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GRAY MATTER


cloudAll the News That Fits In Your Brain

Some of you may be old enough to remember when the psychology department sent alumni—you—a physical newsletter. That’s from a different era, and we’re no longer offering you anything to hold in your hand or to set in front of your cereal bowl in the morning. But we want to keep you up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of psychology at Cornell so we’re reactivating the newsletter after a long hiatus, and now in electronic form. We hope you enjoy it, whether you read it on your phone, your tablet, or your computer. 

As has been the case for a very long time, psychology remains a popular major; our graduates go on to use what they’ve learned about the human mind in their careers as lawyers, management consultants, advertisers, data scientists, and (of course) psychotherapists and psychological scientists. The demand for psychological science is only likely to increase as the most pressing problems facing the world today—climate change, rising income inequality, threats to democracy, the changing nature of work—can all be traced to human failings and they call out for psychologically informed solutions. Some of those solutions will be interdisciplinary, and our faculty has been busy forging collaborations with scholars in information science, communication, computer science, robotics, and many other departments across campus. To encourage interdisciplinary study among our undergraduates, our department established a new minor in 2014 and there are now 115 students pursuing that option, while majoring in such diverse fields as communications, neuroscience, and business.

A much bigger change in the local landscape of psychology is the supersizing of the Psychology Department. As you may have read, the Departments of Psychology and Human Development are set to merge into a single department by January 2021. Stay tuned to the psych website and future newsletters for more to come about this exciting development. 

I hope you’ll enjoy the features in this newsletter and will keep in touch by addressing any questions, comments, and suggestions to our editor, Julie Simmons-Lynch (jes257@cornell.edu).

Tom Gilovich, spring 2020
Professor and Chair

portrait photo of Tom Gilovich

 

 

KYRUS MAMA, '21

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Kyrus is a psychology, computer science, and mathematics major and cognitive science minor in his junior year at Cornell. His primary interests lie in the development of computational models of neural systems.

He recently developed a program that allows students unfamiliar with programming to build their own models of neural systems, helping them better understand and test published models of structures in the brain.

He has worked with Prof. Timothy DeVoogd on developing a program for analyzing birdsong in order to determine what qualities are important for it to sound attractive to other birds.

His current work has been more focused on the structure of the olfactory system. In particular, he’s been conducting research with Prof. Christiane Linster to determine how two smell-related parts of the brain communicate with each other, by testing the effects of different drugs on brain activity in rats when they are exposed to odors. To analyze this activity, he’s written code to clean and organize the recorded data and to see if there’s a correlation between the recordings from the two brain areas.

Kyrus was born and grew up in Mumbai, India to an Indian father and a Brazilian mother, but currently lives in London, England.

MIKAELA SPRUILL, PhD Candidate

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Mikaela researches perceptual bias at the intersection of race and gender with a focus on understanding how individual bias sustains systemic oppression. She works to understand how our beliefs about the overarching American system amplify discrimination and inequality in order to uncover interventions that can aid in reducing bias and addressing disparities in America. She is a second-year graduate student working alongside Dr. Amy Krosch in the Social Perception and Intergroup Inequality Lab and a graduate student affiliate with The Center for the Study of Inequality.

Her most recent paper, Barriers to Reparations: How Framing, Stereotype Endorsement, and Beliefs About Inequality Undermine Support for Restorative Justice was presented at the 2020 Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference. Summary: Reparations have gained much political attention, but little is known about the psychological barriers to their support. We found that White (vs. Black) participants were most opposed to reparations 1) framed as financial (e.g., cash) vs. material (e.g.,  education benefits) and 2) when they held stereotypical beliefs and attributed racial disparities in America to individual vs. structural causes.

Prior to joining the Krosch Lab, Mikaela earned her MA in experimental psychology from Wake Forest University and her BS in neuroscience from The College of William and Mary.

 

A Snapshot

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The Ship of Theseus is a classic thought experiment – if you slowly replace parts of a ship until no original pieces remain, is it the same ship? This idea of renewing parts while keeping the same underlying identity is a metaphor psych chair Tom Gilovich likens to the department. Gilovich, who joined Cornell 38 years ago, says that the atmosphere and energy are the same, although few of his contemporaries remain.

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       The laboratory of experimental psychology at Cornell was established in 1891: only the ninth to be founded in the United States. Frank Angell, a young professor from Leipzig, joined the faculty that year and set up the first psych lab on campus. A year later, enticed by an offer to establish yet another lab at the new Stanford University, he left Cornell for sunnier climes.

       Angell's departure might have put the kibosh on the new discipline at Cornell, had he not convinced fellow Leipzig student, Edward Titchener, to take over. In 1892, Titchener was appointed to the Sage School of Philosophy, where all psych courses were offered. It was during that time period, until his death in 1927, that he propelled psychology courses to star status, urging the university to create a psychology department in 1915.

       After Titchener’s death, the psychology department grew and aged gracefully, with very few bumps in the road.  But by midcentury changes spurred on by professors James Gibson and T. A. Ryan forced the restructure of the department into three subdisciplines: Experimental Psychology, Social Psychology, and Physiology. Today Perception, Cognition, and Development (PCD), Social & Personality (S&P), and Behavioral and Evolutionary Neuroscience (BEN) have superseded those subdisciplines and remain the lynchpins of the department.

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       As the department expands and evolves, the core mission continues to be a commitment to science. When asked what has stayed the same over the years, professor emeritus Elizabeth Adkins-Regan remarked, “Intellectually, the department culture continues to prize originality and thinking outside the box over nationally popular trends and bandwagons.”

       Gilovich agrees, adding that, “the three areas have contributed to the balance of work across disciplines in psychology. Having these areas of study allow people with different viewpoints and backgrounds to communicate and learn from each other, ultimately increasing the quality of science generated.”

       Over the years, as the department has grown and assistant professors become emeriti, the face of the department and its essential value of promoting scientific research for the greater good is as strong as when the young Titchener set up shop high above Cayuga’s waters over a century ago.

Photo: Edward Titchener, circa 1915

 

DANIEL ALONSO, '87

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After receiving a BA with Distinction in Psychology, while working with his advisors James Maas and Tom Gilovich, Dan went on to achieve his JD from NYU School of Law. Having worked in both the public and private sector, Dan’s areas of expertise include fraud investigation, financial crime, and civil litigation. 

Before becoming a partner this year at the international law firm Buckley LLP, Dan’s career has been exciting and varied: he worked for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as Chief Assistant DA under Cyrus Vance, Jr., where he prosecuted white collar crimes such as money laundering, bank fraud, and corruption. Previously Dan was Chief of the Criminal Division in the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York; special counsel to the New York State Senate; and more recently a co-chair of the NYS White Collar Crime Task Force.

Winner of numerous prestigious awards and appointments, Dan is considered a leading authority on integrity and the criminal justice system, a frequent pundit on cable news shows, and a wicked softball player. 

             

 

 

 

 

 

JOSEPH FRIDMAN, '17

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Working with psych professor Barb Finlay, Joseph received a BA in Cognitive Science as a College Scholar in the College of Arts & Sciences. The researcher, self-proclaimed science communicator, media producer, and educational organizer works in the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab at Northeastern and Mass General Hospital where he leads a collaborative project with the New York Times opinion senior editor James Ryerson. Together, with financial support from the Templeton Foundation, they produce workshops designed for academics. Coming up in May is Beyond the Ivory Tower: A Workshop for Scholars Writing for the Public.

Having recently earned an MS in Media Advocacy, Joseph continues working toward an MBA/MS in finance from Northeastern’s business school. He is also a graduate student RA at the Technology and Public Purpose Project of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs based in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

 And as if that wasn’t enough, Joseph is currently a communications editor at Cambridge University Press for the Behavioral and Brain Sciences journal; the associate editor at the MIT-Harvard Science Policy Review; and a director and trustee of the Telluride Association.

            

 

 

 

FUN & BRAINS

fun and brains