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David Lubinski receives Mensa Lifetime Achievement Award!

July 28, 2015—

David Lubinski is the 9th winner of the Mensa Lifetime Achievement Award, given out every other year "in recognition of a lifetime of contributions to the field of intelligence and related subjects." David is the co-director, along with Camilla Benbow, of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) that has followed the accomplishments of 5,000 highly talented adolescents through mid-life.

The Mensa Foundation stated that David received this award "for his work focusing on the identification of different types of intellectually precocious youth and the conditions for enhancing their learning, work performance and creativity." More information about the award can be found here:

Congratulations, David!

Jennifer Coppola wins the Lisa M. Quesenberry Scholarship

April 22, 2015—The Lisa M. Quesenberry Scholarship Fund was established by Irvin and Mary Ann Quesenberry and Kathryn Quesenberry to memorialize the accomplishments of their daughter and sister, Lisa M. Quesenberry. The scholarship is designed to provide research or study awards to motivated graduate students. The award is targeted to female graduate student who overcame significant personal hurdles to pursue their education. Jennifer is currently a first-year graduate student with Anita Disney. She received her undergraduate degree from the Ohio State University. Not only is Jennifer the first in her family to enter a PhD program, but she is the first to go to college and the first to finish high school. Congratulations, Jennifer.

May Shen and Yao Jiang win The William F. Hodges Teaching Assistant Award

April 22, 2015—This award recognizes outstanding achievement as a teaching assistant by a graduate student in the Department of Psychology. William Hodges was an undergraduate and a graduate student at Vanderbilt in the 1960s. After his untimely death in 1992, family and friends established the William F. Hodges Teaching Assistant Award at Vanderbilt to honor outstanding teaching assistants in the department. May Shen is a graduate student with Thomas Palmeri. She has completed a Certificate in College Teaching from the Center for Teaching and has TAed for a wide array of courses in the department, including PSY208 (Principles of Experimental Design), PSY209 (Quantitative Methods), and PSY225 (Cognitive Psychology); this semester, she is TAing for a statistics course in Psychology and Human Development. Adriane Seiffert, for whom May TAed in PSY208 and PSY209, noted that her work was “exemplary in both courses”, and that students commented that “she was responsive and helpful - gave exact answers to questions”, “conveyed the material in a way she knew would be effective, logical and memorable”. Geoff Woodman, for whom May TAed in PSY225, noted that she “jumped on a week’s worth of lectures when given the opportunity.” Yao Jiang is a graduate student with Vivien Casagrande. She most recently TAed for the introductory NSC201 Neuroscience course. Students commented that Yao is “very energetic and very very smart”, and that “her review sessions helped so much”. Dr. Leslie Smith, who Yao TAed for in Neuroscience, commented that “She was always eager to volunteer for jobs as they sprung up during the semester. Her exam reviews were spot on, and students raved about her upbeat, enthusiastic personality during these sessions. … I truly enjoyed working with her. She was so positive, a breath of fresh air every lecture day.” Congratulations, May and Yao.

Rob Reinhart wins The Pat Burns Memorial Graduate Student Research Award

April 22, 2015—This award is named after Pat Burns, who was Education Coordinator in the Department of Psychology until her death several years ago; Pat touched generations of doctoral students during her nearly four decades of service to Vanderbilt University. In memory of her tireless efforts to help guide our students through all phases of their graduate education, this award recognizes outstanding achievement in research by a graduate student in the department. This year’s winner, Rob Reinhart, is a PhD student working with Geoff Woodman, Jeff Schall, and Sohee Park. He received his BA from the University of Connecticut. Rob was awarded a pre-doctoral NRSA fellowship and already has 12 peer-reviewed publications in top journals, such Psychological Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Cerebral Cortex, and Journal of Neuroscience. Congratulations, Rob.

Josh Cosman and Jennifer Richler win Bob Fox Award of Excellence in Post-Doctoral Research

April 22, 2015—This award is granted to post-doctoral fellows in the Department of Psychology who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in research; it is named in honor of Robert "Bob" Fox for his essential role in guiding the evolution of Vanderbilt's Psychology Department over a five-decade period starting in the mid-60s. Josh Cosman is a postdoctoral fellow with Geoff Woodman and Jeff Schall. He earned his BS and PhD from the University of Iowa and was awarded a post-doctoral NRSA. He has 26 peer-reviewed publications and is on the editorial board at two major journals. Jennifer Richler earned her PhD at Vanderbilt with Isabel Gauthier and Thomas Palmeri and has continued on at Vanderbilt as a post-doctoral fellow. She previously won the Nunnally Dissertation Award and the Pat Burns Graduate Student Research Award from the department. She has 30 peer-reviewed publications and is an Associate Editor at JEP:General. She also spearheaded the PeePs (Particularly Exciting Experiments in Psychology) newsletter that highlights research published in the six experimental psychology journals from APA. Congratulations, Josh and Jenn.

Congratulations Laura Hieber!

April 13, 2015—Laura has been awarded the 2015-2016 Curb Center Public Scholars Grant. She gets a research grant of $2000, a shared office at the Curb Center and affiliation with the Curb Center for Arts, Enterprise, and Public Policy. Also they will support her stage her presentation logistically and financially. The grant is designed to support and mentor students as they work on projects that feature innovative approaches to real-world problems.

Daniel Miller wins a 2015 Summer Research Award

April 2, 2015—Congratulations to Daniel Miller for winning a 2015 Summer Research Award from the College of Arts and Science. These competitive awards are designed to help graduate students with outstanding potential to accelerate progress on their research; Summer Research Awards support endeavors that require funds in addition to the stipend, including research for the doctoral thesis, research for other advanced projects, or scholarly activities that significantly advance professional development. Congrats Daniel!



September 8, 2015 – Clinical Brown Bag Series: Steve Brunwasser

Steve Brunwasser, Kennedy Center for Research, Vanderbilt University

Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015

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

Association Between Antenatal Depression & Anxiety and Neonatal Outcomes:

Maternal Pregnancy Complications as a Mediator

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are linked to adverse health outcomes both for mothers and exposed offspring, but little is known about the mechanisms driving these associations. In this session, I will describe an ongoing research project focused on evaluating whether the association between maternal antenatal depression and anxiety and neonatal health outcomes can be accounted for by maternal antenatal health complications. This study is still in its infancy so much of the session will be focused on methodological and statistical challenges, but I will also present preliminary findings. Data are drawn from administrative records of 228,876 pregnant women (ages 15-44) enrolled in Tennessee Medicaid from 1995-2007. Using structural equation modeling, we test the hypothesis that the effects of PMADs on neonatal health outcomes are primarily indirect through antenatal complications. ICD-9 codes are used to identify women carrying depression (n=8851, 4%) and anxiety (n=17958, 8%) diagnoses. The primary outcomes are child birthweight, 5-minute APGAR scores, and probability of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admission. We control for covariates including the number of filled antidepressant prescriptions, pre-pregnancy maternal health problems, and demographic variables. Additionally, among women with a depression diagnosis, we evaluate indirect effects of depression severity on neonatal outcomes, with depression severity conceptualized as a reflective latent variable defined by multiple indicators: ICD-9 depression severity code, number of mental health visits, suicide attempt, and psychiatric hospitalization.


September 9, 2015 – CCN Brown Bag Series: Ming Meng

Ming Meng, Ph.D., Center for Social Brain Sciences. Dartmouth University

Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015

12:10 p.m. Wilson Hall, Room 115

Fluctuations of fMRI activation patterns underlie the theta-band rhythmic effects of visual object priming

To efficiently interact with an ever-changing environment, the brain dynamically responds to sensory stimulation. Notably, whereas high-frequency gamma band activity may directly underlie neuronal spike coordination (Crick & Koch, 1990), slower waves carrying (multiplexing) faster waves appear to be a common perceptual coding strategy in the brain (VanRullen & Koch, 2003). Recent behavioral studies further suggest a theta-band rhythm (4-7 Hz) in the effects of attention and priming (e.g., Fiebelkorn, Saalmann, & Kastner, 2013; Song et al., 2014; Huang, Chen, & Luo, 2015). Here, I investigate three possible brain mechanisms that may lead to such rhythmic behavioral effects: 1) object representations may be rhythmic in the inferior temporal (IT) cortex; 2) Object representations may be constant, but attentional selection of the representations may be rhythmic; 3) Sensory sampling may be rhythmic as early as the primary visual cortex, therefore all the subsequent processes may also be rhythmic. To test these possibilities, activity corresponding to visual object priming was measured in regions of interest (ROIs) across the whole brain by using fMRI.  Critically, to examine rhythmic effects, time-resolved measurements of fMRI activation patterns were attained by varying trial-by-trial stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between prime and probe in small steps of 20ms (equivalent to a 50Hz sampling rate). Our behavioral results replicated previous findings, showing theta-band oscillations in the priming effects of reaction times as a function of SOA. More interestingly, multivariate pattern analysis of the fMRI data also demonstrated theta-band oscillations as a function of SOA and an out-of-phase relationship between congruent and incongruent conditions in the IT cortex. No such effects were found in the BA17 or the frontoparietal attention network. This study is the first to map theta-band rhythms across the whole human brain using fMRI. Our results suggest that object representation is oscillatory with theta-band rhythms in the IT cortex, providing insights to understanding the dynamic mechanisms underlying visual perception.


September 10, 2015 – Neuroscience Brown Bag Series: Siyuan Yin

Siyuan Yin, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015

12:10 p.m. Wilson Hall 316

Do Supplementary Eye Field and Frontal Eye Field Encode Eye Position?

Since its identification in 1987 by Schlag & Schlag-Rey, the supplementary eye field (SEF) has been investigated from diverse perspectives. Initial and subsequent studies of SEF reported that both the direction and amplitude of saccades evoked by intracortical microstimulation as well as the discharge rate of neurons could often vary with eye position. As comparison, FEF was reported to encode actual saccade movement evoked by targets, but not targets spatial location or retinal location. To obtain an unbiased sample of neurons across depth, and to determine the laminar distribution of this orbital tuning in SEF, we analyzed the activity of neurons that were recorded with a linear electrode array oriented perpendicular to the cortex at sites from which contra-lateral, convergent saccades were evoked with low currents. Single unit recording in FEF was used to compare orbital dependence with SEF. The data were collected in three head-fixed macaque monkeys performing a saccade countermanding task. Orbital dependence was assessed from neuronal activity during the inter-trial interval when the monkey's gaze was unconstrained by fitting parabolic surfaces to the variation of discharge rates over gaze position.  Neurons were classified based on responses to the visual stimuli, correct and error saccade production and inhibition and reward anticipation and delivery. In a sample of 262 SEF neurons (96 recorded in monkey Eu; 166 in monkey X) we found that ~70% in Eu and ~30% in X showed orbital dependence based on significantly better fits of a parabolic surface given discharge rate peaked at eccentric gaze angles in multiple directions in some neurons. In a sample of 90 FEF neurons in monkey Br there were ~70% in Br, which showed orbital dependence fitted by quadratic regression model. Orbital tuning was also observed through an analysis contrasting discharge rates associated with two types of saccades, fixed vector and goal directed saccades. A pronounced preference of SEF for contra-lateral orbital positions was found, while no pronounced preference of FEF was found. In both monkeys we found similar proportions of neurons with orbital tuning in all layers of SEF. The presence of orbital tuning was not associated with any particular time or pattern of modulation observed during the countermanding trials. The variation in incidence across monkeys may arise from actual inhomogeneity within SEF or incidental greater number of recording penetrations in X relative to E. However, these results indicate that orbital tuning is a general property that SEF and FEF can distribute to both cortical and subcortical outputs.










September 11, 2015 – CSLD Research Forum - language processing in conversation

CSLD Research Forum hosting: Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Illinois

Title: Language processing in conversation

In conversation, each person brings to the conversation a different perspective on the world, including different background knowledge, beliefs and experiences. A central problem in the study of language processing is how speakers and listeners represent the perspectives of other people, and use these representations to facilitate communication. I will discuss several lines of research examining how language use and processing is tailored to the perspective of one’s conversational partner. This research examines both the process of language production (speaking) and language comprehension (listening), in both two-party conversation and conversations in larger groups. Complementary studies examine how partner-specific adaptations are affected in the face of severe declarative memory impairment (hippocampal amnesia).

The results of this research inform our understanding of how the most basic form of language use—interactive conversation—is tailored to different individuals as it is processed in real time. By comparing the performance of individuals with severe declarative memory impairment with healthy matched comparisons, we are able to expand our understanding of the memory systems that support these processes, as well as test long-standing claims of the dependence of partner-specific representations on declarative memory. Studies of language processing in multiparty conversation address theoretical questions regarding the representation of others’ belief states, and have implications for language use in a variety of settings, including educational contexts.


September 15, 2015 – Clinical Brown Bag Series: Carissa Cascio

Carissa Cascio, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015

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


September 16, 2015 – CCN Brown Bag Series: Miguel Eckstein

Rapidly looking at faces: A sensory optimization theory

Miguel P. Eckstein, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara

Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015

12:10 p.m. Wilson Hall, Room 115

When viewing a human face people first look towards the eyes. A prominent idea holds that these fixation patterns arise solely due to social norms.  Here, I propose that this behavior can be explained as an adaptive brain strategy to learn eye movement plans that optimize the rapid extraction of visual information for  evolutionarily important perceptual tasks. I show that humans move their eyes to points of fixation that maximize perceptual performance determining the identity, gender, and emotional state of a face. These initial optimal points of fixation, which vary moderately across tasks, are correctly predicted by a foveated Bayesian ideal observer (FIO) that takes into account the task, integrates information optimally across the face but is constrained by the decrease in resolution and sensitivity from the fovea towards the visual periphery.  A model that disregards the foveated nature of the visual system and makes eye movements either to the regions/features with the highest discriminative information or center of the face fails to predict the human fixations.   The preferred points of initial fixation are similar across cultural groups (East Asians vs. Caucasians).    However,  there are individual differences with a majority of observers (~ 85 %) looking just below the eyes while a minority ( ~ 15) closer to the tip of the nose and below.  The systematic differences in initial points of fixation persist over time and also correspond to individual variations in the points of fixation that maximize perceptual performance.   Finally , observers have difficulty changing their eye movement plans when confronted with unusual faces or simulated scotomas that make their over-practiced preferred points of fixation suboptimal.  Together, these results illustrate how the brain optimizes initial eye movements to rapidly extract information from faces based on the statistical distribution of discriminatory information, general properties of the human visual system and individual specific neural characteristics, and also highlight the ingrained nature of these highly practiced motor programs.


Or, C.F.C., Peterson, M.F., Eckstein M.P., Initial eye movements during face identification are optimal and similar across cultures, Journal of Vision, 2015 (in press)

Peterson, M. F., & Eckstein, M. P. Learning optimal eye movements to unusual faces. Vision Research, 99, 57-68 (2014)

Peterson, M. F., & Eckstein, M. P. Individual Differences in Eye Movements During Face Identification Reflect Observer-Specific Optimal Points of Fixation , Psychological science, 24(7), 1216-25, (2013)


Peterson, M. F., & Eckstein, M. P. Looking just below the eyes is optimal across face recognition tasks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(48), E3314-E3323  (2012).