University of Minnesota
Department of Psychology

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Wilma Koutstaal

Portrait: Wilma Koutstaal

Wilma Koutstaal

Psychology N-218 EltH room 247 75 East River Road

Department Affiliations


How does the human mind innovate and create using past and present knowledge? What enhances--or impairs--our ability to optimally take advantage of our acquired experience and learning? How can we best promote mental agility to creatively and adaptively meet challenges and to make the most of opportunities across the lifespan? What cognitive, behavioral, and brain mechanisms are central to an agile mind? My lab, using the diverse and convergent methodologies of cognitive neuroscience, explores these questions focusing particularly on the role of different levels of specificity of mental representation and varying levels of cognitive control. 


  • Cognitive psychology/cognitive neuroscience
  • Thinking, memory, and mental agility

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: Harvard University, 1996.


  • Koutstaal, Wilma (2012). The Agile Mind. New York: Oxford University Press. Download
  • Aizpurua, A., & Koutstaal, W. (2010). Aging and flexible remembering: Contributions of conceptual span, fluid intelligence, and frontal functioning. Psychology and Aging, 25, 193-207.
  • Denkinger, B., & Koutstaal, W. (2009). Perceive-decide-act, perceive-decide-act: How abstract is repetition-related decision learning?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 742-756.
  • Tranter, L. J., & Koutstaal, W. (2008). Age and flexible thinking: An experimental demonstration of the beneficial effects of increased cognitively stimulating activity on fluid intelligence in healthy older adults. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 15, 184-207. Download
  • Koutstaal, Wilma (2006). Flexible remembering. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13, 84-91.
  • Koutstaal, Wilma (2003). Older adults encode–but do not always use–perceptual details: Intentional versus unintentional effects of detail on memory judgments. Psychological Science, 14, 189-193.
  • Simons, J. S., Koutstaal, W., Prince, S. Wagner, A. D., & Schacter, D. L. (2003). Neural mechanisms of visual object priming: Evidence for perceptual and semantic distinctions in fusiform cortex. NeuroImage, 19, 613-626.

Research Activities

  • Cognitive Neuroscience of Thinking, Memory and Mental Agility: (

Creative Activities

  • Thinking Portraits--Mind, Body, Language: Thinking Portraits is a collaborative interdisciplinary art and cognitive neuroscience project. For additional details, see

Professional Activities

  • Member: Association for Psychological Science
  • Member: Cognitive Neuroscience Society
  • Member: Experimental Psychology Society
  • Member: Society for Neuroscience

Outreach Activities

  • Creativity and the Agile Mind - article by Susan Perry in Reach, Summer 2013:
  • Mental Agility and Creative Thinking - Radio Interview with Access Minnesota:
  • Weisman Art Museum Talk and Discussion - "Thinking Memory" :
  • 5 ways to foster flexible thinking:
  • Why agile minds deploy both rational and intuitive problem-solving:


  • William James Book Award, American Psychological Association, 2012
  • McKnight Presidential Fellow
  • Institute for Advanced Study Symposium Award

Courses Taught

  • PSY 4960 - Creativity Sciences: Minds, Brains, and Innovation
  • Honors Seminar 3054H - The Agile Mind: Cognitive and Brain Bases
  • Psy 8042 - Proseminar in Cognition, Brain, and Behavior
  • Psy 5014 - Psychology of Human Learning and Memory
  • Psy 5993 - Research Lab in Memory, Thinking, and Judgment
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