making, (2) the role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in cognitive engagement and performance, and (3) prosociality – thoughts and actions aimed at improving the welfare of others. The MAD lab uses a combination of behavioural and brain-based methods, including eye tracking, event-related potentials (ERPs), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Current projects are supported by the Canada Research Chairs program, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Ontario Research Fund.

Dr. Spaniol teaches undergraduate and graduate courses related to cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. She welcomes inquiries from people interested in getting involved in the MAD lab as research participants, volunteers, student researchers (BA, MA, and PhD), or external collaborators.

Dr. Spaniol and her team are currently recruiting participants for the Canadian Adulthood and Retirement Research Study (CARES) (external link) . Please visit (external link)  for more information.


Selected recent publications (* indicates trainee):

Swirsky, L. T.*, Sparrow, E. P.*, Sullivan, M. D.*, Valenzano, S.*, Chowdhury, S.*, & Spaniol, J. (2023). Age differences in motivated cognition: A meta-analysis. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 78(7), 1169–1181. (external link)  (Editor’s Choice Article)

Sullivan, M. D.*, Kudus, F.*, Dyson, B. J., & Spaniol, J. (2023). Adult age differences in the temporal dynamics of motivated attention. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 35(3), 421–438. (external link) 

Sparrow, E. P.*, Swirsky, L. T.*, Kudus, F.*, & Spaniol, J. (2021). Aging and altruism: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 36(1), 49-56.  https://10.1037/pag0000447 (external link) 

Sullivan, M. D.*, Huang, R., Rovetti, J.*, Sparrow, E.*, & Spaniol, J. (2021). Associations between phasic arousal and decisions under risk in younger and older adults. Neurobiology of Aging, 105, 262-271. (external link) 

Swirsky, L. T.*, Shulman, A.*, & Spaniol, J. (2021). The interaction of curiosity and reward on long-term memory in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 36(5), 584–603. (external link) 

Professional Affiliations

  • Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science
  • Cognitive Neuroscience Society
  • Psychonomic Society
  • Association for Psychological Science