Department of Psychology

Department of


Department of


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Mary C. Olmstead, PhD
Department of Psychology
Centre for Neuroscience Studies
Queen's University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
T: 613-533-6208  F: 613-533-2499 

Welcome to the MotiCog Lab

Directed by Dr. Mary C. Olmstead, Professor

Mary C. Olmstead

I completed an honours BSc at the University of Toronto majoring in Psychology and Music.  My interest in motivation, and how it is controlled by the brain, began when I worked with Prof. John Yeomans  in the Dept. of Psychology. I then completed my MSc and PhD at McGill University with Prof. Keith Franklin where I investigated neural systems of reward-related learning.  During this time, I collaborated with Prof. Roy Wise in the Centre for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology at Concordia University, extending my previous work on brainstem contributions to motivated behaviour.  As a post-doctoral fellow, I worked with Prof. Trevor Robbins, Prof. Barry Everitt, and Prof. Tony Dickinson in the Dept. of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge.  This work examined how rewarding signals, generated in the forebrain, interact with brain regions mediating learning to produce motivated (i.e., goal directed) behaviour.

In 1998, I joined the Dept. of Psychology at Queen’s University where I have continued to investigate cognitive-motivational interactions -- or how rewarding stimuli influence learning. My working hypothesis is that goal-directed behaviours and cognitive process, as part of a dynamic interactive system, reciprocally modulate each other. To investigate these process, I have adopted two complementary approaches. The first is a theoretical overview of the interaction between motivation and cognition that examines how reward-related learning is manifested in behaviour. The second is an examination of specific neural systems which may mediate the cognitive-motivational interface. Much of the research in my lab focuses on drug addiction, as this disorder is characterized by a breakdown in the 'normal' balance between motivation and cognition. See more details of specific research projects here.

From 2006-2007, I was a visiting scientist at the Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire in Strasbourg France. Working in a research team headed by Prof. Brigitte Kieffer I investigated the role of opioid systems in impulsive behaviours that characterize drug addiction. I returned to France in 2011 to work in a team headed by Prof. Francesco Bonadonna at the Centre d’ecologie fonctionalle and evolutive, Université de Montpellier. This work allowed me to study cognition within a behavioural ecology framework, leading to the publication of a new book with my friend and colleague, Valerie Kuhlmeier, Comparative Cognition.

In Sept. 2017, I joined the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives et Adaptatives at the Université de Strasbourg for another year of collaborative research.

Cover of Comparative Cognition Book

Influenced by Impulse in International Innovation (PDF, 182 KB)

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This research is supported by grants from: