Newsletter Edition

Winter 2011

Published: 12/08/2011

Greetings from the Chair

Photo: Sheri Mizumori
Photo: Sheri Mizumori

The 2011-2012 academic year started off with a tremendous amount of energy and excitement. We continued as a leader in undergraduate instruction, and this follows on the heels of a record year in which nearly 3,300 students were enrolled in Psychology 101 (Introduction to Psychology), making it the most popular course on campus. We also continue to grow our upper division course offerings to accommodate our almost 1000 majors, and to increase the breadth and number of opportunities for participation in unique learning experiences such as Exploration and Discovery seminars, as well as research experiences in the lab and in the field. The diversity of our undergraduate population includes a large number of impressive transfer students, many of whom are featured in this issue. Our graduate students continue to be recognized for their outstanding contributions to the research and instructional missions of the department.

Interdisciplinary approaches to research can lead to innovative discoveries. Recent new research grants exemplify the success of our faculty in leading such interdisciplinary efforts to better understand immigrant mental health and human vision. Another way in which our department promotes interdisciplinary research is to support our new Center for Child and Family Well-Being (CCFW) whose mission is to understand child development from a ‘bioecological’ view that includes social, emotional, physical, and cognitive approaches. CCFW promotes child and family well being, and as such, an important aspect to its function is to promote the translation of our research results to issues of concern within the local community. We are very excited that CCFW opened this fall, and it has already sponsored a number of exciting and productive cross-departmental meetings, and meetings between our researchers and community leaders.

Continued progress toward our research and instructional goals is possible because of a number of factors. Of utmost importance is support from our friends, for this support has tremendous impact on all aspects of department function, especially in these challenging economic times. Our friends’ contributions allow the department to successfully recruit and retain fabulous faculty and students, and this in turn creates a close network of collegial relationships. As such, the recent loss of one of our long time department leaders and friend, Davida Teller, was felt very deeply. She will be remembered for her pioneering work in the study of infant visual perception and her innovative leadership that transformed department functions. We will miss her keen wit, brilliance, and smile, as well as her endless support of those around her.

Lastly, as part of our effort to bring our research to the forefront of our local community, I am pleased to announce the upcoming annual Allen Edwards Public Lecture Series, Understanding Brains and Behavior. These lectures will take place on February 22 and 29, as well as March 7, 2012. I hope that you can make it!

Wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season and a wonderful 2012!

Sheri Mizumori

Professor and Chair

Psychology Transfer Students: "We are the Twenty-five Percent!"

"Before my TrIG class, I did not know about the vast amount of research and internship opportunities available for psych students, how to apply to graduate school, or how to read a degree audit. Now that I have this knowledge, I feel less stressed and more prepared."
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McKenna Princing, TrIG student

Transfer and Returning Student Interest Group
Photo: Psychology TrIG students

McKenna, along with 44 other new UW students, is part of the Psychology Transfer and Returning Student Interest Group. The Psych TrIG brings together pre-psychology majors in weekly class meetings that aim to provide the students with an in depth orientation to the Psychology Department and the major. Fall quarter transfer students from community colleges and other four-year institutions arrive at UW with junior class standing, needing to really hit the ground running. One of several TrIGs organized by the UW First Year Programs Office, the Psych TrIG offers new UW students the opportunity to take the academic classes that they need to prepare for application to the psychology major, while at the same time learning about a wide range of resources, and getting to know fellow pre-majors.

“The Psych TrIG really does become your own little community,” says student Liz Dizon, adding that “it is so easy to form study groups and make friends because we are all experiencing the same things and there’s a camaraderie that forms.” Over half of the students in the TrIG are also taking the Department’s Biopsychology and Research Methods classes, while others may have taken one or both of these prerequisite courses at their transfer institution. The psychology offering differs from other TrIGs in that it brings together a group of students who all aspire to enter the same major. And, this year, the Psych TrIG is unique in another way. While the stand-alone weekly meetings of other TrIGs are led by undergraduate students, this fall’s Psych TrIG has doubled in size from past years’ offerings and this year is following the lecture/quiz section model. All 45 students meet each Wednesday afternoon with Psychology Advising Office director Carrie Perrin and then break out into two groups led by psychology seniors Rachel Odegaard and Vanessa Yuan. “It’s kind of like offering students ten weeks of group advising sessions,” says Carrie.

During the TrIG class sessions, students are introduced to the resources and opportunities available for UW psychology majors, including how to get involved in undergraduate research, fieldwork, study abroad, and student leadership. Guest speakers from the UW Counseling Center, Odegaard Library, the Career Center, the Office of International Programs and Exchanges, and others help welcome the students to campus and highlight the services they offer. Psychology advisors stop by to talk with the class about everything from winter quarter registration and long term academic planning to thinking about graduate school options. “I love all of the resources that the Psych TrIG has offered me,” says student Stephen Frontauria, “coming to UW was a little intimidating and the Psych TrIG has helped me find the resources I need without feeling lost.”

“With student tuition on the rise, it feels good to be able to offer students a resource like this that hopefully adds value to their UW experience right from the start,” says Carrie Perrin. As this new super-TrIG culminates with the end of fall quarter, it is interesting to note that the Psychology Department was a pioneer, having supported the very first offering in the UW TrIG Program, in the fall of 1995. “All new students should take an intro course like this to get acquainted with how everything at UW works and maybe get a start on a friend group,” says student Melissa Pittman Fischer. Doing what it can toward that goal, the Psychology Department will continue step up for the transfer students who make up 25% of its undergraduate majors and whose varied backgrounds and interests enrich the diversity of the Department.

2012 Edwards Lectures: Understanding Brains and Behavior

In each since 2004, the Psychology Department has hosted a public lecture series made possible by a generous endowment by Professor Allen Louis Edwards. Professor Edwards was affiliated with the University of Washington Psychology Department from his arrival in 1944 as an Associate Professor until his death in 1994. In this lecture series, world renowned leaders in a variety of Psychology subdisciplines join our faculty for three evening public lectures on important issues facing our society. These lectures are recorded for future viewing on UWTV.

The year, the Edwards lecture series will address the theme of Understanding Brains and Behavior. Our three featured faculty include: Dr. Joseph Sisneros (February 22), Dr. Sheri Mizumori (February 29), and Dr. Ione Fine (March 7). Descriptions of their individual research programs can be found below, where you will also find the names of the world renowned colleagues who have been invited to participate in each of the lectures. Save the dates, and we hope to see you there!


Understanding the Brain and How We Hear: Insights from Our Fish Ancestors

February 22, 2012, 7-9 pm, Kane Hall Room 120

Joseph Sisneros, Associate Professor

Photo: Joseph Sisneros, Associate ProfessorWhen, where and why did hearing evolve among vertebrates? This is not a question that most people ask themselves, but the answers are of considerable importance and help identify the evolutionary origins of hearing in humans. We often think that hearing and speech has reached an evolutionary pinnacle in humans and we are the foremost users of sound. The truth is that hearing is highly evolved in most vertebrates and numerous species including fish use sound to communicate and learn about their environment. Fish represent perhaps the earliest and simplest examples of how the vertebrate auditory system detects and identifies biologically relevant sounds that are critical for survival. In addition, fish are an excellent comparative model for studying vertebrate hearing since they have auditory pathways that are organized like those in mammals. Such studies provide important insight into the origins, adaptations and evolution of the vertebrate auditory system for sound detection and communication.

One species of fish that has been the subject of intensive hearing research is the plainfin midshipman fish, Porichthys notatus. Recent research has shown that the midshipman fish undergoes seasonal enhancement of acoustic communication during the breeding season – the fish hear better when looking for a mate. Dr. Sisneros will present evidence that this seasonal enhancement in hearing sensitivity is controlled by a hormone-dependent mechanism that may be shared by all vertebrates, including humans.

For more information on Professor Sisneros’ research, visit his website at:

http://faculty.washington.edu/sisneros/sisneros.htm

Dr. Richard Fay (Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University) will be joining Dr. Sisneros on February 22, 2012. 


How We Remember, Why We Forget, and Why it Matters

February 29, 2012, 7-9pm, Kane Hall Room 120

Sheri Mizumori, Professor

Photo: Sheri Mizumori, ProfessorWhy do some people learn at faster rates than others, and retain information for a longer time? How does learning become more efficient? Can there be too much leaning? Recent neuroscientific investigations reveal new insight into how the brain selects what information is learned and ultimately retained in memory, as well as how the brain determines the rate at which learning occurs and information forgotten. This research also reveals that excessive learning (such as that which is thought to lead to addiction) may result from the hijacking of natural learning mechanisms of the brain.

To illustrate how the brain learns, Dr. Mizumori will discuss how different brain areas work together to provide an impressively flexible learning system that underlies one’s ability to learn to navigate new environments (e.g. a city). Significant landmarks and routes are identified and remembered because they become associated with a desired goal via a neural network that links perceptions and actions to outcomes. Accurate behavioral strategies develop following a series of decisions that carefully weigh the expected costs and benefits of each choice that is made.  In extreme cases (e.g. some addictions), a perceived benefit can be so powerful that individuals appear compelled to engage in maladaptive goal-seeking behaviors.

For more information on Professor Mizumori’s research, visit her website at:

http://depts.washington.edu/mizulab/

Dr. Daphna Shohamy (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Columbia University) will be joining Dr. Mizumori for the February 29, 2012 lecture. 


Learning to See: Insights from Sight Restoration and Expert Video Gamers

March 7, 2012, 7-9pm, Kane Hall Room 120 

Ione Fine, Associate Professor

Photo: Ione FineAn infant’s first exposure to the visual world must be an exciting and overwhelming experience, a “bright buzzing confusion”. There are so many new shapes, colors and moving objects for her developing brain to process.  But what happens to your ability to understand the visual world if your first visual experiences are postponed until adulthood?  Is the world the 'bright buzzing confusion' experienced by an infant?

Dr. Fine studies people whose sight is restored in adulthood due to advances in medical technology with the goal of understanding which aspects of our ability to understand the visual world are learned and which are hard-wired in the brain. We have found that while the ability to visually understand two-dimensional shapes and motion is unaffected by blindness, there are severe impairments in the ability to visually understand faces and objects.

For more information on Professor Fine’s research, visit her websites at:

http://depts.washington.edu/viscog/

 Dr. Daphne Bavelier (Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester) will be joining Dr. Fine for the March 7, 2012 lecture.

Project Implicit: Studying Hidden Biases

Photo of Tony GreenwaldSince Professor Tony Greenwald and graduate students developed the Implicit Association Test in 1998 to study hidden or unconscious biases, there have been more than 12 million (anonymous) completions of a do-it-yourself demonstration test on the Internet. Through Project Implicit, Greenwald and colleagues have developed scientific applications of research using the Implicit Association Test and related techniques. Read more.

For the past several years, Tony Greenwald (Professor in the Department since 1986), has been presenting applications of his research using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in court and corporate settings. The IAT, which is now widely used to study hidden (or unconscious) biases, was developed by Greenwald, working with psychology graduate students. It has been widely used by researchers worldwide since its initial publication in 1998.

In 2005, Greenwald and two long-time collaborators, Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University and Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia, formed Project Implicit. This not-for-profit corporation was organized with the mission of overseeing the development of scientific applications of research using the IAT and related techniques. One area of application, in diversity training, has been presented at dozens of organizations, including major corporations, Federal government agencies, and large nonprofit organizations. Project Implicit’s approach, based on the science of implicit social cognition, is mindful of criticisms of much of what is standardly offered in diversity training. A central problem is that firms offering diversity training generally offer no evidence that their training techniques are effective. In addition, published studies have indicated that companies that rely exclusively on diversity training, unaccompanied by further-reaching organizational strategies, do not show desired gains in employment of women and persons of color.

Multiple variations of the IAT — measuring hidden biases involving race, age, gender, disability, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation — are available as do-it-yourself demonstrations on the Internet. The IAT educational web site at https://implicit.harvard.edu has hosted more than 12 million (entirely anonymous) completions of IATs since its opening in 1998. Professor Greenwald can be reached at agg@uw.edu.

Project Implicit
Front page of Project Implicit's web site at https://implicit.harvard.edu. The flags are for 36 country-specific sites, in 23 languages. To take one of 14 available IATs at the USA site, click "Demonstration". These provide "implicit" measures of attitudes and stereotypes related to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, weight, ethnicity, and disability status.