faculty beef up psychology department
Ida Lee Wootten
"The leading researcher in cognitive
aging"... "one of the world leaders in developmental
psychology"Š "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.
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.
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.
emphasis on aging
A. Salthouse, internationally recognized for his research on cognitive
aging, joins the department as the Brown Forman Professor of Psychology.
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.
hopes the pilot study will "spur new interest in aging at
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
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?"
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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,"
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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.