Wilma Koutstaal

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. 

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: Harvard University, 1996.

Curriculum Vitae


  • Cognitive psychology/cognitive neuroscience
  • Thinking, memory, and mental agility
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
Research & Professional Activities

Professional Activities

  • Member: Association for Psychological Science
  • Member: Experimental Psychology Society
  • Member: Memory Disorders Research Society:
  • Member: Society for Neuroscience:


  • Cognitive Neuroscience of Thinking, Memory, Mental Agility, and Adaptive Problem Solving: https://minds-brains-environments.com/research
  • Thinking Lab: S512-S518 Elliott Hall, thinkinglab@umn.edu


  • My Psychology Today Blog - "Our Innovating Minds": https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-innovating-minds,
  • Innovating minds: Making and finding in our idea landscapes: Minnesota Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, May 2015
  • Creativity and the Agile Mind - article by Susan Perry in Reach, Summer 2013: http://cla.umn.edu/news/reach/summer2013.php?entry=397148,
  • Mental Agility and Creative Thinking - Radio Interview with Access Minnesota: www.accessminnesotaonline.com/2013/08/21/mental-agility-and-creative-thinking/,
  • Weisman Art Museum Talk and Discussion - "Thinking Memory" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azhc3FtymQ0,
  • 5 ways to foster flexible thinking: life.gaiam.com/article/5-ways-foster-flexible-thinking,
  • Why agile minds deploy both rational and intuitive problem-solving: www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2012/05/07/why-agile-minds-deploy-both-rational-and-intuitive-problem-solving/#more-10960,


  • Thinking Portraits--Mind, Body, Language: Thinking Portraits is a collaborative interdisciplinary art and cognitive neuroscience project. For additional details, see www.janestep.com/?page_id=585,
  • Koutstaal, Wilma, & Jonathan T. Binks (2015). Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change. Oxford University Press. Download
  • Aizpurua, A., & Koutstaal, W. (2015). A matter of focus: Detailed memory in the intentional autobiographical recall of older and younger adults. Consciousness and Cognition, 33, 145-155.
  • Wen, M. C., Butler, L. T., & Koutstaal, W. (2013). Improving insight and noninsight problem solving with brief interventions. British Journal of Psychology, 104, 97-118.
  • 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.
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014
  • William James Book Award, American Psychological Association, 2012
  • McKnight Presidential Fellow
  • Institute for Advanced Study Symposium Award