Oct. 13-19, 2000
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New faculty beef up psychology department

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New faculty beef up psychology department

By Ida Lee Wootten

"The leading researcher in cognitive aging"... "one of the world leaders in developmental psychology" "the leading expert on affect and emotion cognition" ... "one of the most frequently cited psychologists in the world" ... Imagine a department chair's joy at reading such descriptors in reference letters for faculty openings and being able to snare not one, but three senior researchers worthy of such superlatives.

U.Va.'s psychology department has brought on board a total of five new faculty, including three in chaired professorships, who will bolster the strengths of the cognitive, social and developmental specialties in a department consistently rated as among the best in the nation.

One of the largest undergraduate majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, the department offers seven broad areas of specialization in the scientific study of behavior: clinical, cognitive, community, developmental, psychobiology, quantitative and social. In a 1998 U.S. News & World Report ranking of graduate programs, the psychology department placed fourth overall. Among specialties, developmental psychology ranked 12th and clinical placed 17th. The prestigious National Research Council, which evaluates 274 institutions once every ten years, ranked the psychology department's graduate programs 19th in 1995. The new faculty join a department recognized for its commitment to excellence in research and teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

New emphasis on aging

Timothy SalthouseTimothy A. Salthouse, internationally recognized for his research on cognitive aging, joins the department as the Brown Forman Professor of Psychology.

Salthouse will jump-start the Virginia Aging Initiative, a newly funded project that will bring together U.Va. researchers from several areas of psychology to explore topics related to aging. Salthouse will guide the formation and direction of research by helping faculty and graduate students in designing projects, collecting data and bringing in grant support. He will coordinate a large-scale study pulling together faculty, graduate students and undergrads to investigate various aspects of aging and cognition. He plans on collecting data on a group of approximately 250 people, ranging in age from 18 to 80, who will each come to the laboratory weekly for three sessions totaling about eight hours. The project will take about two years to complete.

Salthouse hopes the pilot study will "spur new interest in aging at U.Va."
Among the psychology faculty who will be collaborating in the project are: Dan Willingham, who researches learning new skilled movements; Barbara Spellman, who studies reasoning; Karen Schmidt, who researches spatial abilities; Dennis Proffitt, who will investigate intuitions about physical principles; Michael Kubovy, who will study perceptual grouping; John Nesselroade, who will examine day-to-day fluctuations in cognitive functioning; Jack McArdle, who will explore the interrelationships of cognitive variables; and Tim Wilson, who will study the interaction of cognition and emotion.

Although it is widely known that older people perform less well than younger people on tests assessing memory, reasoning and spatial abilities, it is not known what factors contribute to those age-related declines in performance. Through careful research and analyses, Salthouse has discovered that a general slowing in the speed of many aspects of information processing plays a major role in age-related cognitive decline. His research continues to address two central questions: "Why is there a decline in certain aspects of cognitive functioning?" and "Given this decline, what is the role of experience in compensating for it in everyday functioning?"

"Tim Salthouse has succeeded in articulating the most penetrating questions about the sources and mechanisms of cognitive aging, developing new paradigms and collecting a body of coherent findings. As a consequence, we now know that speed of information processing is a major generator of more general aging losses in cognitive efficacy," said Paul B. Baltes, co-director of the Max-Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

As Salthouse has led studies on these issues, most recently while a Regents Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he has accumulated considerable grant support. For example, his last five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging totaled more than $1 million. Other recent grant support includes a NIH Research Career Development Award and a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award.

Salthouse has described his research findings in approximately 200 articles and chapters as well as several books, including A Theory of Cognitive Aging, Theoretical Perspectives in Cognitive Aging, and Handbook of Aging and Cognition, now in its second edition. He has also helped shape literature in the field by serving as editor for five years of the highly respected Psychology and Aging journal. In addition, he serves on the editorial boards of Experimental Aging Research, Developmental Review and Psychology and Aging.

"Widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the field of cognitive aging, Salthouse is expected to establish the University of Virginia as a major source of aging research," department chair Peter Brunjes said. "He will be the glue that holds the program together."

Gerald CloreExpanded research on emotion

Gerald Clore, a leading expert on emotion and social cognition, joins the department as the Commonwealth Professor of Psychology. Coming to U.Va. from the University of Illinois, where he was professor since 1975, Clore was one of the first researchers to show that affective feelings are a primary basis for everyday judgments, decisions and opinions. His approach is unique -- and raises a few eyebrows among psychologists -- because he suggests that the influence of feelings depends on their apparent meaning in context.

"The meaning of our feelings depends on what's in our mind at the time. As a consequence, in bad moods negative feelings can become our evaluations of whatever comes to mind. But, for the same reason, in good moods we are filled with optimism," Clore said.

"Jerry's work on mood and judgment has had a profound impact on the way we think about the effects of emotion. Researchers in this area, like the lay public, have expected emotion to have a direct impact on judgment. Positive moods, for example, were assumed to make us more creative or more optimistic in our judgments; negative moods, similarly, made us pessimistic or more negative in our judgments. Jerry's work suggests that it is the perception of our own mood that may be more consequential than the mood itself in producing certain judgment effects," said Abraham Tesser, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia.

Clore's work also explores the role of feelings in information processing, suggesting that feelings influence not only judgment but also the problem-solving style. When people experience positive feelings during a task, they tend to use what they already know to guide their efforts, but when they experience negative feelings, they are more likely to inhibit using the knowledge they have and, instead, take in new information from outside when focusing on a task.

This phenomenon has been observed in both rats and people, Clore observed with a smile. "If you reward rats, they use what they know, but if you punish them, it inhibits what they know, and they become vigilant in their search for new information," he said.

Clore is building on his earlier research into the role emotions play in information processing to explore new topics. For example, he is investigating the connection between emotions and values. "Emotions are ways to represent in your body that something is good or bad. When an outcome furthers our goals, we feel pleased; when an action exceeds our standards, we feel approval; and when an object appeals to our tastes and attitudes, we feel liking. Our emotions depend on our goals, standards and tastes," he said.

His other new research interests include exploring how individuals experience humor and the realization that something is profound; experiments under way are investigating the role of such cognitive feelings in the aesthetics of thought.

Clore's work on emotion is described in The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, a landmark book that was recently translated into Spanish. He has also co-edited a book, Theories of Mood and Cognition: A User's Handbook, that will come out this fall. Author of scores of articles and monographs, Clore has written handbook chapters in social and personality psychology that are among the most highly cited in the field. He has also served on the editorial boards of Motivation and Emotion, Journal of Personality, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Clore sees wide-ranging applications for his research, such as implications related to stress management. Others are currently using it to engineer computers to understand the meaning of emotional communications. His research has received considerable funding over the years, most recently a five-year National Institute of Mental Health grant of $750,000 and two National Science Foundation grants totaling $400,000. Clore foresees collaborating with many of his departmental colleagues, such as Jon Haidt, who studies emotion, and Tim Wilson, who researches intuition.

How toddlers think

Judy DeLoacheAlso joining the department is another highly sought-after recruit, Judy DeLoache. U.Va's new Kenan Professor of Psychology is widely considered a leader in developmental psychology because of her highly imaginative and carefully monitored studies in children's memory development, understanding of symbols and ability to solve problems.

DeLoache's earliest research demonstrated that children as young as 18 months use primitive strategies to help them remember the location of objects. Her studies showed that toddlers, who have to wait to retrieve a toy after being shown that it is hidden under an opaque cover, generally do whatever they can to remember its location, including maintaining eye contact with the hiding place, pointing to it and naming it. These landmark studies in the 1980s contrasted sharply with the then-prevailing view that children do not use memory strategies until age 6 or 7.

"Judy's early work on memory development in young children is now classic," said Henry M. Willman, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan.

DeLoache, who comes to U.Va. from the University of Illinois where she was the Alumni Professor of Psychology, is focusing her most recent work on children's ability to understand and use representations, such as scale models, photographs and drawings. For example, in a series of experiments using scale models of actual living rooms, 2- and 3-year-old children where shown where a miniature toy was placed in the scale model to see if they could figure out where the full-size toy was in the real room that the model represented. Although 30-month-olds would carefully watch and remember where the miniature toy was placed in the scale model, they had no idea where the larger toy was in the real room. Surprisingly, children only six months older did understand from the model where to find the toy in the room.

DeLoache's work shows that within that short developmental time span, 3-year-old children interpret the symbol -- the scale model -- in two different ways simultaneously. They understand both that the scale model is a real object and that it is a representation of something other than itself. They then draw an inference from the model to the room it represents. DeLoache believes that the younger children find it difficult to achieve this sort of dual understanding of a symbolic object.

Robert S. Siegler, the Heinz Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, calls these sets of experiments using the scale models "the best-known and most widely cited findings in developmental psychology ... described in virtually every research-oriented child development textbook."

DeLoache's work on children's understanding of symbols has been continuously supported by NIH since 1988. The total budget for her recently funded five-year award is more than $1.75 million. In addition, she has a NIH MERIT award that will extend the current grant for another five years.

DeLoache plans to extend her earlier work on children's understanding and use of symbols to practical problems. For example, she plans to incorporate the use of manipulatives, such as blocks and rods, that are widely used in teaching mathematics, in her studies. "I will look at how to facilitate the use of these teaching aids," she said.

DeLoache also plans to work with Angeline Lillard, assistant professor of psychology, and students to examine the memory and problem-solving skills associated with the children's game of hide- and-seek. "We will look at age differences and examine the natural development of children as they understand the game," she said.

DeLoache's fascination with children is obvious both through the enthusiastic descriptions of her research and her long list of publications, including the recently published book, A World of Babies: Imagined Child Care Manuals From Other Cultures. Published this May by Cambridge University Press and already in its third printing, the book offers parenting strategies written as if there were a "Dr. Spock" in several different countries. The genesis of the book was a course, "Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Infant Development," DeLoache co-taught with an anthropologist, Alma Gottlieb. In the course, graduate students wrote papers describing parenting styles that reflected diverse cultures; DeLoache and Gottlieb co-edited the papers into a fun, imaginative book.

DeLoache has served on the editorial boards of all the major developmental psychology journals. She also served for four years on a NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant-review panel considering requests to support research in human development and aging studies. She is also president of the developmental division of the American Psychological Association.

Bringing others on board

Also joining the department this year are assistant professors Alev Erisir, who studies development of the visual system, and Lisa Goehler, who studies the relationships among stress and disease and the nervous system. A sixth new person, an assistant professor in cognitive psychology, is expected to join the department in the spring.

In reflecting on the new faculty, Brunjes said, "We don't try to be a renaissance department. Our strategy has always been to build on our strengths. These faculty will lead research in important new directions."

The new hires bring the psychology department faculty total to 36 -- the same number it had in 1987. "The big difference is, in 1987 we were graduating slightly more than 150 majors each year, and now we serve nearly twice that many. It may look like we have a lot of new hires, but we still can't meet all of our teaching requirements. As one of the most popular majors on Grounds, our courses are in high demand," Brunjes said.

He noted that two assistant professor searches are under way this year for faculty in clinical and developmental psychology.


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