As another academic year moves along, and one group of students begin to declare their major in our discipline just as yet another group of Psychology majors prepare to graduate and move on in their lives, the Psychology faculty want to take this opportunity to reach out to our alumni. Some of you have maintained contact with individual faculty, but we think it would be a good idea for the department to stay in touch with our graduates more systematically, and to keep you informed of activities and developments here. This newsletter is a first step toward doing that.
We also hope that this communication can be a two-way street. We know that you have embarked on a range of interesting and valuable activities and careers since you left the department, and we hope that your education at Lehigh has prepared you well for success in whatever you have chosen to pursue. We invite you to keep us updated on your journeys since graduation. You can e-mail one of us or click on the link for alumni that allows you to share your information and experiences with us and other alumni.
Along with reporting some of the accomplishments of our faculty, students, and alumni, our goal is to keep you abreast of the ongoing challenges and opportunities faced by the department. We hope that you, the Psychology alumni, will feel that you remain stakeholders in the success of the department.
Our department continues to thrive. We have creative, talented, and dedicated professors who enjoy working with students in classrooms and in their labs. Over the past several years, the faculty have grown to a vibrant group of 16 scholars with a wide range of research interests. Since 2008, six new faculty members have joined our department: Professors Lucy Napper, Chris Burke and Dominic Packer in the Social Area; Profs. Almut Hupbach and Jessecae Marsh in the Cognitive Area; and Prof. Amanda Brandone in the Developmental Area. A visiting professor has also joined the group for the 2014-2015 academmic year -- Erica Schneid. This year we are searching yet again for our 12th hire in the past 14 years -- we hope to bring a cognitive neuroscientist to our group and have been actively interviewing candidates in Fall 2014. Another significant piece of news is that Prof. Diane Hyland has been in the Dean’s office, where she is now serving her second term as CAS Associate Dean of Faculty and Staff. She is also a Co-PI for an ADVANCE grant from NSF to Lehigh University that aims to improve the recruitment, retention, and career advancement of women STEM faculty at Lehigh.
Highlights of Faculty Research in the Department. Rather than trying to provide an overview of current research by members of the department, which would have to be extensive, I will just mention research projects by three faculty members in the Developmental, Social, and Cognitive areas, respectively.
Does talking about bullying with parents teach moral lessons? While bullying is frequently observed in middle schools, we know very little about how adolescents talk with their parents about the bullying they witness and experience. In a current research project, Prof. Debbie Laible is examining how parents and adolescents talk about the moral dilemmas that adolescents face when observing and encountering bullying. In particular, she is examining the types of moral messages that parents are sending to adolescents in these conversations and their influence on adolescent moral development. The findings from this study will help researchers and parents to understand the types of strategies that parents can use to encourage their children to do the right thing when they witness bullying and encounter similar moral dilemmas. Find out more about Prof. Laible’s research at http://cas.lehigh.edu/CASWeb/emodevwelcome.
How does stress impact health outcomes during pregnancy? Prof. Chris Burke and his students have been investigating the effects of stress on pregnant women, especially postpartum depression. This type of depression not only creates suffering for the mother, but impairs mother-child bonding, which can have long lasting consequences, and contributes to negative health outcomes (increase in substance abuse). Prof. Burke's research has found that women who react more negatively to receiving motherhood-related help are at greater risk for postpartum depression; indeed, his work suggests that, for these women, sincere offers of emotional support from well-intentioned partners can backfire. He is currently investigating the hormonal mechanisms (cortisol and estrogen interactions) that may contribute to these links, thus providing insights into how and why stress affects people’s mental and physical health. Find out more about Prof. Burke’s research here.
So Many Tasks, So Little Time! In our fast-paced world, multitasking has come to be a part of most people’s daily experience. Prof. Kate Arrington investigates how multitasking challenges the cognitive system and how people cope with competing task demands. In a recent collaboration with Belgian researchers, Prof. Arrington used brain imaging to examine the brain regions involved in choosing between actions during multitasking. A region in the front of the brain (the cingulate cortex) showed greater activation when participants made new responses rather than repeating previous ones. Behavioral work in collaboration with several Psychology majors in her lab at Lehigh demonstrates that these are exactly the kinds of responses that become less frequent when mind wandering occurs, suggesting that mind wandering disrupts the cognitive and brain processes needed for control of voluntary behavior. Research on cognitive control has implications for attention deficits in brain damage and ADHD as well as for everyday life. (Listen to a related news story at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112334449.)
Strohl Grants for Undergraduate Research. We have a large number of undergraduates participating in the various research labs throughout the department. In fact, over half of our graduating seniors have been actively involved in research. During the past two years several of our undergraduates have received support based on a generous three-year contribution by a Psychology alumnus, Dale S. Strohl ’58, to enhance research opportunities in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Lehigh. These students have worked with the following faculty:
- Undergraduate Research Grants: Bachka Batmunkh (with Nicolopoulou), Naomi David (with Laible), Tabitha Ecchavarria (with Burke), Ai Matsuoka (with Marsh), Kimberly Preusse (with O’Seaghdha).
- Summer Research Fellowships: Amando Romano (with Marsh); Ariana Stillman (with Brandone).
Challenges and Opportunities for the Next Few Years. This is my second year as Chair of the Psychology Department. We’ve begun to put in place a number of changes to improve the undergraduate experience for Psychology majors and to help us keep up with changing and challenging times. For example, we have introduced a lower-division Cognitive Neuroscience course that fulfills the Natural Science requirement. Here are a few more innovations we’d like to institute.
- Expanding our research and course offerings dealing with issues of physical and mental health, as well as the growing field of cognitive neuroscience.
- We also want to create paid summer internship opportunities for our undergraduate majors to participate more extensively in faculty research.
- We also want to institute an annual lecture by psychologists from outside Lehigh who are doing cutting-edge research on topics geared to the interests of our undergraduate students.
These are just some of the ways we trying to enhance the vitality and effectiveness of the department and to maintain its role as a leading department with a scientific and societal impact at Lehigh and beyond. It is your commitment and support that provide us all with the big and small items that make the Lehigh experience extraordinary. Please consider supporting these efforts with a gift to the Department of Psychology. On behalf of the current students, faculty, and staff of the Department of Psychology, we thank you for your support!
We look forward to hearing from you soon, and perhaps seeing you as well. This year the department will hold a graduation event in Chandler-Ullmann after the Graduation Ceremony. So if you happen to be attending graduation, we would love to see you. In the meantime, we would also love to hear from you about what you’ve been doing since graduation.
Best of luck to all of you,
Professor and Chair