Faculty Research Areas
THE PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT HONORS PROGRAM
My research is devoted to uncovering neural and psychological mechanisms that control feeding behavior. I use modern behavioral analysis, pharmacological, and neural recording techniques to explore how various drugs and other treatments affect feeding behavior and taste coding in the brainstem. For the upcoming year I intend to use microstructural behavioral analysis methods to evaluate how direct brain application of novel neuropeptides recently implicated in obesity specifically affect feeding behavior. We will be directing these infusions to areas of the brain not previously explored for a role in obesity. These results should help to clarify the brain circuits through which obesity-related neuropeptides act and possibly how these circuits may become imbalanced in cases of obesity.
My courses cover a variety of topics in cognitive psychology and cognitive/behavioral neuroscience. For example, one course I regularly teach on Consciousness and the Brain focuses on questions such as: How does neural activity give rise to subjective experience? Are animals conscious in the same was as humans? Another course I often teach is Human Neuroscience, which focuses on a wide range of topics in human cognition such as language, mathematics, development, and perception. In addition, I also teach more introductory level courses like Introduction to Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience. Across all of these courses, regardless of if they are introductory courses or more advanced seminars, I examine all the relevant issues across several level analyses with a focus on students synthesizing different types of information to come to their own conclusions. In general, my hope is to develop students' reasoning and critical thinking skills, which I believe are foundational elements of a liberal arts education.
My research focuses on understanding the limits of visual perception, memory, and awareness. I ask questions like: Why is some information perceived and remembered while other information goes unnoticed and is forgotten? What are the cognitive and neural factors that limit the bandwidth of visual cognition? What can be done to overcome these limitations? To answer these questions, I combine behavioral, neuroimaging (fMRI/MEG), and virtual reality (VR) methods to fully understand the nature of perception and memory. Overall, I have found that human observers are aware of considerably less than most people believe. While it often feels as if you see a rich, detailed world around you, my research highlights how this is largely illusory and that our perception of the world is not always what it seems.
My research explores the role of interpersonal expectations in guiding human behavior in both laboratory and applied settings. I have conducted and supervised projects examining judges’ expectations and nonverbal behavior in real trials, legal decision making in civil and criminal cases, and laboratory studies examining how physical characteristics (e.g., race, gender) and nonverbal behavior affect how we perceive and respond to others. For example, a recent honors project manipulated respondents’ mood to see if induced negative mood, versus positive mood, would lead people to categorize outgroup members more quickly than they categorize ingroup members. Another project compared the recognition accuracy for same- versus cross- race faces across two different cultures.
My research examines social adjustment in children and adolescence. Some children are well liked, make friends easily, and are good at reading and understanding social cues. Yet other children struggle to make friends, are rejected or bullied by peers, and engage in behaviors that are harmful to others. My research seeks to understand the cognitive, emotional, and environmental factors that explain these differences in social functioning. Some of my research focuses specifically on children with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who often demonstrate significant social impairments and other work focuses on social impairments in children more generally. Part of my research has investigated why some children overestimate their social acceptance and think they are more socially accepted than they really are (termed a positive illusory bias). Other work focuses on how children’s emotion regulation capacities relate to their social behavior and adjustment. To examine this I measure differences in how children respond physiologically to social stressors (i.e. changes in heart rate) and how that relates to their social adjustment. I also have a specific interest in understanding why some children choose to engage in physical aggression (hitting, physical intimidation) whereas others use relational aggression (gossiping, systematic exclusion of a peer); my prior work suggests these are behaviors with distinct motivations and risk factors. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the opportunity to work on ongoing data collection projects with child or college participants and to add their own measures. I strongly recommend that interested students work in my research lab during spring semester of their junior year. Staying on campus for the summer to complete data collection also may be a requirement. Psychology 228 is strongly recommended as background.
Broadly, I’m interested in questions of how children learn from others. There are two main ways that children learn about the world around them: gaining first-hand experience (e.g., tasting a lemon and figuring out that it’s sour) and learning information from other people (e.g., hearing that lemons are sour, and believing what they’re told). Understanding the process by which children learn from others is particularly important because much of what children need to know about the world cannot be learned through first-hand experience (e.g., the fact that the earth is round), instead, they must simply listen to others and trust what they are told. Learning from others also requires that children be discerning in terms of who they trust: they need to identify and rely on those who are knowledgeable and helpful, and identify and ignore those who are ignorant or deceptive. My research is focused on better understanding how and when children choose to learn from others. One line of my research asks whether children evaluate others’ nonverbal cues (i.e., pointing gestures), in addition to their spoken language, to determine good sources of information. Another, more recent, line of my research explores the variation and complexity in how children learn from others. In this line of research, we explore whether individual differences, previous experiences, and context affect children’s decisions to trust others as good sources of information. I have ongoing studies that are conducted in local preschools and with children who come into my research lab. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the chance to work on these existing projects and develop related manipulations. I strongly recommend that interested students work in my research lab during spring semester of their junior year. Staying on campus for the summer to complete data collection may also be a requirement. PSYC 227 is strongly recommended as a background.
My research examines issues in social psychology, including close relationships, social norms, and strategies for changing health-related behaviors. First, I study the development and maintenance of close relationships (e.g., friendships, dating relationships, marriages. Thesis projects could examine the strategies people used to pursue dating partners, methods of coping with betrayal in relationships, and/or the experience of jealous in such relationships. Second, I examine social norms, the misperception of these norms, and the consequences of perceived norms in influencing behavior. For example, women see other women as thinner and as exercising more than they themselves do, and both men and women see others as hooking up more frequently than they themselves do, which in turn can influence feelings of loneliness as well as health-related behaviors. Thesis projects could examine factors leading to such errors, the consequences of such perceptions, and/or strategies for changing these perceptions across numerous different types of health behaviors (e.g., hooking up, stress, eating and exercise behavior, seeking mental health services, etc.). Third, I supervise topics related to two particular issues in sports psychology: how stereotypes about student-athletes influence individuals' attitudes and behavior in academic and athletic domains and strategies for increasing acceptance of reporting concussions. Psychology 220 is recommended as background for any of these projects.
My primary interests are in the field of autobiographical memory, which is memory for the events of one’s life. I have recently begun to examine how one’s personal identity is related to their memories for past experiences. Although many theorists believe that we know ourselves only by reflecting on our past experiences and behaviors, there are others who believe that our sense of self is entirely separate from our past experiences. Potential thesis topics might explore whether differences in personality (e.g., extraversion) and identity (e.g., I consider myself to be honest) influence the kinds of personal experiences that an individual regards as ‘important’. I am also very interested in music cognition, especially how people identify melodies. Although people can easily name 100s of different songs, we know very little about how listeners distinguish ‘Frosty, the Snowman’ from ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer’. Current work in my lab is examining how expertise effects melody identification, the relationship between music and language, and whether musical training influences cognitive performance on other kinds of mental tasks. In addition to these topics, I am willing consider other questions relating music and memory.
My research is broadly located in the domain of social cognition, which studies the way people think about themselves and their social worlds. In particular, I am currently pursuing two lines of research. In the first, I am interested in investigating the extent to which people’s beliefs about the fairness of the world influences their estimates of the likelihood of future events. For example, it is well known that those who believe the world is fair justify a person receiving good or bad outcomes by finding reasons that the person deserved that outcome (e.g., a crime victim must have acted in a way that brought about his or her victimization). However, little work has examined whether these same people will also show this bias when asked to estimate the likelihood of an event occurring in the future. In addition to tackling this question, I am also interested in how another personality factor – the preference for consistency – can exacerbate these just world biases. My second line of research involves evaluating “gaydar” – people’s ability to determine the sexual orientation of an individual based on a brief viewing of the person’s face. Previous research on the effectiveness of gaydar has been mixed, with some studies showing significant gaydar effects and others not. Most research on this topic has had participants making forced-choice gay/straight decisions. However, by giving people an opportunity to both express a sexuality decision as well as a confidence estimate, my work has shown that people’s gaydar is quite well calibrated. I’m continuing this line of work by applying this method to different sets of pictures, as well as investigating the role that perceptions of physical attractiveness play in judgments of sexual orientation.
My research is in the area of behavioral pharmacology. Recent work in the lab has focused on the effects of caffeine on adolescent male and female rats and humans. In rats, we have identified a number of behavioral effects following exposure to caffeine in the drinking water, some of which vary by age and sex as well as housing conditions. Current questions in the lab revolve around assessing the longevity of these effects and attempting to identify possible neural correlates to these behavioral effects. Behaviors examined in the lab include locomotor response to amphetamine, behavior on anxiety measures and behavior in the forced swim test, an animal model for depressive-like behaviors. Studies in humans have revealed sex differences in the effects of caffeine exposure on the response to a stressor and we are continuing to describe the nature of these differences. In another line of research, students in my lab have been investigating sex differences in drawing behavior and visual processing in humans and their possible relationship to early hormone exposure.