The Psychology Department reflects our 100-year history and our future by honoring our retiring professors and welcoming new faculty.
As the Psychology Department celebrates our 100th year on campus and reflects on both our history and our future, we celebrate the careers of faculty members who have retired this year and welcome the arrival of new faculty. Two such faculty members are Drs. Geoff Loftus and Noah Snyder-Mackler.
We commemorate the career of Professor Geoff Loftus, who retires this year after an impactful 45-year tenure with the University of Washington. With a focus on visual perception, Geoff Loftus and his lab have made discoveries in the topics of face memory, eyewitness testimonial, and visual hindsight bias.
Simultaneously, we welcome Assistant Professor Noah Snyder-Mackler from Duke University, where he recently completed postdoctoral work on the social determinants of health. Noah is the recipient of many NIH and NSF awards and brings with him an award-winning team of postdocs and graduate students.
Drs. Loftus and Snyder-Mackler are just two of many UW Psychology faculty conducting groundbreaking research that shapes how we understand human behavior and how we can better promote healthy minds and society. Join us in celebrating them by getting to know them below:
- Tell us a bit about your background and history at University of Washington.
I arrived at the University of Washington in 1972. Coming from New York where I'd been a postdoc, Seattle seemed pretty small. But I quickly grew to love the city and the University of Washington.
I found the students here to be stimulating and enjoyable to work with: the very top undergraduate students here at the University of Washington are as good as the very top students anywhere. It was my pleasure and privilege over the years to work and interact with many of them—those I taught, those who worked in my lab as Research Assistants and those who worked as undergraduate TAs for me. The same was true of the graduate students. Exceptionally good undergraduates applied and came here—and working with my graduate students formed a true highlight theme over my 45 years here.
- What has drawn you personally to your work? Why are you passionate about it?
I love that my basic research projects have (mostly) all had strong, quantitative and mathematical bases (having theories that can be expressed precisely and unambiguously are almost more important to me than what the theories are about—although I do like to make theories about interesting aspects of human perception and memory rather than boring ones). I have also been strongly drawn over the past two decades or so by applications of my and related work to legal issues. I've found that being able to change the world, even in small ways, via my research, has been very rewarding.
- Why is your field of research important? Why should the community care?
I believe that Psychology is, to its detriment, (mostly) lacking in the manners in which theories are constructed, data analyzed and interpreted, and data used to evaluate theories. Acknowledging my hubris, I would like to think that at least some of my work provides examples, particularly to my students, of how science should proceed.
- What would you call your biggest accomplishment during your tenure with the UW Psychology Department?
Mentoring and drawing inspiration from the many undergraduate and graduate students with whom I've worked, who are now out trying to make Psychology a better science and the world a better place.
- Tell us a bit about your background
My whole life I’ve been fascinated by animal behavior — a fascination that, fortunately for me, has progressed from an avocation to a vocation (or perhaps some combination of both). I was trained as a naturalist at the UPenn where I combined behavioral observations with genetic analyses to study the evolution of sociality in cowbirds and gelada monkeys. After that, I went to Duke for a postdoc where I honed my genomics skills studying how our social environment directly affects our immune system.
- What draws you to your work? Why are you passionate about it?
We still don’t know how the social environment “gets under the skin” to alter physiology and impact health, survival, and reproduction in social animals. When I’m wearing my animal behaviorist hat, I’m study the interaction between the social environment and individual behaviors to see how these behaviors have ultimately been shaped by natural selection. When I’m wearing my biopsychologist hat, I am using my study subjects (monkeys) as a model for humans — after all, we’re all primates! Most of the time I’m wearing both hats — drawing on my insights from behavioral ecology to gain a better understanding of human behavior and health.
- Why is your lab’s research important? Why should the community care?
The one sentence cocktail party description of my work is “I study why chronic psychosocial stress is bad for your health and how having good friends can help protect you from those negative consequences”. That’s typically well-received, but it is often followed by the inevitable question: “So why aren’t you studying humans?” The short answer is that the social animals that I (and others) study make for a simpler model of human social behavior because, while we share many core neural and genetic pathways with nonhuman primates, they don’t have some of the added complications of human culture (e.g., monkeys don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs). The ultimate goal is of my lab’s work to identify underlying mechanisms so we can help people live longer, healthier lives.
- What do you look forward to most as a UW Psychology faculty member and Seattleite?
I’m looking forward to working with my lab members and training a strong team of scientists who integrate theories, techniques, and data from all areas in the department. During my training I benefited from interacting and collaborating with biologists, anthropologists, neuroscientists, clinical and developmental psychologists, sociologists, gerontologists, economists, statisticians, and demographers (just to name a few). So I’m very excited to continue this history of cross-discipline collaboration here at the UW with researchers I already know and those that I have yet to meet.