Author Archives: Pooja Shah

For juries awarding plaintiffs for pain and suffering, the task is more challenging – and the results more inconsistent – than awarding for economic damages, which is formulaic. Now, Cornell social scientists show how to reduce wide variability for monetary judgments in those cases: Serve up the gist.

As an example of gist, juries take into account the severity of injury and time-scope. In the case of a broken ankle, that injury is a temporary setback that can be healed. In an accident where someone’s face is disfigured, the scope of time lasts infinitely and affects life quality. In short, “meaningful anchors” – where monetary awards ideally complement the context of the injury – translate into more consistent dollar amounts.

Valerie Reyna

Valerie Reyna

“Inherently, assigning exact dollar amounts is difficult for juries,” said Valerie Reyna, professor of human development. “Making awards is not chaos for juries. Instead of facing verbatim thoughts, juries rely on gist – as it is much more enduring. And when we realize that gist is more enduring, our models suggest that jury awards are fundamentally consistent.”

The foundation for understanding jury awards lies in the “fuzzy trace” theory, developed by Reyna and Charles Brainerd, professor of human development. The theory explains how in-parallel thought processes are represented in your mind. While verbatim representations – such as facts, figures, dates and other indisputable data – are literal, gist representations encompass a broad, general, imprecise meaning.

VHans Chronicle

Valerie Hans

“Experiments have confirmed the basic tenets of fuzzy trace theory,” said Valerie Hans, psychologist and Cornell professor of law, who studies the behavior of juries. “People engage in both verbatim- and gist-thinking, but when they make decisions, gist tends to be more important in determining the outcome; gist seems to drive decision-making.”

In addition to authors Reyna and Hans for the study, “The Gist of Juries: Testing a Model of Award and Decision Making,” the other co-authors include Jonathan Corbin Ph.D. ’15; Ryan Yeh ’13, now at Yale Law School; Kelvin Lin ’14, now at Columbia Law School; and Caisa Royer, a doctoral student in the field of human development and a student at Cornell Law School.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences, the Cornell Law School and Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

Update: On Sept. 1, 2015, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant for $389,996 to Cornell for support of the project “Quantitative Judgments in Law: Studies of Damage Award Decision Making,” under the direction of Valerie P. Hans and Valerie F. Reyna.


Lance Collins, dean of the College of Engineering, speaks at the second annual Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives Honors Award Ceremony May 1. (Lindsay France/University Photography)


In 1890, ex-slave George Washington Fields became the first African- American to graduate from Cornell Law School. Nearly 125 years later, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) continues to celebrate diversity at Cornell with a series of awards named after Fields and nine other Cornellian trailblazers.

More than 70 people gathered May 1 for the second annual OADI Honors Awards Ceremony. Student presentations, a dinner reception and musical performances kicked off the event, which highlighted accomplishments and contributions of some of Cornell’s most talented scholars and leaders.

OADI is pronounced “wadi,” which is an Arabic and Swahili word for a cool, protected passage through a desert, often formed by a seasonal river. OADI was formed in 2011 as part of an initiative to provide support and mentorship to Cornell students who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

“These services play a crucial role in fulfilling Cornell University’s ‘any person, any study’ motto,” said Carlos Gonzalez, executive director of OADI.

Engineering Dean Lance Collins gave the keynote address for the awards ceremony. The first African-American dean at Cornell, Collins shared his insights on the role of diversity in the three core pillars of academic excellence: scholarship, leadership and community engagement.

Collins encouraged the audience to seek mentors and to mentor others, to lead by inspiring others to take action, and to work for results rather than recognition.

Collins also emphasized the importance of thinking about diversity not only as a social justice issue, but also in terms of the inherent value that it brings to society. “We are a pluralistic society, and there is great power and strength in that,” he said. “Each of you in the audience brings something special and unique and positive, adding to the excellence of this institution.”

OADI presented 10 awards named after some of Cornell’s most inspiring trailblazers that recognized achievement and excellence of scholar-leaders and campus partners. This year’s recipients were:

  • Andrew Martinez '12, assistant dean of students, 626 Center for Intercultural Dialogue – Ryokichi Yatabe Award for Outstanding Alumna/Alumnus Partner.
  • Anthony Burrow, assistant professor, human development – Estevan Fuertes Award for Outstanding OADI Faculty Partner.
  • Angel Keen, assistant director, Diversity Programs in Engineering – Tomás Bautista Mapúa Award for Outstanding OADI Staff Partner.
  • Zarif Islam, M.P.S. candidate – Toni Morrison Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship.
  • Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate (SWAG) – Club Brasileiro Award for Outstanding Organization.
  • Kemar Prussien '15 – Solomon Cook Award for Engaged Research and Scholarship.
  • Rachel Reindorf '16 – George Washington Fields Award for Professional Development.
  • Andrea Kim '12– Gloria Joseph Award for Opportunity Programs Students.
  • Allison Arteaga '18 – Marvin Jack Award for OADI Emerging Scholar-Leader.
  • Misha Inniss-Thompson '16 – Jerome Holland Award for Outstanding OADI Scholar-Leader.

Thaddeus Talbot '15 was selected as the student speaker for the awards ceremony. Earlier this year, Talbot marched in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery.

“Tonight is all about taking risks and the rewards that follow,” said Talbot.

 Josephine Engreitz ’15 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

Fourteen Cornell scholars (11 faculty members and one faculty member-graduate student team) received 2015 awards from the Jeffrey S. Lehman Fund for Scholarly Exchange with China. The fund provides grants to initiate research projects, sponsor research-related conferences or workshops, host visitors from China or support faculty travel to China to work on collaborative research projects.

Projects and winners are:

  • Integrating Eastern and Western Medicine to Address Iron Deficiency In Rural Chinese Women. Project director: Laura Pompano, doctoral candidate in the field of nutritional sciences, and Jere D. Haas, the Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professor of Maternal and Child Nutrition, Division of Nutritional Sciences;
  • Manufacturing Revolutions: The Socialist Development of a Chinese Auto-Industrial Base. Project director: Victor Seow, assistant professor, Department of History;
  • Chinese Medicine and Healing: Translating Practice. Project director: TJ Hinrichs, associate professor, Department of History;
  • China/Cornell Media Arts Exchange Program. Project director: J.P. Sniadecki, assistant professor, Department of Performing and Media Arts;
  • Constructing the Autobiographical Self in Cyberspace. Project director: Qi Wang, professor, Department of Human Development;
  • Inflation, String Theory, and Cosmic Strings. Project directors: David Chernoff, professor, Department of Astronomy, and Liam McAllister, professor, Department of Physics;
  • Conference and Publication on Feminist Jurisprudence in Shanghai. Project director: Cynthia Grant Bowman, the Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Feminist Jurisprudence, Law School;
  • Ricci Flow on 4manifolds and Applications. Project director: Xiaodong Cao, associate professor, Department of Mathematics;
  • Beijing Film and Digital Media Initiative. Project directors: Tim Murray, director, Society for the Humanities, and Amy Villarejo, chair, Department of Performing and Media Arts;
  • Creating China? Transnational Public Intellectuals and the Making of Contemporary Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. Project director: Allen Carlson, associate professor, Department of Government.

For more information, contact the East Asia Program in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at

Students, faculty and staff in Cornell's contract colleges have won State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor's Awards for Excellence for 2015.

Faculty and staff recipients of the award have served their campuses and communities with distinction. Students were honored as leaders, role models and volunteers, and for their academic achievements.

Those honored this year are:

  • Excellence in Faculty Service: Carol Devine, professor of nutritional sciences, College of Human Ecology (HE); Mark Sorrells, plant breeding and genetics, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).
  • Excellence in Professional Service: Lars Angenent, biological and environmental engineering, CALS; Ann LaFave, CALS Office of Academic Programs; Thomas O’Toole, executive director, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, HE.
  • Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities: Charles Brainerd, professor and chair of human development, HE.
  • Excellence in Teaching: Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development, HE; Jeffrey Niederdeppe, associate professor of communication, CALS; M. Todd Walter, associate professor, biological and environmental engineering, CALS.
  • Student Excellence: Alexa Bakker ‘15, science of natural and environment systems, (CALS); Katherine Bibi, DVM ‘15, College of Veterinary Medicine; Emily Clark ’15, policy analysis and management, CALS; Atticus DeProspo ‘15, industrial and labor relations (ILR School); Owen Lee-Park ’15, human biology, health and society (HE); Rachel Harmon ‘15, industrial and labor relations (ILR); Aaron Match ‘15, atmospheric science (CALS); Patrick Satchell, DVM ’15, veterinary medicine; and Maia Vernacchia ‘15, food science (CALS).