Li Karen Z. H.

Li Karen Z. H., Ph.D.

Associate Director, Centre for Research in Human Development Associate Professor

Postal Address:
Department of Psychology
Concordia University
7141 Sherbrooke St. West, Montréal, QC,
Canada H4B 1R6

office: (514) 848-2424 ext. 7542;
lab: (514) 848-2424 ext. 2247
Fax: (514) 848-2815


My research focuses on cognitive and attentional processes involved in multiple-task performance in adulthood and aging. I am interested in studying situations in which multiple tasks are either carried out in sequential order, or are performed concurrently. A portion of my current work investigates the coordination of cognitive and motor tasks in old age (e.g., walking, finger sequencing), which is carried out in our new Laboratory for Cognitive and Motor Performance Across the Lifespan in collaboration with Concordia Exercise Science. An important theme in my research is to understand the adaptive strategies that older adults develop in response to declines in cognitive and sensorimotor abilities. I am a member of the CIHR training group on communication and healthy aging, a multi-disciplinary network of researchers from across Canada who study sensory, cognitive, or social issues (see for details).

Main Publications
  • Li, K. Z. H., Krampe, R. Th., & Bondar, A. (2005). An ecological approach to studying aging and dual-task performance. In, R. W. Engle, G. Sedek, U. von Hecker, & D. N. McIntosh (Eds.) Cognitive limitations in aging and psychopathology (pp. 190-218). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hommel, B., Li, K. Z. H., & Li, S.-C. (2004). Visual search across the lifespan. Developmental Psychology, 40, 545-558.
  • Levinoff, E., Li, K. Z. H., Murtha, S., Chertkow, H. (2004). Selective attention impairments in Alzheimer's disease: Evidence for dissociable components. Neuropsychology, 18, 580-588.
  • Li, S.-C., & Li, K. Z. H. (2003). Aging and intelligence. In W. E. Craikhead & C. B. Nemeroff (Eds.), Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, 3rd Edition.
  • Li, K. Z. H. & Lindenberger, U. (2002). Connections among sensory, sensorimotor, and cognitive aging: Review of data and theories. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 26/7, 777-783.
  • Kray, J., Li, K.Z. H., & Lindenberger, U. (2002). Age-specific changes in task-switching components: The role of task uncertainty. Brain and Cognition, 49, 363-381.
  • Bluck, S., & Li, K. Z. H. (2001).Predicting memory completeness and accuracy: Emotion and exposure in repeated autobiographical recall. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 15, 145-158.
  • Li, K. Z. H., Lindenberger, U., Freund, A. M., & Baltes, P. B. (2001). Walking while memorizing: Age-related differences in compensatory behavior. Psychological Science, 12, 230-237.
  • Li, K. Z. H., Lindenberger, U., Rünger, D., & Frensch, P. A. (2000). The role of inhibition in the regulation of sequential action. Psychological Science, 11, 343-347.
  • Murphy, D. R., Craik, F. I. M., Li, K. Z. H., &Schneider, B. A. (2000). Comparing the effects of aging and background noise on short-term memory performance. Psychology and Aging, 15, 323-334.
  • Li, K. Z. H. (1999). Selection from working memory: On the relationship between processing and storage components. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 6, 99-116.
  • Zacks, R. T., Hasher, L., & Li, K. Z. H. (2000).Human memory. In, F. I. M. Craik & T. A. Salthouse (Eds.), The handbook of aging and cognition (2nd Ed, pp. 293-357). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Li, S.-C., & Li, K. Z. H. (2000). Aging and intelligence. In W. E. Craikhead & C. B. Nemeroff (Eds.), Encyclopaedia of psychology and behavioral science (pp. 51-54). John Wiley& Sons.
  • Freund, A. M., Li, K. Z. H., & Baltes, P. B. (1999). Successful development and aging: The role of selection, optimization, and compensation. In, J. Brandstädter & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Action and self-development: Theory and research throughout the life-span (pp.401-434). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Li, K. Z. H., Hasher, L., Jonas, D., Rahhal, T. A., & May, C. P. (1998). Distractibility, circadian arousal, and aging: A boundary condition? Psychology and Aging, 13, 574-583.
  • Li, K. Z. H., & Bosman, E. A. (1996). Age differences in Stroop-like interference as a function of semantic relatedness. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 3, 272-284.
  • Craik, F. I. M., Anderson, N. D., Kerr, S. A., &Li, K. Z. H. (1995). Memory changes in normal ageing. In A. D.Baddeley, B. A. Wilson, & F. Watts (Eds.), Handbook of memory disorders (pp.211-242). Chichester, England: Wiley.
  • Aubrey, J. B., Li, K. Z. H., & Dobbs, A. R. (1994). Age differences in the interpretation of misaligned 'You-Are-Here' maps. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 49, P29-P31.
Current Projects
  • Motor Coordination and Attentional Compensation
    This line of research concerns the increasing interrelations of sensory, motor, and cognitive decline in old age (Li & Lindenberger, 2002). Dual-task procedures have been used to investigate whether cognitive / attentional resources are allocated differently in younger and older adults when sensorimotor and cognitive tasks are paired. Research conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development involved concurrent walking and memorizing performance (Li, Lindenberger, Freund, & Baltes, 2001).There, we showed that older adults were prioritizing walking at a cost to memory performance, while younger adults did not. Sarah FraserOs MA research involved dual-task treadmill walking and semantic judgments. We used electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activity to ask when during the gait cycle young and older adults are most vulnerable to distraction. The answer appears to be during the stance phase (when one foot is planted) as opposed to the preparation phase (just before the foot reaches the ground). The EMG work was completed in collaboration with Dr. Richard De Mont from Concordia Exercise Science.
    The establishment of our Laboratory for Motor and Cognitive Performance Across the Lifespan marks the beginning of multiple projects concerning motor coordination and cognitive compensation. The lab is equipped with state of the art 3-D motion capture equipment, midi keyboards, EMG, and wireless audio technology that will enable us to study the development of fine motor (e.g., keyboard fingering) and gross motor (e.g., balance, walking) performance in different age groups. Our laboratory was established with funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Our current experiments involve age differences in fine motor learning, and will involve neuroimaging using functional and structural MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to examine age differences in patterns of activation. Specifically, we want to know if older adults display evidence of attentional compensation, as reflected in supplementary brain activation. We also plan to examine ways of analyzing fMRI data in combination with structural data to take into account specific brain atrophy. This research is a collaboration with Dr. Virginia Penhune (Concordia Psychology), and is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research(CIHR).

  • Sequential Performance
    One line of research concerns the processes involved in sequential action regulation, or, how we manage to carry out a series of tasks in fixed order without repeating steps or skipping ahead. Imagine the steps required to make a cup of tea. Recent experiments have involved learning sequences of abstract symbol categories, line drawings of animal categories, and more recently, photos of actions. To date, this research suggests that we inhibit just-completed actions to avoid repetition, and to facilitate future actions (e.g., Li, Lindenberger, RYnger, & Frensch, 2000). Comparisons of young and older adults are underway to determine if age-related decreases in inhibitory ability result in impaired sequential action regulation, and if there are any cases in which we can observe age-equivalence in sequential performance. This project is funded by NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council).

  • Aging and Executive Control Processes
    A related research project involves the development of a new test paradigm, the Serial Flanker Task (SFT: Li & Dupuis, in prep). The SFT incorporates sequential performance methods (Li, Lindenberger, RYnger, & Frensch, 2000) and taskset switching methods (HYbner, Dreisbach, Haider, & Kluwe, 2003). Our purpose is to compare the attentional processes required for sequential performance and for task switching. Our present results indicate that both types of performance involve an inhibitory process (Backward Inhibition: Mayr& Keele, 2000) that suppresses task information after that task has been completed and attention has shifted to the next task. We have also observed age-related deficits in this type of inhibitory process. Our next steps involve investigating the generalizability of the SFT and age differences in performance. This project is funded by NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council).

  • Predictors of Successful Retirement Transition
    How can we ensure the best outcome following the retirement transition? This project, led by Dr. Dolores Pushkar (Concordia Psychology), incorporates measures of social, emotional, physical, and cognitive functioning and measures of adjustment, in a longitudinal project involving Montreal seniors, both pre- and post-retirement. We are evaluating the concepts of continuity and lifestyle as predictors of successful retirement transition. For example, are individuals happiest if they maintain the same level of social or intellectual involvement in their new retirement activities, compared to their pre-retirement life? This research project is funded by the Canadian.

  • Age Differences In Divided Attention Strategy
    This series of experiments concerns older adults' ability to perform concurrent tasks. By pairing cognitive tasks such as memory encoding and perceptual decision, we have observed qualitatively different patterns of task emphasis in young and older groups. These age differences are magnified when the cognitive tasks are more demanding. The patterns of dual-task emphasis have been related to the more general developmental constructs of Compensation and Selection (Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Freund, Li, & Baltes, 2000). These constructs refer to adaptive goal management strategies that are related to successful aging: we compensate for losses and we prioritize, or select, when resource limits are challenged. Together, our results suggest that the pattern of age differences in dual-task emphasis may reflect an adaptive strategy rather than a general decline of processing resources (Li & Levy-Bencheton, submitted). This project was funded by the Fonds de recherche sur la société et la culture (FQRSC), formerly supported by FCAR.