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Developmental psychologist Charles Brainerd to receive APA award

Charles Brainerd

Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and human neuroscience, will receive the American Psychological Association’s G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at the APA’s August 2019 meeting in San Francisco.

Regarded as the highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

Brainerd’s research has had an impact on educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, and he is credited with major breakthroughs across his theoretical and empirical work.

“Chuck has done groundbreaking work in human memory and reasoning through experimental behavioral methods, mathematical models and neuroscience techniques,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “He co-developed fuzzy-trace theory of memory, judgment and decision-making that has been widely applied in the law and in medicine. His work exemplifies the best integration of theory-driven experimentation and evidence-based translational research.”

According to the APA, the award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

Brainerd’s current research centers on the relationship between memory and higher reasoning abilities in children and adults, also focusing on false-memory phenomena, cognitive neuroscience, aging and neurocognitive impairment.

He has published more than 300 research articles and chapters and more than 20 books. His research covers human memory and decision-making, statistics and mathematical modeling, cognitive neuroscience, learning, intelligence, cognitive development, learning disability and child abuse.

Brainerd has been elected to the National Academy of Education; is a fellow of the Division of General Psychology, the Division of Experimental Psychology, the Division of Developmental Psychology and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association; and is a fellow of the American Psychological Society.

The editor of the journal Developmental Review, Brainerd has served as associate editor for journals including Child Development and The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Brainerd’s win of the 2019 G. Stanley Hall Award immediately follows the 2018 win of Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

Crossing Disciplines and the Lifespan

Qi Wang, Chair of Department of Human Development

Reprinted from APS.org, September 28, 2018.

In a new recurring feature, the Observer showcases university labs and departments that have advanced integrative science. In the inaugural installment, APS Fellow Qi Wang talks about Cornell University’s Department of Human Development, which she chairs.   

 

What is the history of the department? What was its genesis?

The Department of Human Development at Cornell University is an interdisciplinary entity that uses multiple approaches, methods, and levels of analysis to study human development across the lifespan and integrates basic and translational research to enhance development and well-being in diverse contexts and populations. The department distinguishes itself with an ecological view of development as unfolding in multiple overlapping contexts. It has consistently been ranked as one of the top human development programs in the country.

The department, founded in 1925, was one of the first departments in the United States established by a university that focused on child development within the context of the family. Over the past 90 years, the mission of the department has expanded to include the full lifespan: Adolescence and emerging adulthood were added to early childhood development during the 1960s, and adulthood and aging were added during the 1980s. The study of contextual influences has expanded outside of the family to a greater number and variety of contexts, including peer groups, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The faculty have come to include scholars of multiple disciplines and methodologies. Currently, the department has a professorial faculty of 24. Undergraduate majors typically number between 250 and 300, with approximately 35 masters and doctoral students in residence.

How has it evolved over the years?

The department has become increasingly dynamic and integrative. It has maintained its ecological focus, exemplified by the influential work of APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Urie Bronfenbrenner, APS Past Board Member Steve Ceci, and others, and in the meantime has redefined the ecological perspective to align with the development of the general field. This is reflected in our study of an increasing number and variety of contexts and their interactions with developmental (social, cognitive, biological) processes across the lifespan. We increasingly emphasize interdisciplinary and integrative approaches that span areas of psychology (cognitive, developmental, clinical, social, cultural), along with law, neuroscience, sociology, education, and history. We recently recruited a computational political scientist who studies social networks, political communication, online social support, and health. The department also has evolved to increasingly focus on culture and diversity, examining basic developmental processes in relation to a variety of demographic factors including socioeconomic status, gender, race and ethnicity, and cultural background.

Our interest in advanced methodologies is reflected in the addition of neuroscience, biological/life sciences, and data science in the department and in the importance we place on multiple levels of analysis. From the sociology and psychology of health and aging to the neuroscience of memory, emotions, and decision-making, the department mixes equally observational and correlational studies with rigorous experimental approaches and interventions within and outside the laboratory. The department has made a strong investment in neuroscience, being the only human development program in the country to house an MRI facility. The department is also unique among human development programs in housing a nonhuman animal laboratory, allowing us to lead examinations of lifespan developmental changes in the brain and behavior and how they are shaped by diverse environmental contexts, early life experiences, and genes and their expression. The recent addition of social networks research and data science further extends our interdisciplinary strengths.

The department embraces translational activities and “use-inspired research,” seeking evidence-based solutions for real-world problems. Both its pedagogy and outreach are research-based — often research conducted by the very faculty member teaching a particular course or engaging in a particular outreach activity.

How many faculty members are in the department? What departments or disciplines are represented?

The department has consistently attracted a distinguished faculty. Many mainstream psychological scientists have decided to join our faculty, with four of our newer faculty leaving tenured positions at top psychology programs. In the past year, we have recruited four assistant professors who are among the very best of their cohort. Several members of our faculty hold National Academy memberships, including the National Academy of Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine. Members of our faculty have garnered just about every prestigious award within psychological science, including the APS William James Fellow Award, the APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, the G. Stanley Hall Award, the Society for Research in Child Development Senior Distinguished Contributions Award, and the E. L. Thorndike Award. The department has a professorial faculty of 24, from various disciplines within psychology, sociology, political and information science, and neuroscience.

The research topics of the faculty fall into three general areas: Law and Human Development (LHD), Health and Wellbeing (HW), and Cognition in Context (CC). All areas are characterized by interdisciplinary focus, lifespan perspective, cultural diversity, multiple approaches, methods, and levels of analysis, and integrative basic and translational research to study real-world problems.

The LHD area assembles a group of world-class psychologists and legal scholars to study the interplay of law, psychology, and human development. It offers a top-notch PhD–JD dual degree program. The HW area houses leading research on typical and atypical development across the lifespan in diverse populations. Faculty in this area examine the relation between mental and physical health in response to contextual factors and have produced groundbreaking and policy-shaping work. The CC area offers the most dynamic and rigorous investigations of the developing mind in interaction with a variety of biological, social, and cultural factors. Faculty conduct research using neuroimaging, EEG, cross-species modeling, field and laboratory experiments, and longitudinal designs to understand fundamental processes underlying human mind and behavior in context.

What would you describe as the most surprising or unexpected collaborations that psychological scientists have been able to join or lead within the department?

Every generation brings new scholars from diverse disciplines to our department. Their research transforms the department into new directions and in the meantime also is transformed by the interdisciplinary culture of the department. Often they collaborate across disciplinary lines. One example is an outstanding young neuroscientist we hired, who began a collaboration with a sociologist in HD who studies aging. It is the sort of collaboration that would be unlikely in a homogenous setting. There are many similar instances of cross-disciplinary collaborations to study machine learning, affective neuroscience, decision-making, and so forth, within and outside of the department. The disciplines that have been involved in HD faculty’s collaborative research include law, particle physics, mathematics, microbiology, biomedical engineering, business, behavioral economics, communication, and information science.

Here are some of the current cross-disciplinary collaborations of our faculty:

  • A cognitive developmental scientist is working with a sociologist from Cornell’s sociology department and a particle physicist at the Fermi Lab in Batavia, Illinois, to conduct a study on women in science.
  • A cognitive developmentalist is working with a law professor at the University of Michigan on children’s testimonial competence.
  • A sociologist is working with a team of physicians and health-care providers to conduct intervention research and policy analysis related to aging and health care, using evidence-based methods to develop a competent, caring, long-term care workforce.
  • An HD neuroscientist is working with an HD sociologist on Alzheimer’s disease research.
  • An HD member has had a long-term collaboration with a professor of pediatrics at another university around the evaluation of outcomes associated with the Nurse Family Partnership program.
  • A member of HD collaborates with a member of our business school faculty on cultural influences on bias.
  • A sociologist has been collaborating with both a pediatrics professor and an epidemiologist to examine the impact of poverty-related stressors on the cognitive and physical development of children in low-income families. She also works with two members of the Communications Department at Cornell to develop social-media use for health care among older adults.
  • Another member works with a pediatrician/public health scholar in another university on the projected behavioral impacts of global climate change.
  • An HD neuroscientist collaborates with a microbiologist here on the gut–brain axis and the biome.
  • Faculty from an education department, a mathematics department, and a veterinary school have also worked with our faculty members.

Has forming an interdisciplinary entity such as this made it easier or more challenging to obtain grant funding and get research published?

Our interdisciplinary focus has made us more competitive in obtaining grant funding and getting the research published. Specifically, our research often cuts across the more traditional categories of psychology and amplifies their applied nature.

On the one hand, our faculty has demonstrated “mainstream” excellence. Our publications appear in all of the top specialty psychological journals and the top general–general journals. Our faculty also frequently publish in top specialty journals in nondevelopmental core areas of psychology. In addition to the research being of the highest quality, a key reason for our success in publishing is that our research targets theoretical and empirical questions that our peers perceive as important, no matter whether they do or don’t fit into intuitive categories.

On the other hand, our faculty also excel in many integrative and interdisciplinary publishing outlets and make broad scholarly contributions beyond their core areas and beyond psychological science. Our publications also appear in nonpsychology journals such as those focused on sociology, education, anthropology, and medicine, and as a result our work has reached vastly different audiences. In addition to peer-reviewed articles in journals outside psychology, our faculty have also published a range of influential books, op-ed pieces, and Chronicle of Higher Education articles that address a wide range of audiences. Oftentimes, building a reputation for solid work in core psychological science journals opens up opportunities for important broader contributions.

Part of the “translation” and “interdisciplinary” process is collaborating with colleagues outside the disciplines in which we were trained. There are many good examples in our department as noted earlier. Pertaining to publication, for example, several faculty have collaborated with researchers in medical fields and published in major health-related journals with high impact factors, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, Annals of Internal Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, and the American Journal of Public Health.

What are the strategies that the department has utilized in maintaining its top-rank position in the field?

One strategy is related to our hiring priorities. We hire the best people available through open searches, without constraints based on current research areas or rank. We also actively seek opportunities to hire targeted senior faculty who are superstars in the field. We are fortunate to have a very supportive dean who lets us conduct open searches and prefill lines with strong candidates and who does not rescind lines after unsuccessful searches. In addition, our faculty overwhelmingly support hiring the best people, regardless of area.

Another strategy is to self-reflect on our current research topics and to allow the department to evolve as scholarship and policy needs change. Over the years, there have been important shifts in research emphases as fields have either changed direction or ceased to exist with faculty retirement or leave.

Another effective strategy is to establish a mentoring system for junior faculty. Each nontenured junior faculty in the department is provided with a mentoring committee as soon as he/she arrives on campus. The committee consists of three tenured faculty whose research is in a similar area as that of the junior faculty. The committee provides honest and constructive written feedback to the mentee at the end of each year, which is then discussed with the mentee in person as well as reported to the general faculty. The feedback acknowledges the mentee’s achievements in research, teaching, and service and in the meantime helps the mentee identify any issues so they can be effectively addressed early on. Because of this supportive system and because we strive to hire the best people in the first place, our junior faculty have been extremely successful in their work. Many have come to be leading researchers in their respective fields. We have four APS Rising Stars, and many junior faculty have received young investigator awards from major organizations. In the past 15 years, we have not had a single case of denied tenure.

The Department of Human Development welcomes 4 faculty members with research interests that include network science, social media, epigenetics, ecology, conceptual development and cultural diversity, and social cognition.

William Hobbs

William Hobbs received his doctorate in political science from the University of California at San Diego and comes to Cornell from Northeastern University where he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Network Science Institute. At Cornell, he has a joint appointment in Human Development and the Department of Government. A central feature of Hobbs' research is the use of complex relational data to study "the social effects of government policies, on how small groups of people adapt to sudden changes in their lives, and on low-dimensional representation (data that has been processed to reduce the number of random variables) of social interaction and language." [Read Dr. Hobbs' CV to learn more about his research.] One of his recent publications involved an analysis of the effect of interacting on social media networks specifically, Facebook, and longevity. [Read more about the study in a story by CBS News.]


Marlen Gonzalez

Marlen Gonzalez arrived at Cornell this summer after completing the Charleston Consortium Internship Program, a joint endeavor of the Medical University of South Carolina and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She received her doctorate from the University of Virginia (UVA), where she studied with Dr. James Coan and engaged in a truly diverse interdisciplinary research program, including, developmental psychology, neuroscience, epigenetics, evolutionary biology, and behavioral ecology. As a graduate student at UVA, Gonzalez was a LIFE Fellow from 2014-2017 which enabled her to study at UVA and at the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course in Berlin. The central question guiding Dr. Gonzalez's research is "How do our developmental environments, and especially our social environments, shape our nervous system and biobehavioral strategies for coping in adulthood."


bethany ojalehto

Bethany ojalehto has returned to her academic roots in Human Development and the College of Human Ecology. She graduated with honors (she received the Zuckerman award for best senior thesis in HD) from Human Ecology in 2008 having majored in psychology and human rights with a certificate of African Studies and was a mentee of HD Chair, Qi Wang. Her undergraduate years were funded by a number of prestigious scholarships, including, The Nancy and Andrew Persily Scholarship, the Merrill Presidential Scholar, and the Cornell Presidential Research Scholar. Upon graduation, ojalehto received a U.S. Fulbright Research Grant to Kenya, Law and Psychology and studied cognitive development in a Kenyan refugee camp. She completed her masters and doctorate at Northwestern University under the mentorship of Drs. Douglas Medin, Sandra Waxman, and Rebecca Seligman. As a graduate student she received a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Short-Term Fellowship for a study of “Cultural Models and Conceptual Development in a Ngöbe Community,” Panama. She was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for her dissertation and continued her work as a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern. According to ojalehto, her research "explores how people conceptualize agency and ecologies, with a focus on cultural variation in social cognition and human-nature relationships." [Read more about Dr. ojalehto's research and outreach at website: http://sites.northwestern.edu/ojalehto/ and watch her presentation at the National Academy of Sciences Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium, Pressing Questions in the Study of Psychological and Behavioral Diversity].


Lin Bian

Lin Bian will join the Department of Human Development in January 2019 as the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor. She is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Ellen Markman at Stanford University. Dr. Bian received her doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017 under the mentorship of Drs. Andrei Cimpian and Renée Baillargeon. Her research examines the development of social cognition, with an emphasis on children’s reasoning about social groups. In this vein, she has pursued two major lines of research: One line of work focuses on the acquisition and consequences of stereo- types about social groups for children’s interests and motivation. The other line of work focuses on infants’ and toddlers’ sociomoral expectations, especially as how they apply to behaviors within vs. across group boundaries. [Watch the NBC News video about Dr. Bian's research, Psychologist Breaks Ground with Gender Bias Study].

 

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility in MVR.

One of the central goals in the establishment of the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility (CMRIF) has been to help foster innovative technology development among faculty from diverse disciplines, including animal science.

Valerie Reyna, Director of the CMRIF and the Human Neuroscience Institute

Valerie Reyna, Director of the CMRIF explains the importance of the facility to the Cornell research community, “This versatile tool makes it possible to observe the brain in action, creating opportunities for scientific innovation to improve the human condition. It will be an asset in attracting and retaining excellent faculty, enriching the educational experience for our students.”

Philippa Johnson

Philippa Johnson of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is a researcher who exemplifies the type of investigator the CMRIF has aimed to attract. She has been engaged in an MRI study of the cat's brain and spinal cord at the CMRIF. It is a challenge to generate high-quality scans of small animals. Watch her video to find out more about the specialized coil she purchased and how it has helped her research.

 

Valerie Reyna

Holly Prigerson

Valerie Reyna is collaborating with Holly Prigerson of Cornell Weill Medical College on an intercampus palliative care project as part of the recently established Academic Integration Initiative which fosters research between the Cornell Ithaca and the Cornell Weill New York City campuses. Dr. Prigerson has been researching factors that hinder communications between patients and physicians about end-of-life decisions. In the course of her research, Prigerson discovered Dr. Reyna's fuzzy trace theory (FTT) and was eager to find a way to collaborate (read more in the downloadable article below). According to Reyna, an important principle of FTT is the "gist principle" which is a type of mental representation that "captures the bottom-line meaning of information, and it is a subjective interpretation of information based on emotion, education, culture, experience, worldview, and level of development" and can be applied to improve doctor-patient understanding and treatment options (click on the title of Dr. Reyna's paper, "A Theory of Medical Decision Making and Health: Fuzzy Trace Theory" to read more about FTT).

'Mortal Matters' by Anne Machalinski, Weill Cornell Medicine Magazine - Summer 2018.

Published on Jun 29, 2018

APS President Suparna Rajaram invited four distinguished psychological scientists to speak about memory from cognitive, neuroscientific, cultural, and developmental approaches as part of the Presidential Symposium at the 30th Annual APS Convention in San Francisco, May 25, 2018. Watch Qi Wang's presentation, "Studying Memory Development in Cultural Context: A Multi-Level Analysis Approach".

Excerpted from APS ObserverThe Memories of Memory Researchers

by Suparna Rajaram

In this Presidential Column, it is my pleasure to bring to you my Q&A with four internationally renowned psychological scientists who will speak at the Presidential Symposium I will host during the 30th APS Annual Convention on May 25, 2018, in San Francisco. These eminent scientists — APS Past President and William James Fellow Henry L. (Roddy) Roediger, III, APS Board Member Dorthe Berntsen, APS Fellow Qi Wang, and psychological scientist Charan Ranganath — have fundamentally shaped our understanding of human memory through a wide range of perspectives, techniques, and groundbreaking discoveries. I was struck by the varied paths they have taken in their lives and education, the challenges they have faced, and the ingenuity they have brought, time and again, to scaling new heights. I was also inspired by their singular love for science, their dedication to our discipline, and their overall leadership.  I hope that students and early investigators reading these interviews will enjoy the infectious optimism and strength evident in their answers and the priceless advice the speakers have offered based on their vast experience. –APS President Suparna Rajaram

Qi Wang, Chair of Human Development

What piqued your interest in the general area of your research?

Here is a description of how I came to study autobiographical memory and culture, from my book The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture (2013):

“About fifteen years ago, in mid 1990s, when I went to graduate school in the Psychology Department at Harvard, I had no idea of what autobiographical memory was. Although I had attended the best university in China and had gained a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, the term meant second to nothing to me. At that time, the study of autobiographical memory in Western psychology had grown into a dynamic, interdisciplinary field with exciting discoveries, theoretical debates, controversial issues, and intriguing phenomena. It had drawn researchers from diverse disciplines with such varied interests in human memory in natural contexts, in life histories and narrative self-making, and in the practical implications of memory in clinical, legal, and everyday settings. Autobiographical memory was not a subject of research in China then, however. Neither was autobiography an eminent genre in Chinese literature. I was amazed by the large sections of autobiographies and memories in the Cambridge bookstores, a scene foreign and somewhat bizarre to me. What is the driving force behind the cultural difference in the popularity of autobiographical memory in research and autobiography in pop culture more generally? This question has motivated my research ever since.”

Can you share with us a little about your educational path, and whether/how it led you to pursue research in psychological science?

Both my parents were engineers before their retirement. So my pursuit in psychology was informed by early exposure outside home. When I was 11, I was admitted into a boarding school that was one of the top-ranked middle-high schools in our province. The school was very far away from where we lived. So I stayed with my aunt’s family for about a year before a dorm-bed spot opened up (That was back in the early 1980s when China was still in economic devastation). My aunt was a psychology professor at a teacher’s college. It was through her that I first learned about psychology. I read many books in general and developmental psychology from my aunt’s collection.

Naturally, when I was later admitted to Peking University (or Beijing University), I chose to be a psychology major.

Did you take any detours along the journey to where you are today, and if so, how would you describe the significance of these markers?  

Although I set my foot in psychology at a fairly young age (primarily due to my aunt’s influence), I took some major detours before arriving to where I am today.

At the time when I graduated from college, in 1989, China was undergoing historical transformations in every aspect of the society — economically, politically, and culturally. Many new career opportunities emerged that my generation who grew up in Communist China had never heard of. They attracted many young and adventurous people and I was one of them. I had worked in foreign-invested hotels (a brand new concept at the time), in public relations and sales (where my psychology training was somewhat useful), and I had worked for a major French company in Beijing, doing administrative work.

Six years post-graduate, I found myself missing psychology and wanted to get back to my “roots.” So I started applying to graduate programs in Europe and the United States, which eventually led me to Harvard.  (A side story: My original plan was to study developmental psychology at University of Geneva, where Jean Piaget had taught. I was admitted into the program and in fact went there, but then found out that my French was inadequate for me to begin the graduate work right away).

The detours were well worth it: They made me realize what I wanted for my career and where my intellectual strengths were. They allowed me to stay focused during my graduate study and remain motivated. I formally enrolled in the psychology PhD program at Harvard in 1996 and received my degree in 2000. I then joined the faculty in Human Development at Cornell.

What have been the most exciting parts of your scientific career?

The pursuit itself is the most exciting part: coming up with interesting and original ideas, brain-storming with students and collaborators, persevering in the data-collection process, writing and thinking through writing. These are all exciting parts of the scientific endeavor.

Did you face any obstacles in pursuing your scientific projects?  

Nothing unusual. Working with a small and transient community to recruit children and families, especially ethnic minority families, and trying to follow them longitudinally, has been perhaps the biggest challenge in our projects.

How have you balanced research demands with teaching and administrative responsibilities?

I took the role of department chair this past July. I have come to appreciate the complexity of the job. Most of the work is done behind the scene. However, it is truly rewarding to lead a dynamic department with brilliant colleagues and outstanding students, and to work closely with the faculty to implement critical changes to build on and extend the Department’s scholarly excellence and to maintain and improve its leadership in research, teaching, and outreach.

To balance research with my teaching and chair responsibilities, I set aside time (two mornings each week) for writing. I also try to do what the Chinese call 见缝插针 — meaning literally sticking in a pin wherever there’s room — to make use of every bit of time, with the goal of writing one paragraph a day.

I have an active lab of graduate and undergraduate students, with many ongoing projects at various stages. We hold a weekly lab meeting to discuss the projects and address any issues. We also use the time to talk about new ideas.

I make sure to remain accessible over emails to students in my lab and my class, and make myself available whenever an emergency meeting is required.

What/who have been major influences in your academic career?

So many! My aunt through whom I had the first exposure to psychology. My graduate school advisors Michelle Leichtman and Shep White who helped me set my career path. There are then many informal mentors with whom I have had the fortune to work or collaborate, including Steve Ceci, Michael Ross, Robyn Fivush, Martin Conway, David Pillemer, Carole Peterson, among others.

What’s been your guiding compass in your academic career?

Focus on the process, not the outcome. This makes the scientific pursuit more exciting and enjoyable, and makes obstacles and temporary failures (e.g., rejections from journals) less interruptive or upsetting. This compass also allows me to see what would be usually considered to be an outcome (e.g., tenure) as part of the process, and thus not to get stressed about it.

What advice do you have for handling rejections from journals?

There can be frustration, but never give up. If you truly believe in your work, revise and improve the paper based on reviewer feedback and submit it elsewhere.

Careful preparation is key: Submit a paper as if it were the final version that no further changes could be made. This is out of respect for the journals, the reviewers, and our profession.

What advice, in general, would you give budding scientists around the world?

Stay attuned to the field and be mindful of the everyday life, in the process of developing exciting ideas that are theory driven, evidence based, and of real-world relevance. Focus on and enjoy the process of your scientific pursuit.

Wendy Williams, Co-Director of Cornell Institute for Women in Science

Wendy Williams, founder, and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science (CIWS) has edited a special edition of a evidence-based research on factors that affect the academic and professional lives of women in STEM fields. In her editorial of Underrepresentation of Women in Science: International and Cross-Disciplinary Evidence and Debate, Williams provides a framework for understanding some of the issues and viewpoints that surround the debate of women in science.


There is no shortage of articles and books exploring women's underrepresentation in science. Everyone is interested—academics, politicians, parents, high school girls (and boys), women in search of college majors, administrators working to accommodate women's educational interests; the list goes on. But one thing often missing is an evidence-based examination of the problem, uninfluenced by personal opinions, accounts of “lived experiences,” anecdotes, and the always-encroaching inputs of popular culture. This is why this special issue of Frontiers in Psychology can make a difference. In it, a diverse group of authors and researchers with even more diverse viewpoints find themselves united by their empirical, objective approaches to understanding women's underrepresentation in science today.

Overview of Articles in Special Issue

The questions considered within this special issue span academic disciplines, methods, levels of analysis, and nature of analysis; what these article share is their scholarly, evidence-based approach to understanding a key issue of our time.

Sexism in Professorial Hiring

Ceci and Williams re-visited the experimental paradigm from their 2015 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article in which (in four of their five experiments) faculty were asked to rate three short-listed finalists for a tenure-track position. The 2015 study revealed a 2:1 preference for women when finalists were equivalently excellent. The new study contrasted a male finalist who was slightly superior to the female finalist. Women's advantage vanished when the male applicant was depicted as slightly stronger, suggesting that fears that affirmative action goals will undermine hiring of most-qualified applicants are unfounded.

Allen-Hermanson examined an overlooked aspect of the women's underrepresentation debate: Are philosophers prejudiced against hiring women applicants despite professing conscious, explicit egalitarian beliefs? Unlike other humanities departments, philosophy departments have far fewer women professors than might be expected. He reviewed several recent data sets demonstrating that female applicants are favored when it comes to tenure-track hiring in philosophy departments.

Exploring the Gender Gap via National Datasets

Using 1993–2010 nationally representative data, Kahn and Ginther examined whether the gender gap in engineering has narrowed recently. They discovered that the majority of the gender retention gap was due to women leaving the labor force coincident with child-bearing. There was no gender retention difference by 7–8 years post-bachelors for those full-time employed; single childless women were more likely than men to remain in engineering than were single childless men, and women who left engineering entirely were just as likely as men who left to remain in math-intensive fields. Their findings caution against past assertions that women do not persist in STEM fields as long as men.

In their latest meta-analysis, Su and Rounds examined data from 52 samples entailing over 430,000 respondents between 1964 and 2007. Gender differences in interests favoring males were largest in engineering-related fields, and favored women in allied health fields and social sciences. This adds to the large body of empirical findings that have revealed similar sex differences along the people-thing dimension.

Miller and Wai reported the results of their analysis of longitudinal data to examine the baccalaureate-to-PhD transition. In contrast to the traditional leaky pipeline metaphor, they found that over time, women have segued from the baccalaureate to PhD programs in increasing numbers. Their work suggests that researchers and policy makers need to look elsewhere for causes of women's underrepresentation.

Wang et al. studied factors predicting gender differences in selection of STEM occupations, and whether math task values and altruism mediate the pathway through which gender affects STEM career choice through math achievement. Based on longitudinal analyses, they found that the association between gender and working in a STEM career by one's early- to mid-thirties was mediated by math achievement scores in twelfth grade; females did more poorly on standardized math tests than did males.

Stereotypes about “Brilliance” and “Male-Oriented” Fields

Meyer et al. examined field-specific beliefs regarding the importance of brilliance. They provide support for the hypothesis that women are most likely to be underrepresented in fields that members believe require raw intellectual talent, which women are stereotyped to possess less of than do men. The beliefs of participants with exposure to a field predicted the magnitude of the field's gender gap, independent of their beliefs about the level of mathematical ability required. Their findings are consistent with female high school students taking fewer AP courses in all areas of science except biology (Ceci et al., 2014).

Cheryan et al. presented data and argument showing that modern American culture stereotypes as male-oriented those fields that involve social isolation, an intense focus on machinery, and inborn brilliance. These stereotypes are compatible with qualities that are typically more valued in men than women in American culture. Their work continues their recent insights and is consistent with the findings of some of the other contributors, particularly Meyer et al.

Smyth and Nosek explored whether variation in female representation across scientific disciplines is associated with differences in the strength of gender-science stereotypes, explicit and implicit, held by men and women in these fields. For explicit stereotypes that associate science with “male,” the strength of stereotyping varied across scientific disciplines as a function of gender ratios in the disciplines; however, implicit stereotypes did not vary as a function of such ratios. Giving currency to their findings is recent evidence that children continue to associate science with being male (Miller et al., in press).

Importance of Competitive Schools and Perceived Math Ability

Mann et al. analyzed findings from PISA data from 55 countries. They placed schools along a continuum from most to least competitive, based on average math and science performance. Schools that are most competitive are often associated with stronger math-science environments. The authors found that the aspirations gender gap narrowed for high-performing students in stronger performance environments.

Nix et al. reported an analysis of longitudinal, nationally representative high school data. They found that perceived mathematics ability when under challenge predicted important outcomes such as taking advanced science courses in high school, and that high school men scored higher than women did in their perceived ability under mathematics challenge. Their findings are consistent with female high school students taking fewer AP courses in all areas of science except biology (Ceci et al., 2014).

Wisdom from the Trenches of Academia

Finally, Williams et al. collected and analyzed an original national empirical dataset in which provosts, deans, associate deans, and department chairs of STEM fields at 96 U.S. research-intensive universities rated the quality and feasibility of strategies for retaining women in STEM fields. For example, administrators agreed that gender quotas were a weak idea, and that campus childcare centers were an excellent idea. Women administrators were more supportive than were men of shared tenure lines, and saw it as more feasible for men to stop the tenure clock for 1 year for childrearing.

In sum, readers will find multiple perspectives in this special issue, and the editors hope it will stimulate new directions of thinking and scholarship on women and science.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

References

Ceci, S. J., Ginther, D. K., Kahn, S., and Williams, W. M. (2014). Women in academic science: a changing landscape. Psychol. Sci. Public Interest 15, 75–141. doi: 10.1177/1529100614541236

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Miller, D. I., Nolla, K. M., Eagly, A. H., and Uttal, D. H. (in press). The development of children's gender-science stereotypes: a meta-analysis of five decades of U.S. Draw-A-Scientist studies. Child Dev.

Keywords: women in science, underrepresentation of women, women in STEM, STEM careers, work-life balance

Citation: Williams WM (2018) Editorial: Underrepresentation of Women in Science: International and Cross-Disciplinary Evidence and Debate. Front. Psychol. 8:2352. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02352

Received: 17 October 2017; Accepted: 22 December 2017;
Published: 22 January 2018.

Edited and reviewed by: Jessica S. Horst, University of Sussex, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2018 Williams. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Wendy M. Williams, wendywilliams@cornell.edu

Reprinted from Mothers Plant the Seeds for Children's Future Eco-Friendliness, APS Observer, April 9, 2018.

From remembering to turn off a light to purchasing an electric car, psychology researchers are examining individuals’ proenvironmental behaviors to gain insight into how people become environmentally responsible citizens.

Gary Evans

Building on previous work, researchers Gary W. Evans and Siegmar Otto of Cornell University, and Florian G. Kaiser of Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg wanted to explore the early contributors that have a lasting influence on proenvironmental behavior into young adulthood.

“Given the central contributions of human decision making and behavior to local, regional, and global environmental challenges,” the researchers explain, “better insight into the early origins of adult environmental behavior is fundamental to understanding and ultimately changing environmentally destructive human activity.”

People who hold progressive political values and attain higher levels of education tend to be more inclined toward proenvironmental behavior. Previous research has also shown that parents’ eco-friendly behaviors, especially easily observable ones such as recycling, have an impact on the environmentally responsible behavior of their children. But what kind of effects do these early experiences have on children’s behaviors and attitudes as they age into adulthood?

Evans and colleagues recruited 99 children and their mothers from a rural and suburban area of the Northeast United States to participate in a 12-year longitudinal study, which tracked the children from ages 6 to 18.

When the children were 6 years old, the researchers assessed both the mothers’ and children’s proenvironmental behaviors and attitudes. Mothers completed the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP), a self-report measure of environmental attitudes, and the General Ecological Behavior (GEB) scale. The 6-year-olds completed modified versions of the NEP and GEB that used interactive games and pictures. The researchers also measured how much time the children spent outdoors and they collected data on mothers’ political ideology and educational attainment.

At age 18, 74 of the children returned to complete the second round of data collection. The young adults completed the same versions of the NEP and GEB scale that their mothers completed 12 years before.

The longitudinal data showed that individuals whose mothers had more proenvironmental attitudes demonstrated more proenvironmental behaviors themselves as young adults. Mothers’ educational attainment was also found to be an influential factor, although the researchers point out that there was low variance in the mothers’ level of education, as most had some post-college education and very few were high school dropouts.

As in past research, children who spent more time outdoors tended to report more environmentally responsible behavior and attitudes as adults. Evans and colleagues suggest that future studies should investigate whether different types of activities, such as fishing in wild nature versus gardening in the domestic outdoors, have divergent effects.

Interestingly, children’s environmental attitudes and behaviors at age 6 did not predict their behavior at 18. This could be due to potential methodological issues with the modified childhood measures, but another possibility, the researchers note, is that it simply takes time for these attitudes and behaviors to become stable.

Evans and colleagues note the significance of the results, explaining that “this is the first study to show that these parental factors matter for the eventual development of an adult’s engagement in proenvironmental behavior.”

Identifying early contributors to later environmentally responsible behaviors is a critical step in creating interventions, policies, and other strategies to improve these behaviors on a local, regional, and global scale.

Reference

Evans, G. W., Otto, S., & Kaiser, F. G. (2018). Childhood origins of young adult environmental behavior. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797617741894

In his blog, The Methods Man, F. Perry Wilson MD, commends Jane Mendle's research on how early puberty may lead to depression in adulthood. Her results have important implications for screening girls in early puberty for depression.


Several animal studies and basically all of human experience have taught us that puberty is a particularly difficult stage of life psychologically. A new study appearing in the journal Pediatrics now suggests that early puberty in girls can lead to depression and anti-social behavior well into adulthood, suggesting that the difficulties of those teenage years are far from fleeting.

Jane Mendle

Researchers led by Jane Mendle, at Cornell used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative survey study which ran from 1994 to 2008. More than 10,000 girls, average age 16 years, were interviewed at the start of the study and followed into their late 20's. Over that span, they were asked about depressive and antisocial symptoms. They also reported the date of their first period, which is a proxy for pubertal development.

The average girl reported the onset of menarche at around 12 years, but there was a wide distribution, with about 10% of girls reporting a first period at age 10 or younger.

The study showed that a younger age of menarche was associated with greater depressive symptoms in the later teen years.

Perhaps more interestingly, it showed that younger age at menarche was associated with more depressive symptoms even as the women approached 30 years of age.

In an elegant analysis, the authors went on to show that the driver of that elevated depression rate in later adulthood was the depression in the teenage years. In other words, girls who develop early are more likely to get depressed as teenagers, and that depression may set the tone for decades to come.

Now there are some factors here that were unaccounted for, body weight being a major one. Overweight and obese girls go through puberty earlier, and body weight is a risk factor for depression. I asked Mendle about this potential confounder.

"We know that people treat girls who look very physically mature different from girls who do not look physically mature and that is not purely attributable to weight. We know that parents do it and we know that teachers do it. There is also not any good evidence that weight would be influencing the antisocial and externalizing behaviors that were seen".

Clinically, whether early puberty is a sign of other stressors or a cause of distress in itself might not matter. If early puberty is associated with depression, the implication is that pediatricians should start screening for depression earlier in girls who develop earlier. The United States Preventative Services Task Force currently recommends screening for depression starting at age 12. For some girls, an even earlier intervention may have long-lasting effects.

F. Perry Wilson, MD, MSCE, is an assistant professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine. He is a MedPage Today reviewer, and in addition to his video analyses, he authors a blog, The Methods Man. You can follow @methodsmanmd on Twitter.

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