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Congratulations Kris!

October 27, 2014—Kris Preacher won the Tanaka Award for Best Article of 2013 in the journal Multivariate Behavioral Research. This award was given by the Society for Multivariate Experimental Psychology for the article: Preacher, K.J., Zhang, G., Kim, C., & Mels, G. (2013). Choosing the optimal number of factors in exploratory factor analysis: A model selection perspective. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 48, 28-56.

Welcome Anita Disney!

October 2, 2014—The Department of Psychological Sciences would like to welcome our newest faculty member. here is a news piece on her work.

Click here.

Congratulations, Pooja!

September 30, 2014—Pooja Balaram, a graduate student in Jon Kaas' lab, has won the 2014 Krieg Cortical Scholar Prize awarded by the Cajal Club Foundation to a junior neuroscientist who has conducted exemplary research on the cerebral cortex and/or its connections.

Congratulations to Vanderbilt all-University Undergraduate Research Fair award winners!

September 23, 2014—"We would like to extend a hearty congratulations to our undergraduate students who made award winning presentations in Vanderbilt’s recent Undergraduate Research Fair.” From A&S Psychology First Place Julia Zhu ’15 – Psychology “Improving Error Monitoring in Schizophrenia Through Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation” Advisor: Dr. Sohee Park, Psychology In a tie for Second PlaceSydney Waitz-Kudia ’15 – Psychology and English “Media Influence on Non-Suicidal Self-Injury” Advisor: Dr. David Cole, Psychology & Human Development From Peabody Psychology First Place Meghan Collins ’15 – Neuroscience & Cognitive Studies “Decoding the deficit: across-task analysis of memory impairments in schizophrenia” Dr. Sean Polyn, Psychology In a tie for Second Place Junyi Chu ’15 – Child Development & Cognitive Studies “The Role of Phonological Awareness and Inhibition in Reading” Dr. Bethany Rittle-Johnson, Psychology & Human Development

Maier receives Society of Neuroscience Career Award. Congratulations Alex!

September 3, 2014—Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexander Maier has been selected to receive the Society for Neuroscience's Janett Rosenberg Trubatch Career Development Award for 2014. The purpose of the award, which is given to only two individuals each year, is "to recognize individuals who have demonstrated originality and creativity in research and to promote success during academic transitions prior to tenure." Maier was recognized for his efforts to understand the basic mystery of how perception arises from neural activities. A prime focus of his research program is to differentiate between the neural circuitry that is involved in visual perception and sensory activity that does not attain the level of conscious awareness. His work has important implications for treating patients with visual disorders characterized by an inability to perceive or recognize certain types of visual images. He is also one of a handful of scientists studying the relationship between the electrical activity in the brain and the variations in blood flow that are measured by the brain mapping technique fMRI, the most commonly used and most reliable method for measuring neural responses in the human brain- Recipients receive a $2,000 award and complimentary registration to the society's annual meeting.

Braden Purcell wins honorable mention for James McKeen Cattell Award

August 15, 2014—Braden's PhD dissertation, Neural Mechanisms of Perceptual Decision Making, has been chosen to receive honorable mention in the 2013-2014 James McKeen Cattell Dissertation competition sponsored by the Psychology Section of the New York Academy of Sciences. The field was highly competitive, with many excellent candidates for the award. His work was highly regarded by the reviewers and by the Steering Committee. The Academy further commended the work of his mentors, Thomas Palmeri and Jeffrey Schall, and the graduate program in Psychological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. In recognition of his noteworthy achievement, he will receive a certificate from the New York Academy of Sciences; his mentors will be similarly recognized. Congratulations Braden!

Elizabeth Dykens' research featured in the Times!

July 30, 2014—Dr. Elizabeth Dykens' research on reducing distress among caregivers of developmentally delayed children has been featured in the New York Times. Dr. Dykens and colleagues conducted a randomized trial published in Pediatrics comparing effects of mindfulness training and positive psychology practice on mothers' stress, depression, and anxiety. More about the study can be found here and the Times article "When the Caregivers Need Healing" can be found here . Congratulations Dr. Dykens!



October 30, 2014 – Neuroscience Seminar: Ben Tamber-Rosenau

Ben Tamber-Rosenau, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

12:10 p.m. Room 316, Wilson Hall

No domain-general resource in the human cerebral cortex

The cerebral cortex is composed of a tapestry of areas that may be distinguished on the basis of cytoarchitectonics, connectivity, developmental timecourse, and functional recruitment. In particular, systematic mapping of function to structure has revealed numerous specialized cortical regions for sensory and motor systems. However, functional specificity is far less clear in the cognitive domain, i.e., for representations and processes that are not direct products of sensation or direct controllers of motor behavior. Cognition is inherently flexible and may not proceed via labeled lines, raising the possibility that the functional specificity observed in sensation and motor control is loosely imprinted or even absent in brain areas associated with higher cognitive functions. This conjecture can also be framed in terms of resources necessary for behavior, following a long tradition in cognitive psychology. Some accounts propose that a single domain-general resource underlies behavior across a wide variety of tasks. Neural evidence of a "multiple demand" network of brain areas recruited for many distinct tasks accords with this view. (e.g., Duncan, Trends in Cognitive Science, 2010; Fedorenko, Duncan, & Kanwisher, PNAS, 2013). An alternative view argues that multiple functionally-specific resources underly behavior. On this view, depleting one resource has little or no impact on tasks that depend upon other resources. To adjudicate between single- and multiple-resource accounts of cortical processing, we adapted one prominent multiple-resource model (Wickens, 1984) that proposes that resources can be fractionated along dimensions of (1) perceptual and motor modality, (2) cognitive process, and (3) information representational format. We used fMRI to image functional recruitment during tasks that varied on each of these dimensions. Using regionally specific and "searchlight" multivariate pattern analyses, we showed that each local region of cortex was sensitive to at least one of these task dimensions. Thus, we conclude that there is no domain-general resource in the human cerebral cortex.



November 3, 2014 – Quantitative Methods Colloquium Series: Joe Rodgers

Using Graphs to Tell Research Stories, from Many Different Perspectives

Joe Rodgers, Quantitative Methods, Vanderbilt Dept. of Psychology & Human Development

Abstract: An effective graph can be used to tell a story about the world, a graphical model of some real-world phenomenon. But there are lots of different kinds of stories. I present a taxonomy of graphs in relation to the kind of stories they tell, and illustrate with a number of prototypes.

November 4, 2014 – Clinical Science Brown Bag Series: Tricia Thornton-Wells

Tricia Thornton-Wells, Genetics Department, Vanderbilt School of Medicine

12:10 p.m. Room 316, Wilson Hall

"Neuro-Imaging Genetics: Better Biomarkers + Better Modelling = Better Science"


The principal challenge in the field of human neurogenetics research hinges on the presence of heterogeneity—both clinical heterogeneity and genetic heterogeneity.  In my laboratory’s research on disorders of cognitive impairment, we are interested in understanding how genetic factors modulate the biophysiological response to early disease-related changes in brain, and we have aimed to address this principal challenge by (1) investigating highly-penetrant genetic models of more common, complex disorders; (2) using brain-based biomarkers from neuroimaging or biomolecular analytics; and (3) by explicitly testing for the presence of gene-gene and gene-environment interactions.  I will provide an overview and several examples of the biomarker & statistical genetics research we have conducted on Alzheimer's disease using our local cohort of individuals with Down syndrome and the publicly-accessible Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative database. 








November 5, 2014 – CCN Brown Bag Series: Hyunyoung Park

Hyunyoung Park, Department of Psychology (Woodman Lab) Vanderbilt University

Wednesday, 11/5/2014

12:10 p.m.

Wilson Hall 115

Electrical stimulation can modulate selective attentional mechanism

 The event-related potential (ERP) provides a high temporal resolution neural measure of cognitive processing. However, the source of the ERP is not clear because of its relatively poor spatial resolution. To address this issue, recent work has used comparative ERP/single unit studies where neurophysiological recordings in specific regions of the brain are correlated with the scalp-recorded EEG signal. Previous single-unit recording studies suggested that a specific ERP component indexing selective attention, the N2pc, is at least partially generated by the frontal eye field (FEF). In my talk, I will present a series of experiments designed to directly test this proposal using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to casually stimulate human FEF and then recording ERPs as subjects performed a simple visual search task.



November 6, 2014 – Neuroscience Seminar: Seweryn Olkowicz

Seweryn Olkowicz, Department of Zoology, Charles University, Praha, Czech Republic

12:10 p.m. Room 316, Wilson Hall

Compact brain architecture and the neuronal basis for intelligence in birds

Seweryn Olkowicz, Martin Kocourek, Radek Lucan, Michal Portes, Suzana Herculano-Houzel and Pavel Nemec

 Many birds show remarkable cognitive abilities that can rival those observed in apes, people’s closest relatives. With brains the size of only a fraction of that observed in large primates it remains uncertain how birds can accomplish this level of behavioral sophistication. Using the method of isotropic fractionator we investigated neuron and nonneuronal cell numbers in brains of parrots and passerine birds, two avian orders with the most intelligent representatives. We show that in these birds total brain neuron numbers scale approximately linearly with brain size, i.e., the average neuron size shows little increase and neuronal density decreases minimally as brains get larger. In passerines and parrots neuronal densities in the telencephalon always exceed those observed in the cerebral cortex of primates by a factor of 2-8. As a result, the numbers of telencephalic neurons in the brains of the largest of examined birds (raven, kea and macaw) equal or exceed those observed in the cerebral cortex of medium-sized monkeys. The avian cerebellum features neuronal densities similar or higher to those found in primates. In contrast to the latter, however, in birds the relative size of cerebellum decreses with brain size, therefore cerebellar neurons make a smaller proportion of total brain neurons the larger the bird’s brain. With increasing neuronal proportion contained in the telencephalon, in the macaw brain almost 80% of all brain neurons is contained in cerebral hemispheres, while only 20% populates the cerebellum, a condition reversed to what is found in mammals. Finally, for all examined brain structures, the densities of nonneuronal cells remain constant regardless of brain size, a finding congruent with data from mammals. Our results strongly suggest that high neuronal numbers and hence high brain's computational capacity underpin the behavioral and cognitive complexity reported for parrots and passerine birds.

November 6, 2014 – Psychological Sciences Colloquium Series presents Stephen B. Manuck

Stephen B. Manuck, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh,

The 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award Winner 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

4:10 p.m.
Location: 204 Mayborn 

Hearts and Minds: Bio behavioral Sources of Cardiovascular Risk

Much health-related research in psychology addresses behavioral influences on the development, prevention, and management of diseases of the heart and vasculature.  This is not surprising, as heart disease and stroke remain the foremost sources of mortality in industrialized nations.  These diseases are partly predicted from common biological risk factors like elevated blood pressure, dyslipidemia and insulin resistance, and by health-impairing behaviors such as smoking and physical inactivity, thus informing current public health efforts directed at disease prevention.  We now know that a variety of other behavioral and social environmental factors also contribute to cardiovascular risk, including socioeconomic inequalities, social isolation, work-related stressors, and affective traits and disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and angry or hostile temperament.  Yet we are only beginning to understand how these largely psychological factors become embedded in the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease, or as it is commonly phrased, “get under the skin.”  In this talk I will summarize work on two bio behavioral mechanisms that may mediate psychosocial influences on atherosclerosis, the pathologic process underlying susceptibility to heart attack and the most common form of stroke. The first of these, referred to as the “reactivity hypothesis,” posits individual differences in the magnitude of cardiovascular reactions evoked by common psychological stressors.  Such reactivity is stable over time, substantially heritable, and elevated in persons behaviorally predisposed to coronary heart disease.  That a heightened cardiovascular reactivity also conduces to atherosclerosis is supported in an experimental model of atherogenesis and by a variety of patient and population-based epidemiological studies of preclinical vascular disease. The second mechanistic hypothesis I will discuss has potential relevance for the cardiovascular health of women.  Comparative research documents mild disruptions of cyclic ovarian function among female macaques of subordinate, relative to dominant, social rank and shows these reproductive deficits to mediate status-dependent variation in atherosclerosis.  Building on these observations, J.R. Kaplan and I propose that the premenopausal protection against heart disease that women ordinarily experience is not invariant, but tracks with the quality of women’s premenopausal ovarian function.  In addition, and like low social rank in monkeys, adverse life circumstances or other psychological challenges may disrupt women’s ovarian function along a gradient of severity and with varying chronicity over the reproductive lifespan. We refer to the more rapid acquisition of preclinical atherosclerosis predicted of women suffering extended ovarian deficits, compared to women of uncompromised ovarian function, as the “precocious acceleration” of premenopausal cardiovascular risk.  This acceleration of risk may, in turn, presage an earlier onset of clinical disease, like heart attack, even though such events may still generally occur after the age of menopause.