Newsletter Editions

Published: 04/12/2009
Spring 2009

Research

Interdisciplinary Research Initiatives (IRIS)

Significant advances in technology and scientific theory have begun to change the nature of scientific inquiry in recent decades. Many traditionally disciplinary approaches are combining forces to provide new, exciting, and more integrative perspectives on the basic question of why we behave the way that we do. Our new interdisciplinary and collaborative research efforts (described below) will not only keep our research programs on the cutting edge, but they will also position us to provide an even stronger foundation for our teaching mission.


Cognition, Brain and Behavior

The study of the mind goes back thousands of years. Current technology allows us to not only evaluate experimentally cognitive functions, but it also allows us to begin to understand the underlying biological mechanisms. In recent years, Psychology faculty (led by Dr. Scott Murray) secured a $2M NSF grant to purchase a state-of-the-art fMRI scanner. By partnering with the Radiology Department, this scanner was used to establish a new Brain Imaging center for research and clinical purposes.

The scanner provides detailed images of the spatial distribution of neural activity across different areas of the brain. To provide greater temporal resolution of brain activity during cognitive processing, this year the Department of Psychology will establish an Electrophysiology Research Facility that will allow researchers to record the ongoing, continuous electrical signals of populations of neurons in the forms of an electrocephalogram (EEG) and/or specific evoked neural responses or of Evoked Response Potentials (ERP; see panel below for a more detailed description).

The Brain Imaging Center and the Electrophysiology Research Facility will be available to a wide range of faculty (e.g. behavioral neuroscience, developmental, social, cognitive, and clinical psychologists), thereby providing the resources for a strong foundation of interdisciplinary research. One of this year’s Edwards lecturers (Dr. Lee Osterhout p.10) demonstrated how EEG and ERP technology has allowed us to probe the brain mechanisms of language development and processing (pg. 10).


Department of Psychology Establishes an Electrophysiology Research Facility

UW Psychology is expanding neuroscience research capabilities through a major investment in new equipment and staff support. Neuroscience serves as the foundation for understanding the mechanisms of human behavior and UW Psychology has long been a leader in neuroscience research. As a department we recognize the need to foster new neuroscience research initiatives, expand our undergraduate and graduate training in neuroscience, and support interdisciplinary collaborations in neuroscience research. With these goals in mind, the department is establishing a new Electrophysiology Research Facility (ERF).

Image of EEGThe ERF will house state-of-the-art EEG recording equipment that will allow researchers to record brain electrical activity at the scalp. This is a powerful technique for understanding how mental processes occur in the brain. EEG involves the placement of electrodes (anywhere from a dozen to 128) across the surface of the scalp, then amplifying and recording the underlying electrical signals. The recorded brain activity can then be correlated with mental tasks performed by the subject, ranging from simple perceptual tasks to complex memory and language processing. In addition to understanding brain processing in healthy individuals, the technique can be applied to clinical populations to understand the mechanisms underlying mental dysfunctions.

One particular advantage of EEG measurements is that they provide very precise timing of brain activity related to mental events. The measure nicely complements the spatial resolution obtained with fMRI measurements. One of the central goals of the ERF will be integrating the measurements obtained from EEG with MRI measurements to obtain a detailed temporal and spatial characterization of brain processes underlying complex human behavior.

Another way to view brain responses with sufficiently sophisticated temporal resolution is to link neural function to cognitive processes to record the evoked response of large number of neurons to specific stimuli or task operations. These types of responses are referred to Evoked Response Potentials (ERP). An example is shown in the adjacent figure. With this measure, subtle changes in cognitive processing or attention result in detectable changes in the ERP. Mapping such ERPs across the brain have led to new insights into (e.g.) language processing by the brain.


Addictive Behaviors

Understanding the psychological and biological basis of behavioral control is a major challenge not only for the field of psychology, but also for society in general. Addictive behavior is an example of how behavioral control goes awry. A cross-disciplinary group of UW Psychology faculty are currently investigating the neural-and experience-dependent behavioral mechanisms that could generate addictive behavior, as well as the clinical manifestation and evidence-based treatment for affected individuals. Since it appears that mechanisms underlying addictive behaviors reflect alterations of natural brain mechanisms for the coding of reward, it is clear that progress in our understanding of addictive behaviors will impact our understanding of non-addictive behaviors as well. Dr. G. Alan Marlatt is one of our leading researchers in this very important field, and he was featured as one of this year’s Edwards Lectures (pg. 10).


Diversity Science

The interests in diversity of faculty and students of UW Psychology take many forms. We seek to promote diversity and cultural competence in research, teaching, professional training, and representation among faculty and students. We are working to increase participation by members of under-represented or disadvantaged groups in our programs and in the science, practice, and teaching of psychology. We seek ways to facilitate the optimal development of people from groups that have been historically disadvantaged or oppressed. We are also working to develop UW Psychology as a center for research on Diversity Science. As part of this effort, the Diversity Science group has established an interdisciplinary seminar series of local and invited speakers.


Child and Family Well Being

Image of parent and childParents and families serve critical roles in facilitating children’s behavioral, social, and emotional development. Many UW Psychology faculty are at the forefront of this research field, contributing new knowledge about how parents and families can promote positive developmental outcomes and prevent adjustment problems in children and emerging adults. This work includes examinations of how parents shape children’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral development, positive experiences in sports activities, well-being of youth from immigrant families, and the role of stress in child and youth well-being. A goal of this group is to translate empirical findings from their research into actionable parental guidance and policy directions. For example, plans are underway to offer a public workshop where a number of our faculty provide a comprehensive perspective on the parental role in guiding the development of positive social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment to events in their lives.


Global Issues in Psychology

Image of Jane Simoni visiting a school of nursing in Beijing
Jane Simoni visiting a0
school of nursing in Beijing

A number of our faculty are involved in international research and instructional projects. The research projects vary from study of wasps and other social insects in Costa Rica, to studies on the impact of culture on medication compliance by chronically ill patients (e.g. HIV patients) in the US and other countries of the world, to studies in conservation biology and emerging infectious diseases. Faculty who are involved in such international research programs provide unique opportunities for our undergraduate students. For example, UW Psychology majors are able to obtain research training in the field. Upon returning from the field, these students communicate information that they learned not only to other undergraduate students, but also to a more broad community in the K-12 grades.

Our department has also participated in the University of Washington Exploration Seminar Program where undergraduate Psychology students spend a month abroad learning about particular public health-related issues in a foreign country.

Dr. Jaime Olavarria led a group of students to explore Chile last summer. More details can be found on pg. 4.

Image of Kyes teaching in a foreign country
Randall Kyes lecturing to
university students in Bangladesh
during a field training course
in Conservation Biology

In the coming year, we hope to be able to facilitate even more types of research and outreach to other communities across the country and the world. In this way, the Psychology Department hopes to become a major player in the University-wide effort to address the issue of global health disparities (http://depts.washington.edu/deptgh/about_us/chairmsg.php)


Faculty Accomplishments

Image of Ana Mari Cauce
Ana Mari Cauce,
Dean,
College of
Arts and Sciences

One of our very own, Ana Mari Cauce, Earl R. Carlson Professor of Psychology, is now Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Cauce, part of child clinical psychology, specializes in understanding factors surrounding at-risk children, adolescents, and families. As Dean, she oversees the College of Arts and Sciences, of which Psychology is a member. The College provides a liberal arts education to more than 25,000 students and is comprised of more than 70 academic departments, centers and programs and 940 academic faculty. Of the approximately 7,500 bachelor’s degrees earned at the UW each year, more than 70 percent are from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Awards

Two of our faculty have recently received national attention with Early Investigator Awards from national/international organizations: Cheryl Kaiser, in our Social Personality area, and Geoff Boynton, in our Cognition and Perception area. Specifically, the Foundation for Social and Personality Psychology announced that Dr. Kaiser is the 2009 recipient of the SAGE Young Scholars Award. The award annually recognizes an outstanding young researcher who has demonstrated exceptional individual achievements in social and/or personality psychology, conducting research that places them at the forefront of their peers. Dr. Kaiser’s work examines prejudice and intergroup relationships, particularly from the perspective of groups that are targets of discrimination. Her work highlights reasons why individuals do not speak up about discrimination, even when they notice it and are bothered by it.

Geoff Boynton was elected to the Society of Experimental Psychologists and given the Early Investigator Award, recognizing his strong contributions to the field of experimental psychology. Dr. Boynton’s work focuses on neural correlates of human visual perception, using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI to better understand dynamic brain changes. His work uses fMRI to determine where and how the brain responds by making fMRI measurements in the visual cortex of human observers while they view various visual stimuli.

Eliot Brenowitz, of our Animal Behavior faculty, was recently elected as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS is the largest international general science society and publishes the journal Science. Fellows are recognized for meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications. Dr. Brenowitz was cited for his distinguished contributions to the fields of neuroethology and animal behavior, particularly for successfully integrating behavioral, endocrine, neural, and comparative approaches to the study of animal communication. Dr. Brenowitz was also elected as a fellow in the American Psychological Association

G. Alan Marlatt, a Clinical psychology faculty, recently received the Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Clinical Psychology Award from the Society of Clinical Psychology, a division of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Marlatt was honored for his exemplary contribution to the field of addictive behaviors, based on his pioneering work in harm reduction, brief interventions, and relapse prevention.

Jaime Olavarria, a Behavioral Neuroscience faculty member, received the 2008 Distinguished Teaching Award

Jeansok Kim, one of our Behavioral Neuroscience faculty, received the 2009 supplemental sabbatical award from the Jame McKeen Cattell Fund in alliance with the Association for Psychological Science (APS)

Grants

In the last year, we are proud to see a number of faculty receiving new grant awards from major granting institutes.

National Science Foundation: Peter Kahn, on the social and moral interaction patterns with a personified robot; Cheryl Kaiser, on group identity and experienced prejudice and their implications for diversity; Scott Murray, received a career award, on the neural mechanism of object size perception; Yuichi Shoda, on the effects of the 2008 U.S. presidential election on implicit race categorization

National Institutes of Health: Sheri J.Y. Mizumori, on dopamine regulation during context processing (National Institute of Mental Health); Jane Simoni, on addressing depression and medication adherence in HIV+ Latinos on the US-Mexico border (National Institute of Mental Health); Jeansok Kim, Effects of Stress, (National Institue of Mental Health); Marsha Linehan, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Curriculum, (National Institue of Mental Health); Jessica Sommerville, on early learning mechanisms underlying infants’ tool use action and understanding (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development)

Additional new grants

Patients Instrument (Talaria, Inc); Brian Flaherty, Measurement and Smoking Patterns in National Data (American Legacy Foundation and Alcohol Dependence and Prazosin); Scott Murray, The Influence of Three-Dimensional Context on Early Visual Cortical Processing (Whitehall Foundation); Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl received an AM Life Science Discovery Fund grant to purchase a magnetoencephalography machine to study the developing mind at their Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (ILABS)

In the news

Andrew Meltzoff and John Gottman participated in the panel discussions with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Seattle in April, 2008 which was televised on UWTV.

Ted Beauchaine, Sheila Crowell, and Adrianne Stevens’ research on negative mother-daughter relationships was featured in University Week. “Mother-daughter conflict, low serotonin level may be deadly combination”

Sean O’Donnell and graduate student Yamile Molina’s research was featured in University Week. “Social dominance or big brains? Wasps may answer question of which came first, research shows”.

Peter Kahn, Rachel Severson, Batya Friedman, Jennifer Hagman, Erika Feldman and Anna Stolyar co-authored a study that recieved media coverage in the U.S., Canada, Spain, England, the Netherlands, and Poland. “Scenes of nature trump technology in reducing low-level stress.”

Jaime Olavarria, recipient of a 2008 UW Distinguished Teaching Award, was featured in Arts & Sciences Perspectives.

I-LABS was featured in Arts and Sciences Perspectives for its research involving non-invasive technology for examining brain activity and in University Week with Andrew Meltzoff and Rechele Brooks quoted in the article. “Do you see what I see? Babies can tell”.

Eliot Brenowitz and Biology graduate student Christopher Thompson’s work with neurons in brains of one songbird species was featured in University Week. “Stayin’ alive: Researchers foil seasonal programmed brain cell death in living birds”.

Janxin Leu was lead author on a study that has received coverage in the largest Chinese newspaper in North America, along with NW Asian Weekly, Medical News Today, and Science Daily. “Asians who immigrated to U.S. before age 25 have poorer mental health than older immigrants”.

Sean O’Donnell’s work in Panama and Costa Rica was featured in University Week. “Parasitic fly influences nocturnal bee behavior”.

Ted Beauchaine, as reported in University Week, carried out the first study of conduct problems in children that included a significant number of aggressive girls. “Cause of conduct problems among girls appears to be different than in boys”.

Tony Greenwald was interviewed by a Seattle Times staff columnist. “Will Obama’s race matter?,” Also “Polls may underestimate Obama’s support by 3 to 4 percent”.

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) received front page coverage on the Seattle PI, and Tony Greenwald was interviewed for “Doctors in study prefer whites to blacks: UW researchers take a look at physician biases”

Jeansok Kim and graduate student Lauren Jones presented “Our stressed-out brains” at a press conference connected with the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

Eliot Brenowitz helped organize flu vaccination clinics at Laurelhurst Elementary School. “Teaching moment springs from school’s shared sadness,” as covered in the Seattle Times.

Marsha Linehan is a leading expert in the diagnosis and treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. She was recognized as such in Time Magazine (Jan 8, 2009 issue) where she described the root causes and conditions that could lead to the disorder.

Sapna Cheryan’s work on gender and ethnic stereotyping was featured in a 15 min segment on National Public Radio (April 2008). The coverage concerned the consequences of gender bias and participation in the field of computer sciences.


Clinic Wins National Award

Image of Corey Fagan and Ron Smith
Corey Fagan and Ron Smith

For more than half a century, the UW clinical psychology program has had a national reputation for the strength of its research productivity and clinical training. With 65 students and 15 full-time faculty members, the program has nationally recognized subprograms in both child and adult clinical psychology. It is a leading center for the development of new treatments for psychological problems, and many of its faculty are internationally known for their contributions to the field of mental health. In recent years, the clinical program has received a number of prestigious awards. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies bestowed its 2003 Distinguished Program Award in recognition of the UW’s long-term research prominence and the quality of its graduates. In 2008, the program received the Innovations in Graduate Training Award from the American Psychological Association for its recent attempts to achieve a stronger integration of scientific and clinical training. In additional to curricular innovations and an enhanced training in multicultural competence, the program developed a computerized data collection system in which clients in its training clinic complete an individualized set of psychological measures prior to each session that can be used to track this data during the course of treatment and provide ongoing feedback to both the client and therapist.

This system will also create an extensive database for student and faculty research. Finally, in a reflection of its national standing among directors of clinical psychology programs, the UWs program tied with two other programs (UCLA and Wisconsin) for the number one ranking in the 2009 U.S. News and World Report ratings of the nation’s 239 accredited clinical psychology programs.

The Clinic provides psychological services at reduced cost for the public. For more information please call 206.543.6511