Our Scientists at Work
"Our Scientists at Work" includes interviews with prominent scientists, event coverage, and explanations of new and interesting research.
Combining Psychology, Language, Culture, and Biology for Better Education (4/23/2015) »
Had it not been for an accident, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang might never have become an affective neuroscientist and human development psychologist. Yet it was partially her experiences working with people while building boats in Siberia and remote Kenya, combined with an education rich in sciences and language, that led her into the field of education. Immordino-Yang, 2015 FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award winner from the American Educational Research Association, is now working to understand the neural, psychophysiological and psychological bases of social emotion, self-awareness and culture and their implications for young people’s development and successful learning in and out of school. She uses her research to assist educators and parents in supporting children’s healthy development and meaningful learning.
- Changing Technology, Changing Brains (03/19/2015) »
It's easy to see how the ubiquity of digital media is changing our lives, but how is it affecting our physical and mental health? “The short answer is that our brains are speeding up, but not in a good way,” according to psychologist Mari Swingle, 2015 FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award winner from the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. “People are walking around in a constant state of hyperarousal,” and that has serious consequences for brain architecture and functioning, says Swingle. Her research and clinical observations have led her to conclude that excessive use of digital media are contributing to skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other mental health issues in both adults and children.
- Making the Alzheimer's Diagnosis Earlier and Easier (02/17/2015) »
Alzheimer's Disease (AD) affects over 5 million Americans, and every 68 seconds another person develops the disease. But by the time family members and even doctors recognize the symptoms, the brain disease has progressed to a point that is severe and difficult to treat. What if AD patients could be identified and treated earlier and more easily? Soon that will be a reality, thanks to a blood test developed by FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award winner from the National Academy of Neuropsychology, Dr. Sid O'Bryant at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and his colleagues. “This test can detect with over 90% accuracy who has the disease, and it provides a way for primary care physicians to screen for possible Alzheimer’s,” he explains. This is a big change, because AD has typically been diagnosed by specialists at Alzheimer’s clinics, which are few and far between.
- Nature Via Nurture and the Origins of Bad Behavior (10/28/2014) » Why do some kids lie or shoplift and not others? Is it the neighborhood? The influences of friends, parents or siblings? Other environmental triggers? Associate Professor of Psychology S. Alexandra Burt, of Michigan State University and winner of the 2014 FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award from the Society for Research in Psychopathology, is studying how the environment may activate or deactivate genetic and biological risk factors related behavior. It’s not nature vs. nurture, she explained. “It’s nature via nurture—how the two work together.”
- Language and Well Being (10/28/2014)» Events happen in our lives that challenge our emotions, causing us to be angry, anxious or even depressed. Our attempts to console ourselves after a bad experience can backfire. “We start spinning and ruminating, and we end up replaying those negative experiences over and over in ways that don’t get us anywhere,” said Ethan Kross, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and winner of the FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award. Kross, who is now director of Michigan’s Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory, draws on multiple disciplines of psychology to explore how people can improve emotional self-control in their daily lives.
- When Mistakes are a Threat to Mental Health (9/23/2014) » Most people don't like to make mistakes, but some people are more sensitive to errors than others, and that can make them more prone to anxiety, according to Greg Hajcak Proudfit, associate professor of psychology at Stony Brook University and FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award winner from the Society for Psychophysiological Research. Proudfit's research on how people’s brains process mistakes is helping to identify who is at risk for anxiety and even to suggest new avenues for treatment of anxiety and related disorders.
- Giving Computers the Wisdom of People (7/29/2014) »
Bias is usually thought to cause problems, but some kinds of bias can also help us solve problems. In fact, bias is an essential part of how we understand the world around us, says cognitive psychologist and FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award Winner Tom Griffiths of the University of California at Berkeley. Every day, we are required to draw inferences, or educated guesses, about everything from what will happen if we turn a door knob to whether the foods we eat are safe. Our brains sometimes have little data from which to draw these conclusions, so they have to rely on our past experiences and our evolving beliefs about how the world works. Yet they are remarkably accurate. Griffiths’s work is illuminating why, and using that information to teach computers how to make inferences – one of the few areas in which they are less effective than humans.
- Decoding Clues to Alzheimer's Disease (6/24/2014) »
For Yakeel T. Quiroz, finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is more than a career and quest for knowledge. “Once you get to work with families affected by Alzheimer’s disease, get to know them, it’s hard to leave them,” says Quiroz, a clinical/research fellow in neuropsychology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston. Quiroz explains that once there is clinical presentation, and dementia sets in, the progression of familial Alzheimer’s is similar to that of the sporadic. Understanding the familial, she explains, may offer clues for treating both types of Alzheimer’s. “We’re trying to get a better sense of what’s going on in the pre-clinical phase,” she says.
- Making Sense of Drug Addiction (6/3/2014) »
We all know we're supposed to make choices that are good for our long-term health, although that's not easy when we're faced with things that bring us pleasure right now. But for some people, the short-term benefits often win out over the long-term ones. That can help explain why some people get addicted to drug use and other risky behaviors – and why it's so hard to get them to stop, according to Matthew Johnson, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
- Teaching Computers to Think Like Humans (1/17/2014) »
Computers are making our lives more efficient and productive than ever, but we still want them to be faster, smarter, more powerful. The key, says cognitive psychologist Michael Jones, is right under our noses, or actually above them: teach computers to think more like the human brain.
- Uncovering the Truth about False Memories (12/17/2013) »
Most of us can think of a time we forgot something important. But many people don't realize that the opposite can happen: we sometimes create false memories of things that never occurred, even important things like whether we witnessed a crime. Although researchers have known about false memories for decades, cognitive neuroscientist David Gallo has been shedding light on why they happen – and on factors that may help prevent them.
- Early Career Scientist Studies Linkages between Brain and Reproduction (6/25/2013) »
We all go through puberty--but what happens in the brain to make the whole process possible? And why do girls sexually mature before boys, and what sets the clock so that puberty always is at about the same age for both boys and girls?
- A Better Way to Plan for Retirement (4/10/2013) »
When it comes to planning for your retirement, you should have a laser-like focus on saving money, right? Wrong, says organizational psychologist Mo Wang. According to Wang, most Americans aren't focusing on the real keys to health and happiness in retirement.
- Making Surgery Safer (3/19/2013) »
If you’re about to have heart surgery, the last thing you want to hear is that the operating room is unsafe. But that’s exactly what researcher Ayse Gurses has found – and many of the hazards aren't caused by doctors or nurses. FABBS Foundation Early Career Investigator Award winner Ayse Gurses focuses on making surgeries safer for patients by identifying and mitigating these hazards before they affect your health.
- Words Help Infants Categorize Objects, Key to Learning (1/2/2013) »
Long before they learn to stand, walk, or talk, babies are busy developing their cognitive acumen through language acquisition. Language deeply affects infants’ cognitive development, specifically, their ability to form object categories. Cognitive psychologist Sandra Waxman, an expert on how language affects infants’ development, talks about how our early propensity for noticing commonalities about things and experiences is a key component to learning.
- Listen Up: That Birdsong You’re Enjoying Is Courtesy of Estrogens (12/17/12) »
Estrogens are often thought of as a female hormone, but that concept is incomplete. It’s true that estrogens are produced in the ovaries, but they’re also produced in the adrenal glands, liver, and the brain, in both males and females. Estrogens are produced in songbirds’ brains and may help them learn to sing and respond to song. Luke Remage-Healey, a behavioral physiologist, strongly suspects that estrogens can enhance learning-related cognitive functions, including singing.
- When Cognitive Decline Comes Up In Conversation (11/16/12) »
Meaningful conversation hinges not just on the words or ideas we string together to explain ourselves and the world, it also hinges on our awareness of whom we’re speaking with. But as we enter old age, our conversational capability declines. Yet, we’ve become experts at discourse. And what’s more, we’re driven to connect with others. Cognitive psychologist William Horton, PhD, discusses how this expertise and drive to communicate fare in the face of cognitive decline.
- Researchers Searching for Ways to Prevent Mysterious Form of Dementia (11/5/12) »
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, is a neurodegenerative disease set in motion by a history of repetitive brain trauma, such as concussions and subconcussive blows that occur early in life. To date, scientists know relatively little about the disease. But what is known is that CTE is a progressive brain disorder similar to Alzheimer’s and other related neurodegenerative diseases. Neuropsychologist Robert Stern studies CTE and reveals what he and his collaborators are learning from their research.
- Researchers Seek Early Markers of Schizophrenia,With Remediation in Mind (10/24/12) »
Although researchers know that genetics plays a role in the development of schizophrenia, brain scientists are exploring what they think are early markers of schizophrenia; that is, impairments in cognition and in brain function. Psychologist Deanna Barch explains how these markers could help identify people who are most at risk for developing the disease and how exercising the brain may help those already diagnosed with schizophrenia, or even those in high-risk populations, head off the disease.
- Game for Some Physics? (10/11/12) »
Do you run into inertia when it comes to understanding physics? Do you lose momentum on the path to comprehension? Do the concepts seem disordered, chaotic? If the answer is yes to all or any of these questions, learning-scientist Douglas Clark, PhD, may be of help. Clark develops games that help people integrate their intuitive understanding of basic science with a more formal one.
- Fairness in Workplace Key to Employee, Organizational Health (9/17/12) »
As an industrial-organizational psychologist, Deborah Rupp studies human behavior in the workplace. Rupp talks about how employees come to judge their workplace as fair or unfair and what that means to them and to their employers.
- Can physiological traits help paint a clearer picture of psychopathy? (9/5/12) »
Christopher Patrick, a clinical neuroscientist and researcher, is looking at how to combine behavioral observations with physiological measurements to get a clearer picture of what contributes to psychopathy.
- Finding a Balance: When Mercury is Part of the Meal (8/22/12) »
Signs of exposure to methylmercury can be subtle. But subtle or not, methylmercury can permanently disturb neural development, motor circuitry, organ function—and even the aging process. Chris Newland, an experimental psychologist, discusses methylmercury’s cognitive effects and how researchers don’t yet know with certainty how much methylmercury can be tolerated without adverse effects on health and development.
- Going Straight to the Source: How do infants learn best? (8/10/12) »
Infants are now exposed to more information from more sources than ever before, whether it’s books, TVs, or computers. Developmental psychologist Rachel Barr, discusses how well infants learn from select sources of information compared with how well they learn from face-to-face interactions.
- How Watching the Clock Affects Performance (7/23/12) »
Where we focus our attention affects how we perceive the passage of time. Pay attention to a task at hand, and time flies. Pay attention to the passage of time, and things seem to slow. Cognitive psychologist Joseph Magliano explains why.
- The Psychology Behind Going Green (7/9/12) »
We have habits, fears, and biases that get in the way of making all sorts of sound decisions, even when it comes to going green. Psychologist Elke Weber sheds light on why we make the decisions we do, especially when they’re not necessarily in our best interest.
- The Benefits of Spatial Thinking (6/18/12) »
Spatial thinking, the way we navigate the world and manipulate the space around us, is crucial to solving problems big and small. Cognitive psychologist Nora Newcombe studies how spatial skills in children and adults improve their competence in science and in math.
- Psychological Scientist Takes a Fresh Look at Our Selves (5/31/12) »
James Coan is a psychological scientist who specializes in the neuroscience of emotional expression. Using neuroimaging to measure the brain’s reaction to a threat, Coan recently looked at what happens to the brain when one is threatened and then when somebody else is threatened.
- Psychologist Sets Designs On Optimizing Warning Systems (5/16/12) »
Human factors psychologist Carryl Baldwin designs alarm sounds for warning systems such as those in cars and hospitals. But designing a good auditory system is complex.
- The Brains behind a Better Robot for Seniors: Scientists and Engineers (5/4/12) »
Human factors psychologist Wendy Rogers is working with a team of researchers to design a robot that helps older adults retain their independence while maintaining their quality of life.
- How Our Emotions Shape Moral Hypocrisy (4/18/12) »
Moral hypocrisy, the tendency to judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves, has been studied by researchers before now--but only through the lens of disgust. Instead, Evan Polman and Cornell University graduate student Rachel Ruttan looked at moral hypocrisy as it relates to three emotions: anger, guilt, and envy.
- Creative Problem Solving: Forget the Focus (3/27/12) »
People have long suspected that creativity can be summoned with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, but science is just now confirming that suspicion. Cognitive psychologist Jennifer Wiley says alcohol enhances creative problem solving by reducing our ability to focus our attention on something.
- Making the Connections Between Loneliness and Health (3/7/12) »
Loneliness may seem to be a simple state of mind. But it's not. There's much more to this complex emotion than meets the eye. Loneliness can be your friend, your ally, even your personal watchdog. Or it can be your adversary or your enemy--if it stays too long.
Who better than our scientists to communicate the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior? Scientists are encouraged to use the FABBS Foundation Communications Toolkit for guidance and inspiration in communicating these sciences to the public using a variety of methods.
FABBS Foundation’s science communication efforts are supported by the generous donations of the David & Carol Myers Foundation, SAGE Publications, and donors invested in the mission of FABBS Foundation. Their contributions further FABBS Foundation's mission of advancing the public's understanding of the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.