Newsletter Article

Faculty Set Groundwork for Collaborations in China

When assistant professor Janxin Leu was studying in China as an undergraduate, there were approximately 15 departments of psychology in the entire country.  She would never have predicted that less than two decades later there would almost 250! Certainly, the discipline of psychology is taking off in the People’s Republic of China – and four faculty members from the UW Department of Psychology went there this fall to investigate and explore collaborations.

Jane Simoni, Jessia Sommerville, Brian Flaherty,
left to right: Drs. Jane Simoni, Jessia Sommerville,
Brian Flaherty, Nieh Hau-Tong (Director of the Center for
Advanced Study at Tsinghau University), and Janxin Leu

Dr. Leu (social area), along with assistant professor Brian Flaherty (quantitative), associate professor Jessica Sommerville (developmental), and professor Jane Simoni (clinical), made the trip to Beijing as part of their involvement in the Global Psychology Interdisciplinary Research Initiative or IRIS. The IRIS program is a result of Chair Sheri Mizumori’s vision for enhanced collaboration among the areas in the Department, and is sponsored by generous support of the Dean’s Office.

As well as visiting Beijing University, the site of Dr. Leu’s year abroad as an undergraduate, the faculty met with researchers at the Institute for Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Science, Tsinghua, and Beijing Normal University, where UW Vice-Provost of Global Affairs Steven Hanson joined them. At Beijing Normal University, Drs. Leu and Sommerville were impressed with the research facilities for conducting studies of developmental neuroscience. The two are hoping to forge a collaboration to investigate cross-cultural differences in social cognition among infants, including the influence of culture and context in how infants infer the intentional states of others.  

Drs. Flaherty and Simoni were able to meet with top public health officials at the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss priorities in HIV research and tobacco control. Dr. Flaherty learned that establishing smoking bans in public spaces is the biggest public health goal of China's National Tobacco Control Office.  In the future, he hopes to establish a relationship with that office and contribute to their tobacco control efforts. Dr. Simoni met experts in mental health, who she hopes will assist her with a new project on providing counseling to individuals recently diagnosed with HIV – still a very highly stigmatized condition in China.

The team discussed possible student and faculty exchanges and will work with Dr. Hanson on negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with at least one of the institutions they visited.