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Experimental Psychology Areas of Specialization

Doctoral training in experimental psychology prepares the student for an academic career in teaching and research. The development of advanced research design and analysis strategy skills is central to the training program. Concentrations in developmental psychology, affective neuroscience, cognitive psychology, behavioral genetics, and developmental disorders are offered. Research training through the apprenticeship model is a major component of the experimental program. At the beginning of the program, the student is assigned one faculty member to collaborate with on research. Through mentorship with an active faculty member, the student is involved in answering important questions and utilizing methodologies suited to the area of interest. Faculty members also help students develop flexible programs of study based on individual research interests. Students in the experimental psychology program usually complete the Ph.D. program of study within four to five years. Below are descriptions of the concentrations currently available to students in the experimental program.  

Developmental Psychology

The emphasis in developmental psychology focuses on the emergence and maturation of basic psychological processes – attention, perception, learning, memory, language and cognition – from birth through adolescence. Affective, motivation, temperament, and self-regulation processes that affect cognitive development are also examined. A major emphasis in the developmental area is on individual differences in development, with research directed at understanding both risk and resiliency. Laboratories with a developmental focus include those directed by Dr. Anastasia Dimitropoulos, Dr. Elizabeth Short, and Dr. Lee Thompson. In addition to core courses in developmental psychology, students take a number of advanced seminars intended to deepen their knowledge in such areas as childhood psychopathology, neurodevelopmental disorders and behavioral genetics. Students also are given didactic instruction and supervised experience in child and adult assessment to acquaint them with a variety of methods and techniques employed in research with children from birth through adolescence. A variety of laboratory facilities and subject populations are available for study at CASE. The department maintains extensive Developmental Laboratories designed to study developmental aspects of learning, cognition, and language acquisition in infants, children, and adolescents. Many of the child laboratories are housed in the state of the art Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center (CHSC). Clinical interview rooms and playrooms are available for research and assessment at both CHSC and Mather Memorial. Hospital facilities and collaborations include newborn nurseries at University Hospitals, the Perinatal Research Unit at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, and the psychiatry departments at both University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic. The department also has a strong working relationship with area public and private schools (i.e., Laurel School, Lawrence School, The Cleveland Clinic Autism Center, and the Monarch School). Strong working relationships with area hospitals and schools provide large subject pools of typical and clinical populations of children. The university has recently developed an International Center for Autism Research and Education. This multi-center research program at CWRU, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth, and affiliated community resources will provide students with state of the art experiences in the field of autism. Additionally, the Schubert Center for Child Research and Policy provides students with first-rate opportunities to become engaged in the process of applying the knowledge gleaned from child development research to local policy agencies.  

Cognitive Psychology

Cognition refers to a large number of psychological processes, including perception, memory, imagery, reading, language, reasoning, and intelligence. At CWRU, research is done on several of these. Students can carry out research relevant to formulating general principles of cognition and to determining the bases of individual and group differences in cognitive abilities. Memory is of particular interest and is extensively researched by Dr. Robert Greene and Dr. Brooke MacNamara. One line of research focuses on the structure of human episodic memory — people’s knowledge that events happen to them at a particular time and place. Recall, recognition, and frequency estimation tests are often used. The goal is to test and construct theories of general memory functioning in humans.  

Affective Neuroscience

Members of the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, directed by Dr. Heath Demaree, conduct research that has both theoretical and clinical value. Specifically, the lab works to better understand how healthy individuals process emotional stimuli, as well as techniques that may be employed to effectively regulate or control emotions in both healthy and disordered populations. The primary measures we use are electrophysiological (e.g., measures of the autonomic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal), behavioral (e.g., facial expressions), and emotional (self-report). There are two aspects of the laboratory that make our research distinctive. First, whereas many researchers solely investigate “cold” cognitive process or “hot” emotional ones, our research often focuses on the intersection between both “hot” and “cold” processes. Interactions between cognitive and emotional processes are bidirectional and iterative in nature. For example, our lab has found that not only does working memory capacity (a “cold” process) robustly predict one’s ability to control emotional responses (a “hot” one), but attempts to regulate emotional responses leads to subsequent impairment of working memory capacity. Second, we also study the very difficult field of “automatic” (or “spontaneous”) emotion regulation. “Automatic” emotion regulation is naturally employed by the participant and is “non-directed,” in that participants do not simply following experimenters’ commands about how and when to control their emotions. Research on automatic emotion regulation is rare, but it is perhaps more generalizable and has greater ecological validity. We are also interested in extending our findings to populations who appear to have emotion processing and/or emotion regulation deficits. For example, we have a strong interest in using cutting-edge emotion-based research to help people who have problems controlling their food intake, gambling behavior, drinking behavior. All of the experimental programs attempt to address why people vary so much in their behavior and the factors that determine individual differences. Recent technological advances provide powerful tools to study potential biological and environmental contributions to these differences. Ongoing research projects in the department involve molecular genetic approaches for explaining individual differences in intelligence, cognitive processing, and temperament. Quantitative genetic studies using twins are being conducted on temperament, cognition, and speech disorders. Electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) also are being used to study the brain at work in adults and children with typical development, as well as in special populations including patients with Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and autism.

Page last modified: July 27, 2016