Professor Morris Moscovitch

University Professors 2017
Faculty of Arts & Science
Research Interests: Cognitive science and neuropsychology


Morris Moscovitch was born to Herman and Margareta in Romania in 1945. At four, he moved to Israel and at seven to Canada where he attended Talmud Torah and Herzliah. He received his B.Sc. at McGill in 1966, his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 followed by a Post-doctoral year at the Montreal Neurological Institute in 1973-1974. In 1968, he married Jill Ornstein, also a psychology graduate student from Montreal. They have two children, Elana and David who, with their partners, Jessie and Leora, are parents to Ma’ayan, Ezra and Eitan. In 1971, he joined the University of Toronto, Erindale Campus (UTM) and moved to the St. George Campus in 2000. In 1987 he was appointed to Psychology at Baycrest Centre and in 1989 became a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. Except for sabbaticals at the Hebrew University (1978-79; Institute for Advanced Studies, 1985-1986), and the University of Arizona (1996, 1999-2000), he spent his entire career at the University of Toronto, a world centre of memory research initiated by Tulving, Murdock, Craik, Lockhart and Slamecka. Moscovitch holds the Max and Gianna Glassman Chair in Neuropsychology and Aging.

Blessed with education-loving parents, excellent school teachers (e.g. Irving Layton and Rabbi David Hartman), inspiring professors and mentors (Peter Milner, Paul Rozin and Brenda Milner; see Moscovitch, Can. J. Psych., 1968, for an intellectual autobiography), and smart, stimulating friends and colleagues throughout his life, Moscovitch feels as if he were not only born with an academic silver spoon, but that it never left his mouth, a feeling bolstered by his having extraordinarily talented and dedicated trainees.

A Fellow of Divisions 3 and 6 of APA, and of APS, AAAS and The Royal Society of Canada, Moscovitch is the recipient of lifetime achievement/distinguished career awards for his research, including the Hebb Award (2007), the William James Award (2008), and CNS Award (2012), and for his teaching and mentorship from his department (2003), his University (2015) and Women in Cognitive Science (2005). He has published over 300 papers, edited five books, and served as Co-Editor-in Chief of Neuropsychologia.

Moscovitch is best known for his work on the cognitive and brain basis of memory. His component process model (J.Cog.Neursci., 1992) posits that the neural structures mediating memory encoding, retention and retrieval depend on interactions between the nature of memory representations and task demands. His Multiple Trace Theory, developed with Lynn Nadel (Curr. Op. Neurobiol., 1997), and Trace Transformation Theory, developed with Gordon Winocur (JINS, 2011) provide the best account of hippocampal-neocortical interactions that underlie memory consolidation and transformation with time and experience in healthy and brain-damaged people. At the heart of the theories is the idea that it is a memory’s representation, rather than its age, that is related to the neural structures that mediate it. Perceptually-detailed memories are perpetually mediated by the hippocampus. Once such details are lost, and primarily the gist of the event is retained, memories become independent of the hippocampus and are mediated by the neocortex (Moscovitch et al, Annual Review of Psychology, 2016).

Moscovitch also has made important contributions to research on face-recognition (J. Cog. Neurosci., 1997), attention (Nat.Rev.Neurosci., 2008), and hemispheric specialization (Neuropsychologia, 1986).