Newsletter Section


Davida Teller

Professor Emerita Davida Teller passed away in her sleep on the night of Wednesday, October 12, 2011. Davida was a Professor at the University of Washington in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. She joined UW Psychology in 1965 and was active in the areas of cognition and perception, behavioral neuroscience, and developmental psychology. Her trademark course, "Vision and its Physiological Basis," merged perception, psychophysics, anatomy, physiology, and philosophy of science, and launched many a scientific career.

Professor Emerita Davida Teller
Photo: Professor Emerita Davida Teller

Davida is known for bringing the study of infants to the worldwide vision community. Early in her career, she developed a method known as "forced-choice preferential looking" that put infant data into a form familiar to scientists that study adult vision. The idea is to present an infant with a visual stimulus at one of two possible locations. An adult observer who cannot see the stimulus then judges which location the infant prefers. If the observer can correctly judge the infant's preference, then the infant must be able to discriminate the stimulus from a blank field. By varying the stimulus, one can determine what the infant can and cannot discriminate. Such measurements of the accuracy of a binary choice are the most common behavioral measurements used in adult vision research. Thus, infant data became easy to compare to adult data and the method gained wide acceptance in the vision community.

For three decades, she used this and other new methods to address the development of a wide swath of topics in visual perception, including spatial, temporal, binocular and color vision. She was not content with just measuring the behavior of human infants but also worked to make connections with the behavior and physiology of infant monkeys. For example, she used the forced-choice preferential looking procedure in parallel experiments to measure visual acuity in both human and monkey infants.

Realizing that her basic research could contribute to the health of infants, Davida took the preferential looking method out of the lab and led the effort to develop the "Teller Acuity Cards." These cards are illustrated in the photo which shows Davida holding her infant grandson in front of her son, Steve Teller, who is holding an acuity card. Infants typically stare at the bold pattern shown in the picture. By using cards with increasingly fine patterns, a clinician can make a quick assessment of an infant's visual acuity.

As Davida's career evolved, she devoted more time to understanding the principles of how to relate behavior to physiology. This led to several articles on "Linking Propositions." In Davida's words, "Linking propositions are statements that relate perceptual states to physiological states, and as such are one of the fundamental building blocks of visual science." She loved these ideas and particularly enjoyed using them in teaching about vision.

Davida’s contributions to UW Psychology include guiding a two year evaluation and revision of our graduate program. In recognition of her passion for seeking and valuing graduate student input and her clear assessment and determined pursuit of ways to improve students’ training and future prospects, UW Psychology graduate students established the Davida Teller Distinguished Faculty Award, which is presented annually to a faculty member selected by the graduate students. Davida was the first recipient of this award.

Davida's legacy has other sides, as well. In the first part of her career, the world was harsh to women scientists and she made her feminist voice heard. In more recent times, that voice focused on mentoring her many students. Her "red ink" and no-nonsense advice is deeply etched into her students and colleagues. That voice is now carried by generations of scientists. We will miss her.

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:

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:

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:

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

New Faculty Grants

Our department continues its tradition of strong government funding support. In recent months our faculty have received two additional awards from the National Institutes of Health. They include a $1.8 million grant to Associate Professor Ione Fine to study “Effects of Blindness on Human Early Visual Pathways” and a $150 thousand grant to Assistant Professor Janxin Leu to study “Stress and moral judgment variation across contexts among immigrant Asian youth.”

Janxin Leu: Abstract

Photo: Ione Fine
Photo: Janxin Leu

The children of immigrants and adult immigrants who arrived as youth are at increased risk for mental health disorders compared with immigrants who come to the US as adults. This may be attributable to acculturative stress during formative developmental periods which often coincide with the age of onset of depression and anxiety disorders. The role that family cultural conflict plays in terms of the development of mental health disorders among immigrant youth has been understudied. Research on how family cultural conflict arises from conflicting moral norms between school and home settings, and from key life decisions (i.e., marriage and career), is a promising line of inquiry which has not been previously conducted among immigrant youth. At home, they are often socialized to fulfill familial duties. In contrast, American schools often emphasize prioritizing individual choice. As a result, normative pressures about how to be a good person change across home and school settings for immigrant youth. The resultant conflict may be a significant and distinctive factor affecting their risk for depression. This new investigator aims to demonstrate, for the first time, that key decisions about career and family vary across home and school contexts among immigrant youth (Aim 1), and, that this variability across contexts is associated with stress and depression symptoms (Aim 2). The proposed research is significant because it has the potential to identify the source of acculturative stress as arising not from immigrant youth, or immigrant homes, but from the mismatch between cultural norms in the families and schools. Advancement in this field has the potential to inform interventions which promote family-school engagement to support immigrant youth and clinical assessments of risk for depression. Innovative behavioral methods are used to simulate acculturative stress in a piloted cultural priming paradigm; an additional innovation is using a biological measure of stress. The study will focus on foreign- and US-born immigrant Asian two- and four-year college students, with non-immigrant European Americans as the control group. Using this sample is a conservative test of the hypothesis, because acculturative stress is likely to be greater among those who do not attend college and who generally have fewer opportunities and resources. Pilot data suggests greater change in moral judgments of career and marriage tasks across home and school priming conditions for immigrant Asians than for European Americans. Understanding what influences key decisions among immigrant young adults is important in predicting future demographic trends and individual mental health outcomes. This project is directly related to the NICHD’s Demographic and Behavioral Science Branch (DBS) priorities to study how outcomes for children from immigrant families differ from outcomes for other children; and how family characteristics and processes affect these differences.


Ione Fine: Abstract

Photo: Ione Fine
Photo: Ione Fine

While the effects of visual deprivation have been well studied in animal models, much less is known about the effects of blindness on human early visual pathways. We propose to use a combination of "state-of-the-art" MR imaging techniques to examine compare the effects of blindness within anophthalmic (born without eyes), early blind, late blind and sighted subjects. This will provide an entirely unique opportunity to compare the effects of embryonic development, postnatal development, and ongoing experience in adulthood on sub-cortical and cortical structures. As such this work has implications for our understanding of the time course of developmental disorders (such as dyslexia, frontal lobe disorders, amblyopia, autism, specific language impairment and ADHD) that involve abnormalities in gray and white matter.

Faculty Awards and Recognition

Psychology Faculty in the Media

Sapna Cheryan’s research on members of U.S. immigrant groups choosing typical American dishes as a way to show that they belong and to prove their American-ness has received considerable media coverage. Immigrants to the United States and their U.S.-born children gain more than a new life and new citizenship. They gain weight. The wide availability of cheap, convenient, fatty American foods and large meal portions have been blamed for immigrants packing on pounds, approaching U.S. levels of obesity within 15 years of their move. The results of the study were published in the June issue of Psychological Science. It was picked up by a New York Times food blog, US News & World Report, Time magazine’s health blog, Seattle Weekly, Vancouver Sun, and KIRO news, among others. See “‘Fatting in’: Immigrant groups eat high-calorie American meals to fit in,”

Kevin King was interviewed for a Seattle Times article on the Undergraduate Symposium.
“King said undergraduates approach research in ways that are both naive and refreshing, asking basic questions and helping researchers break entrenched patterns of thinking. They also can serve as a sounding board as researchers strive to explain their work in very accessible, nontechnical ways.” In addition to being interviewed, King was one of five faculty who received an Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for his efforts in guiding undergraduates to become scholars. “UW undergrads show their research shouldn't be overlooked,”

Diane Logan (Psychology graduate student and lead author) and Kevin King’s research on heavy drinking was picked up by the Seattle PI, KUOW, and the Reuters news service, among others.
The study showed that some people continue to drink heavily because of perceived positive effects, despite experiencing negative effects such as hangovers, fights and regrettable sexual situations. According to participants in the study, boosts of courage, chattiness and other social benefits of drinking outweigh its harms, which they generally did not consider as strong deterrents. The findings offer a new direction for programs targeting binge drinking, which tend to limit their focus to avoiding alcohol’s ill effects rather than considering its rewards.

Eliot Brenowitz was interviewed by the Seattle Times for an article on “Naturalists fear overuse of birdcall apps.” “With the proliferation of smartphones and apps, more bird-watchers are using recorded bird songs to flush out species for better viewing and photography. But the technique is controversial among some experts who say it can stress male birds that believe a recorded song signals a rival invading their territory…. Ordinary life already is tough for birds, especially during breeding season’, said UW biologist Eliot Brenowitz, who studies brain wiring and bird song. ‘In some species, males become accustomed to the voices of their neighbors, which makes them more likely to be alarmed by an unfamiliar, recorded call,” he said. The article was picked up from Bellingham to Miami.

Lori Zoellner’s work on post-traumatic stress disorder was featured in UW Today: “Learning to not be afraid.”  “It may seem counterintuitive to ask someone to repeatedly recount an event that is so scary,” said Zoellner, director of UW’s Center for Anxiety & Traumatic Stress. “But as someone does this he or she begins to look at the memory differently and the memory has less control over their lives." The Center will soon start studying this therapy along with medication.
The UW press release was picked up by many on-line resources ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Sudan Vision, from Nursery World to Your Olive Branch.

Peter Kahn was interviewed about “our tangled relationship with the natural world” by New Scientist. The interviewer asked if it matters that our experience of nature is often divorced from the real thing? He observed that “When we lose hundreds of experiences with nature, we hurt ourselves badly.”

John Gottman was referenced in a Carolyn Hax advice column.
“(T)he primary task for you now is to keep from emotionally checking out. This disengagement is the phenomenon well tracked by John Gottman:” excuse/2011/05/03/AFkFWB5G_story.html

Peter Kahn and Wendy Stone were interviewed by National Geographic article on social robots.
The article discussed Peter Kahn’s 2007 paper “"What Is a Human?" in which he and colleagues, proposed a set of psychological benchmarks to measure success in designing humanlike robots. Their emphasis was not on the technical capabilities of robots but on how they're perceived and treated by humans. The article also describes a prototype robotic system that plays a simple ball game with autistic children. It was developed by Wendy Stone, with Nilanjan Sarkar, when she was at Vanderbilt University. This robot represents a first step toward replicating one of the benchmarks of humanity: knowing that others have thoughts and feelings, and adjusting your behavior in response to them.
“Us. And them. Robots are being created that can think, act, and relate to humans. Are we ready?”

Frank Smoll was interviewed by the Utica Observer-Dispatch.
The feature article "Coaches Sidelined: Parents are Driving Sports Leaders off the Bench" appeared in the May 29, 2011 issue.

Frank Smoll was interviewed for an article entitled "Too much organization? Spontaneity is disappearing from youth sports.” for Columbia Sports
He observed that “sports should not be viewed just as a free babysitting service. They should really serve as extensions of the positive models coaches provide for kids, so that when the coaches teach the kids on the playing field, the parents can pick right up on it in the home environment.” According to Smoll, the biggest problem that youth sports faces is the mistaken application of professional models to what should be a developmental process.

Dario Cvencek (Psychology post-doc), Andrew Meltzoff, and Anthony Greenwald’s study on culturally communicated messages about math was the featured in the June 2011 issue of Columns, the UW Alumni Association’s magazine.
“Our results show that cultural stereotypes about math are absorbed strikingly early in development, prior to ages at which there are gender differences in math achievement,” says Meltzoff. “Deep-sixing the math myth: Cultural stereotypes steer girls away from math,” Columns, June 2011.

The UW Autism Center was the subject of the lead article in the Spring issue of UW’s Front Porch, a publication sent to residents in surrounding communities. Psychology Professor Wendy Stone directs the center. “For families in the greater Seattle area…there’s one choice for gold-standard comprehensive diagnosis and treatment: the UW Autism Center. As the understanding of autism has expanded and deepened dramatically in the last decade, more is known about the importance of early intervention and the strategies and tips for helping children with autism learn. In 2010 alone, the UW Autism Center connected over 500 families with experts for appropriate diagnosis, earlier detection, and research opportunities.” UW Autism Center: Bringing Hope and Support to the Region, after Diagnosis,

Marsha Linehan was interviewed by NPR’s Neal Conan on the show Talk of the Nation in early July. The basic question explored on this show was “Is the idea of anonymity among alcoholics in recovery still appropriate, or has the stigma lessened such that it’s no longer needed?” She observed that “…being public about private parts of your life, when the private parts of your life are stigmatized by the public, should be very strategic, and that it's often a mistake, and many people - particularly people that (she) treat(s) - are often too public. And so they get rejected before someone gets to know them.”
“Reassessing Anonymity in 12-Step Programs”

Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy is among the “100 New Scientific Discoveries: Fascinating, Unbelievable and Mind Expanding Stories,” published by Time Inc.
“Psychologists dread patients with personality disorders…. Now, however, there’s hope for borderline personality disorder patients, thanks to a treatment called dialectical behavior therapy…. Some 10,000 therapists are now trained is DBT. That’s a huge corps of healers for the estimated 18 million Americans diagnosed with BPD - all of whom were once considered incurable.” The book was published in August, 2011.

Research by social-personality area graduate student, Jennifer Wang, along with Janxin Leu and Yuichi Shoda was discussed in Northwest Asian Weekly. The work, “When the Seemingly Innocuous’ Stings’: Racial Microaggressions and Their Emotional Consequences,” was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in December, 2011. Their research clarified how perceptions of subtle racial discrimination that do not necessarily involve negative treatment may account for the “sting” of racial microaggressions, influencing the emotional well-being of racial minorities, even among Asian Americans, a group not often expected to experience racism.

Rebecca Cortes was interviewed by the Seattle Times about the Early Childhood Leadership Certificate program. The interview focused on Rebecca’s role both as a Research Scientist and as a grandmother. The columnist, Jerry Large, noted that “(S)cience illuminates the mechanisms at work and helps us know which words work best and what is going on at various ages, so that we can tailor approaches to best help children.”

Liliana Lengua was interviewed for a King TV’s HealthLink presentation on “Parenting style matched to child's temperament cuts anxiety and depression”
The summary of the study was “the more we can fine tune our parenting to our child’s needs, the more effective we can be,” said Dr. Lengua. They found that for kids who were more impulsive, less focused, and lower in self-control, more guidance from parents lowered the children’s anxiety. But for children who could manage better on their own, with more ability to regulate their own emotions and actions, it was different. Cara Kiff and Nicole Bush were co-authors on this research. You can see the interview and read the article at 478498.html

Jessica Sommerville’s study on babies and altruism showed that a basic sense of fairness and altruism appears in infancy.  Babies as young as 15 months perceived the difference between equal and unequal distribution of food, and their awareness of equal rations was linked to their willingness to share a toy. “It’s likely that infants pick up on these norms in a nonverbal way, by observing how people treat each other.” Sommerville’s research team is now looking at how parents’ values and beliefs alter an infant’s development. Read about the experiment at

Campus-Wide Recognition and Awards

Kevin King was honored with an Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Every year, students who are presenting their work at the Undergraduate Research Symposium are invited to nominate their mentor for special recognition. Dr. King is one of five mentors who were honored in 2011 with an Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. This award recognizes his great efforts in guiding undergraduates to become scholars.

The “UW Psychlists” (Geoff Loftus, Tony Greenwald, Laura Little, Kevin King, Scott Murray, Phil Burger, and Frank Farach) placed in the top 15 teams in the Group Health Commute Challenge. These bike commuters logged an impressive 111 trips by bicycle, rode 1,021 miles, and commuted 88% of the days possible. This placed them in the top 15 out of over 1,400 commuting teams in terms of percentage days commuted. Remember, they're passing on your left!

Lee Osterhout received the 2011 Davida Teller Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award. This award was developed by graduate students in psychology and named for long-time faculty member, Davida Teller recognizing Davida and an outstanding mentor of graduate students and her role in revamping our entire graduate curriculum just before she retired. Lee's students presented the award to him at the 2011 Research Festival, noting their honor in working with an outstanding teacher, scientist and mentor.

Jeanny Mai, Amanda Patrick, Michele Jacobs (and dog Gracie), Sheri Mizumori (and dog Kona), and Beth Rutherford successfully completed the October 23, 2011 Dawg Dash. Their entry fees benefited student scholarships.


National – International Recognition and Awards

Randall Kyes’ International Field Study Program-Indonesia, received funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. For 16 years, Randall Kyes, research professor in psychology and director of the UW Center for Global Field Study, has led undergraduate and graduate students on fieldwork expeditions to Indonesia where students conduct their own field studies while developing research relationships with Indonesian students and researchers. Now Kyes’ program, International Field Study Program-Indonesia, is receiving funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to increase the number of American students studying in Indonesia, the fourth most populated country in the world. “UW part of national effort for greater ties with Indonesia,”

Kevin King received a Young Scholar Grant from The Jacobs Foundation for “Self Regulation and Sensitivity to Context as Determinants of Psychopathology in Adolescence.” The goal of this two-year grant is to identify characteristics of youth who are most vulnerable to peer influences on self-regulation and to link variability in sensitivity of self-regulation to the peer context to internalizing and externalizing psychopathology.

Jeansok Kim was named as one of the top 'Faces and Minds of Psychological Science' by the Association for Psychological Science. He was listed as one of the top “researchers the exciting field of psychological science. Using the latest methods and technologies, they have made enormous strides in exploring the complexities of human behavior in all of its forms, from the most basic brain research to applications in health, education, business, and social issues.”

Ana Mari Cauce received the 2011 MFP James M. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association at their annual convention in August. This prestigious occasional award recognizes distinguished and exemplary long-term contributions to the field of racial and ethnic minority psychology from senior-level alum of the Minority Fellowship Program. The MFP James Jones Lifetime Achievement Award is given in honor of the APA’s second Director who has served in that role for over 30 years.

Sara Jane Webb, Adjunct Associate Professor, was chosen to attend the 2011 Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology sponsored by the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Webb was one of 40 national mid-career women psychologists chosen to participate in the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology (LIWP) in August. The mission of the LIWP is to prepare, support, and empower women psychologists as leaders; to promote positive changes in institutional, organizational and practice settings; and to increase the diversity, number and effectiveness of women psychologists as leaders. The LIWP workshop is focused on preparing mid-career women in psychology by insuring that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to complete for leadership and senior management positions in their chosen setting.