Shawn Ell

Associate Professor of Psychology and Graduate Coordinator

364 Williams Hall


Lab website


Research Interests

My research program, broadly defined, investigates the cognitive mechanisms underlying human learning and memory. In particular, research in my lab focuses on category learning – that is, the process of establishing a memory trace that improves the efficiency of assigning novel objects to contrasting groups. Category learning is a particularly useful focus as it provides a model for investigating many key theoretical issues of general relevance to human learning and memory. More specifically, my research program investigates: 1) the nature and interaction of multiple learning systems; 2) rule-guided behavior; 3) the relationship between social stress and cognition; and 4) characterizing and improving cognitive function in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. In pursuit of these research topics, I use a number of methodological approaches to investigate category learning including traditional cognitive experiments with college-aged and elderly individuals, computational modeling, psychophysiology, and behavioral research with neuropsychological populations.

Selected Publications

Ell, S. W., Helie, S., & Hutchinson, S. (in press). Contributions of the putamen to cognitive function. In A. Costa and E. Villalba (Eds.), Horizons in Neuroscience Research: Vol. 7. Nova.

Ell, S.W., Hutchinson, S., & Maddox, W.T. (in press). Explicit and procedural-learning based systems of perceptual category learning. In N. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. New York: Springer.

Ell, S.W., & Zilioli, M. (in press). Categorical learning. In N. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. New York: Springer.

Ell, S.W., Cosley, B., McCoy, S.K. (2011). When bad stress goes good: Increased threat reactivity to a psychosocial stressor predicts improved category learning performance. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 96-102.

Ell, S. W., Weinstein, A., & Ivry, R. B. (2010). Rule-based categorization deficits in focal basal ganglia lesion and Parkinson’s disease patients. Neuropsychologia, 48, 2974-2986.

Schnyer, D.M., Maddox, W.T., Ell, S.W., Davis, S., Pacheco, J., Verfaellie, M. (2009). Prefrontal contributions to rule-based and information-integration category learning. Neuropsychologia, 47, 2995-3006.

Ell, S. W., Ing, D. A., & Maddox, W. T. (2009). Criterial noise effects on rule-based category learning: The impact of delayed feedback. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 71, 1263-1275.

Ell, S.W., & Ivry, R.B. (2008). Cerebellar pathology does not impair performance on identification or categorization tasks. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 14, 760-770.