Fall 2009 Newsletter

Dear Psych Alums,

Peter Vishton works with a group of students in an ISC 2 computer facility dedicated to teaching. One of the 16 psychology laboratories in the Integrated Science Center complex is a computer lab dedicated to research. Unfortunately, that lab doesn't have any computers yet.We've moved! We're now in our new digs in the Integrated Science Center (ISC), and we love them. It was a short move, but it took longer than we expected. We were slated to move over spring break, but the day before the movers were to begin, a pipe fitting burst in Lee Kirkpatrick's lab. Hot water poured in – hot enough to set off the sprinklers, which only added insult to injury. Half of the department was flooded. Brand new floors and carpets were ripped up. Doors, drywall, and furniture had to be replaced. We counted our blessings that it all happened before we had moved in. Three weeks later, we moved over a weekend. (I don't recommend moving a department during classes.)

Our new space is wonderful. We have some shared research spaces, and all but four of the faculty have individual labs in the ISC. (The other four have moved their labs from the Bell Building to Tyler, another long story not worth the telling.) Check out this article for photos and more information about our new space. Lest you miss Millington, fear not. We get back there daily for classes.  There are no classrooms yet in the ISC. They are planned for the next phase of the building.

Psychology Open House at Homecoming

We'll be hosting an open house for alumni and friends from 4 to 6 pm in the ISC Lobby on Friday, October 23, of Homecoming Weekend. Please plan to stop by, catch up with your favorite professors, and tour our new space. We'd love to see you!

Updates on the Department

This past year, we graduated 162 psychology majors, making us once again the most popular major on campus. In 2008, we graduated 160. So in any given year, we have about 325 declared majors. If we assume a similar-sized sophomore class planning to declare, we've got more than 500 engaged students, taking our classes, serving the community, and working in our labs.  And that doesn't include the 900 or so students in our intro classes each semester and freshmen who come in with enough credits to take advanced courses right away. In my experience, this has always been a vibrant, exciting department to work in, and it continues to be so.

Our undergraduate and graduate students are conducting more research than you can imagine. The ISC has provided them not only with additional space but also with new opportunities to investigate more sophisticated research questions using state-of-the-art methodologies. We have an EEG/ERP lab that allows them to identify what parts of the brain are responding to various kinds of stimuli. We also have mobile equipment that allows them to measure physiological and emotional reactions. And we have the software and the space for a computer lab dedicated to research that will allow students and faculty alike to assess a host of cognitive functions. Unfortunately, we don't have the actual computers for the lab. We need to raise $29,000 to purchase 21 computers and some associated equipment to make this a state-of-the-art laboratory. The students often read about data collected via this technology and want to collect similar data themselves. If you can help, please visit our Support Psychology web page and contribute online. Any amount will be very much appreciated.

Here are a few examples of what the students and their professors have been up to in the lab

Bob BarnetStudents working with Bob Barnet have been investigating the long term consequences of ingesting nicotine during adolescence.  Some of their findings suggest exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause long-term changes in brain regions important to memory.  Importantly, their research suggests these changes may persist into adulthood despite smoking cessation and long periods of abstinence.

Chris BallChris Ball and his students continue their work on memory and its role in the development and treatment of some clinical disorders. They are conducting collaborative research with colleagues in Australia to examine the relationship between memory processing and chronic dieting that may lead to a better understanding of the role that memory plays in the development of eating disorders. They are also conducting studies to explain why performing rapid bilateral horizontal eye-movements can benefit people suffering adversely from the memories of traumatic events in their lives.

Josh BurkStudents in Josh Burk's laboratory have been studying the role of neuropeptides in attention. These experiments are part of a collaboration with the University of South Carolina Medical School and are funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging. Prof. Burk had two manuscripts concerning this research accepted for publication over the summer.

Joe GalanoTwo students assisted Joe Galano in preparing a report and recommendations to the State (Virginia) Board of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. The report presented information on evidence-based prevention programs that can reduce the incidence of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems in youth. Seven other students are helping Prof. Galano evaluate the Healthy Families Virginia statewide initiative. The goal of Healthy Families is to prevent child abuse and neglect, promote child health and child development, and promote positive parenting practices.

Peter VishtonPeter Vishton and his students have invented a motorized wheeled chair for infants. The BabyKart responds to the baby's arm, leg, and head movements. With as little as a few minutes of practice, very young, pre-crawling infants learn to drive around the room. You might enjoy the fun video of an infant in the chair.

Glenn SheanTwo M.A. students and two undergraduate students are working with Glenn Shean this year, using visual stimuli and short clips from films to study the relationship between personality traits, emotions, physiological markers of arousal and efficiency of cognitive processing. Another undergraduate major is studying the accuracy of EEG evoked potential responses as an indicator of deception.

Paul KieffaberIn Paul Kieffaber's "Cognitive Psychophysiology Lab," students have been investigating the neural basis of attention. They are currently using event-related potential and quantitative EEG analyses to address questions about the separability of perceptual and response conflict in the context of task-switching. They are also currently investigating the nature and neural basis of age-related changes in attentional functioning. Students from the lab will be presenting some of their most recent research at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Cognitive Neuroscience.

John NezlekFinally, John Nezlek has been focusing his attention more on cross-cultural issues over the past few years. For example, in 2008 he published 3 articles in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, the premier journal in the discipline. Over the past few years he has also given numerous talks abroad and has written numerous papers with colleagues abroad. In addition, he has been a visiting scholar at universities in Marseilles and Leuven, Belgium.

So that’s what we’ve been up to lately.

Send Us Your News!

As always, let us know what you’ve been up to. Use our handy update form to stay in touch!

Be well,

Connie Pilkington

Constance J. Pilkington