Sarah J. Barber

    Postdoctoral Fellow
    Emotion & Cognition Lab

    Davis School of Gerontology
    3715 McClintock Ave. Room 351
    University of Southern California
    Los Angeles, CA 90089
    Phone: 213-740-6772
    Curriculum Vitae: PDF

Biography and Research Interests

I completed my Ph.D. in Cognitive/Experimental Psychology at Stony Brook University in 2010. Since then, I have worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Here, I have received multidisciplinary training in how aging affects cognition, physiological change, and mental health.

In general, my research focuses on how social context influences memory across the adult lifespan. In answering this broad question, I have two main lines of research.

In my first main line of research, I examine how socio-cultural stereotypes about aging influence older adults? memory. Previous research has shown that negative stereotypes can adversely affect memory in older adults via stereotype threat. In my own research I have shown that this is due to changes in motivational orientation. When older adults encounter stereotype threat it induces a risk-averse, prevention motivational focus. Interestingly, because of this, my research shows that stereotype threat can not only impair older adults? memory, it can also enhance it. Stereotype threat can improve older adult?s memory when losses (rather than gains) are emphasized. It can also reduce older adults? memory errors. Some of these results have been covered in media outlets, such as Newsday, The Daily Mail, Headlines and Global News, and The Observer (from the Association of Psychological Science).

In my second main line of research I examine how collaboration modulates memory in both younger and older adults. My research to date suggests that 1) collaboration is associated with a decrease in the quantity of information that both younger and older adults learn and recall; 2) despite these decrements, collaborative recall also serves benefits, such as creating collective memories within groups; 3) collaborative recall may also lead to emotional benefits, particularly for older adults.


Barber, S. J., Harris, C., & Rajaram, S. (in press). Why two heads apart are better than two heads together: Multiple mechanisms underlie the collaborative inhibition effect in memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.PDF

Barber, S. J., & Mather, M. (2014). How retellings shape younger and older adultsí memories.Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 26, 263-279. PDF

Barber, S. J., & Mather, M. (2014). Stereotype threat in older adults: When and why does it occur, and who is most affected? In P. Verhaeghen & C. Hertzog (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Emotion, Social Cognition, and Problem Solving During Adulthood (pp. 302-320). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. PDF

Barber, S. J., & Mather, M. (2013). Stereotype threat can enhance, as well as impair, older adults? memory. Psychological Science, 24, 2522-2529.PDF

Barber, S. J., & Mather, M. (2013). Stereotype threat can reduce older adults' memory errors. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66, 1888-1895. PDF

Fazio, L. K., Barber, S. J., Rajaram, S., Ornstein, P. A., & Marsh, E. J. (2013). Creating illusions of knowledge: Learning errors that contradict prior knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142, 1-5. PDF

Barber, S. J., Rajaram, S., & Paneerselvam, B. (2012). The collaborative encoding deficit is attenuated with specific warnings. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 24, 929-941. PDF

Barber, S. J., & Mather, M. (2012). Forgetting in context: The effects of age, emotion, and social factors on retrieval-induced forgetting. Memory & Cognition, 40 874-888. PDF

Barber, S. J., Rajaram, S., & Fox, E. B. (2012). Learning and remembering with others: The key role of retrieval in shaping group recall and collective memory. Social Cognition, 30, 121-132. PDF

Barber, S. J., & Rajaram, S.(2011). Exploring the relationship between retrieval disruption from collaboration and recall. Memory, 19, 462-469. PDF

Barber, S. J., & Rajaram, S.(2011). Collaborative memory and part-set cueing impairments: The role of executive depletion in modulating retrieval disruption. Memory, 19, 378-397. PDF

Barber, S. J., Rajaram, S., & Aron, A. (2010). When two is too many: Collaborative encoding impairs memory. Memory & Cognition, 38, 255-264. PDF

Barber, S. J., Franklin, N., Naka, M., & Yoshimura, H. (2010). Higher social intelligence can impair source memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 545- 551. PDF

Barber, S. J., Gordon, R., & Franklin, N. (2009). Self-relevance and wishful thinking: Facilitation and distortion in source monitoring. Memory & Cognition, 37, 434-446. PDF

Barber, S. J., Rajaram, S., & Marsh, E. J. (2008). Fact learning: How information accuracy, delay, and repeated testing change retention and retrieval experience. Memory, 16, 934-946. PDF

Rajaram, S., & Barber, S. J. (2008). Retrieval processes in memory. In H. L., Roediger, III (Ed.), Cognitive psychology of memory. Vol. 2 of Learning and memory: A comprehensive reference, 4 vols. (pp. 261-283). Oxford, UK: Elsevier. PDF

News and Research Coverage

APS Observer, September, 2013
Ageism: Alive and kicking
Stereotype threat can improve performance in some cases, report Sarah Barber, a postdoctoral researcher, and Mara Mather, professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California.

Medical Daily, July, 2013
When stereotype threat can improve older adults' memory performance
Barber and Mather's in-press Psychological Science paper shows that stereotype threat can actually improve older adults' memories if the task is framed as avoiding losses.