Winter 2020 Newsletter | Research Highlights

Effect of visualization on students’ understanding of probability concepts
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently awarded a $300,000 Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant to Associate Professors Jeffrey Starns, Andrew Cohen (psychological and brain sciences) and Darrell Earnest (teacher education and curriculum studies). This team will develop and test an instructional program in probabilistic reasoning that is designed to help students overcome math challenges by linking mathematical concepts to an intuitive visualization. ​Read full article

Asking If Behavior Can Be Changed on Climate Crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations. Now researchers Hanne Melgård Watkins at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Geoffrey Goodwin at the University of Pennsylvania report after their recent experiments that an intergenerational reciprocity approach ­– asking people to reflect on sacrifices made in the past by others for their benefit today – may generate gratitude and a sense of moral obligation to people in the future. ​Read full article

Scientists’ Panel Urges More Vigorous Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Bias in STEM Workforce
A diverse group of scientists including Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the campus’s director of faculty equity and inclusion, report their findings and recommendations on how institutions and funding agencies can address and prevent sexual harassment and gender bias in the STEM workforce. Details of their suggested “specific, potentially high-impact policy changes” appear in the current issue of Science. ​Read full article

Measuring how sleep impacts early childhood memory—a new research protocol
A new protocol from researchers at the University of Maryland and UMass Amherst, including PBS's Rebecca Spencer and Sanna Lokhandwala, describes methods to examine neural mechanisms underlying sleep-dependent memory consolidation during naps in early childhood. It includes procedures for examining the effect of sleep on behavioral memory performance, as well as the application and recording of both polysomnography and actigraphy. ​Read article from JoVE Scientific Video Journal

Beyond the ‘Replication Crisis,’ Does Research Face ‘Inference Crisis’?
For the past decade, social scientists have been unpacking a “replication crisis” that has revealed how findings of an alarming number of scientific studies are difficult or impossible to repeat. Efforts are underway to improve the reliability of findings, but cognitive psychology researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say that not enough attention has been paid to the validity of theoretical inferences made from research findings. ​Read full article

Dasgupta to Lead Network to Increase and Diversify STEM Workforce
For years, science and engineering educators, social scientists, industry leaders and policymakers in Massachusetts have struggled to expand and diversify the STEM workforce, each coming at the problem from different disciplinary and institutional perspectives, says professor of psychology Nilanjana “Buju” Dasgupta, director of the campus’s Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS). ​Read full article

Animal models of Alzheimer’s disease embrace diversity
Agnès Lacreuse is interviewed in the article "Animal models of Alzheimer’s disease embrace diversity." She is examining how Alzheimer's progresses, and what early signs of the disease can be uncovered. Lacreuse is also recording behavioral measures in animal models such as memory impairment and sleep disturbances. ​Read full article from Lab Animal

child with FNIRS cap onMapping the Brain
Featured in the UMass Amherst 2019 Report on Research, Kirby Deater-Deckard and Adam Grabell discuss their use of the cutting-edge imaging tool fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy), a flexible and portable system for monitoring brain activity. fNIRS can be used to study young children and others unable to tolerate technologies such as MRI. That gives researchers improved access to patients with disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and enables researchers to study adolescents when they’re interacting with their environment and making decisions. “Through fNIRS we can study mental illness at very early manifestations,” says Adam Grabell, who directs the campus’s Self-Regulation, Emotions, & Early Development (SEED) Laboratory and is leading the use of fNIRS technology at the university. “We can learn how emotion regulation works mechanistically, which could inform therapeutic practices down the road.” Read full article 

Seeing not just any evil: Eye Movements, Typos, and and Autocorrects
As we read, do we notice every typo that we come across? If a word is accidentally omitted or printed twice, do we realize it? Are some errors easier to spot than others? A recent paper by Adrian Staub, Sophia Dodge, and Andrew Cohen addressing these questions is featured on the Psychonomic Society's blog. "Their specific question aimed at understanding what factors influence readers’ ability to find duplicate or missing words, and whether this is due to eyes simply skipping over words or whether it even occurs when our eyes land on those words. If we still fail to notice repeated words when we read them, this suggests that our tendency to not notice function word errors is the result of a higher-order cognitive process than just eye movement control." Read full article

Parenting and Children's Executive Function Stability Across the Transition to School
Abby Helm, Sarah McCormick, Kirby Deater‐Deckard, and collaborators have published a new paper in the journal Infant and Child Development entitled "Parenting and Children's Executive Function Stability Across the Transition to School". This paper investigates the role of parenting on the stability of executive function (EF) from age 4 to 6 years, across the transition to formal schooling. The researchers found that children with high EF at age 4 were more likely to have high EF at age 6. Furthermore, higher levels of positive parenting across the transition to school seem to promote stability of individual differences in EF.