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Newsletter Editions

Published: 12/08/2011
Winter 2011

Research

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.