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Research Labs

Lyn Abramson
My research focuses on vulnerability and invulnerability to depression and bipolar disorder.  To understand these disorders, I take a biopsychosocial developmental approach emphasizing change and continuity in cognitive, endocrine, neural, and social factors across the lifespan.  Current studies examine the emergence of gender differences and surge in depression during adolescence as well as the increase in bipolar disorder during this period.

Martha Alibali
My research investigates children's mathematical reasoning and how it changes over time.

I focus on the change processes that take place when children learn new concepts and problem-solving strategies, and when they express and communicate their knowledge in gestures and in speech. 

Current projects examine the transition from arithmetic to algebraic reasoning, the function of spontaneous gesture in thinking and speaking, and the nature of mathematical reasoning in children with language impairments. 

My overarching goal is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of knowledge change in children's cognitive development. A second major goal is to elucidate the role of spontaneous gestures in thinking and knowledge change.

Anthony Auger
My research is focused around how sex differences occur within the developing brain. More specifically, we study how steroid receptors act within the developing rodent brain to produce lasting changes in behavior.  To accomplish this, we use a wide variety of molecular and behavioral techniques to investigate the organization of sexually dimorphic social behavior. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are typically interested in how social or hormonal cues converge within the brain to have lasting consequences on behavior and health.

Catherine Auger
My research interests are centered upon how neuropeptide systems and steroid hormones interact within the brain to influence complex behavior. More specifically, a portion of my work focuses on how small physiological changes in serum progesterone levels, which can be increased by a number of environmental and social stimuli, can act upon cells within restricted brain regions to control anxiety-related and social behavior using male rats as a model. One neuropeptide system of particular interest is the vasopressin system, as this system is sexually dimorphic and highly responsive to steroids. The extrahypothalamic vasopressin cells are nearly 100 percent co-expressed with progesterone receptors, and progesterone treatment of male rats suppresses the expression of extrahypothalamic vasopressin in the brain.  Based on these data, I am interested in trying to understand how progesterone influences various vasopressin-linked behaviors, such as social and anxiety-related behaviors, within the male rat brain. The techniques we use to examine these research questions range from protein analysis, gene expression assays, to behavioral analysis. The multi-tiered technical approach used in our lab to examine both behavior and physiology allows us to make meaningful hypothesis about behavioral outcomes.

Craig Berridge
Neural Systems and Behavior Laboratory
My research is largely focused on the behavioral actions of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system, particularly in the context of stress, arousal and cognition.  A major component of this work has involved identifying neural mechanisms responsible for the arousal and cognition-enhancing actions of low-dose psychostimulants, a class of drugs that increase norepinephrine neurotransmission (in addition to dopaminergic neurotransmission).  Within this line of work, we are particularly interested in identifying the neural mechanisms involved in the therapeutic actions of methylphenidate (Ritalin) for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  We use a combination of behavioral, neurochemical, anatomical and electrophysiological measures, including the use of multiple channel recordings of neuronal activity in animals engaged in cognitive tasks (working memory, sustained attention).  Students and postdoctoral trainees typically have a background in behavioral neuroscience and/or neurophysiology.

Christopher Coe
The research of my laboratory group focuses on the association between behavior and health with a particular emphasis on the relationships between brain and immune processes.  Our projects include investigations with human participants, including patients with clinical illnesses, as well as experiments with nonhuman primates.  An important dimension of our research is that it incorporates a life span perspective, beginning with the fetal stage and prenatal programming, and continuing on to old age and biological senescence.  Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who work in the laboratory usually have an interest in development and health, and a willingness to learn about brain and immune processes.

John Curtin
Addiction Research Laboratory
Research in Dr. Curtin's laboratory focuses on the motivational processes that underlie both social and addicted alcohol and other drug use.  He is particularly intersted in neuroadaptive changes in these motivational processes that result from chronic drug use in "at-risk" individuals.  His laboratory uses psychophysiological techniques (e.g., startle reflex, event-related brain potentials, facial electromyography) to assess neurocognitive and emotional response during drug intoxication and withdrawal states in both social and drug dependent users.  

Richard Davidson
Research in my laboratories is focused on cortical and subcortical substrates of emotion and affective disorders, including depression and anxiety. We study normal adults and young children, and those with, or at risk for, affective and anxiety disorders. We use quantitative electrophysiology, positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging to make inferences about patterns of regional brain function. A major focus of our current work is on interactions between prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the regulation of emotion in both normal subjects and patients with affective and anxiety disorders.

Patricia Devine
I am interested in how people manage the intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges associated with prejudice in our contemporary society. One main focus for recent work focused on the sources of motivation, internal and external, for responding without prejudice and the unique challenges these alternate sources of motivation create for managing the interpersonal aspects of intergroup relations. Key questions concern the relation between explicit and implicit prejudice and the processes that regulate the use of stereotypes. In addition, I am interested in the qualitative nature of the tension between majority and minority group members that may create obstacles for harmonious intergroup relations, and which may, in some instances lead to an escalation of prejudice coupled with a tendency to lash out at stigmatized groups. I also have programs of research on dissonance-related phenomena and the processes involved in resisting persuasion.

Morton Gernsbacher
My research investigates the general, cognitive processes and mechanisms that underlie language comprehension, using behavioral methodology and more recently, some functional neural magnetic imaging (FMRI). According to my Structure Building Framework, the goal of comprehension is to build a coherent, mental representation or "structure". To do this, comprehenders must first lay a foundation. Next, they develop the structure by mapping on information when that incoming information is coherent or related to previous information. However, if the incoming information is less coherent or related, comprehenders shift to initiate a new substructure. These structure building processes are accomplished by two mechanisms: enhancement, which boosts the activation of some representations, and suppression, which dampens the activation of other representations.

Hill Goldsmith
Wisconsin Twin Research Laboratories
The focus on our laboratories in the Psychology Department and at the Waisman Center is the development of behavioral problems in children and adolescents and developmental disabilities. Our research brings together elements of the traditional fields of developmental psychology, psychopathology, psychometrics, neuroscience, and genetics. Graduate students come from clinical psychology, developmental psychology and IGM programs. We study infants, children, adolescents and their families, and most of our research participants are twins. Typical longitudinal studies include laboratory based assessment of emotional reactivity, study of the emotional atmosphere of the home, collection of DNA samples, and psychophysiological and endocrine measures. Among other topics, current studies address (1) the nosology of childhood conditions, including spectrum concepts, the components of autism, and endophenotypes for anxiety; (2) risk factors for the development of autism spectrum conditions; including motoric and sensory issues; (3) temperament as both a facet of typical emotional development and a risk factor; and (4) genetic epidemiology of a range of childhood conditions. Our research group typically includes 4-6 Ph.D. students, 2-3 postdoctoral fellows, about ten full-time staff, and a large number of undergraduates. Much of the research is collaborative with other research groups at UW or elsewhere.

Diane Gooding
My primary research focus is on schizophrenia and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. My research program encompasses the following: biological bases of psychotic disorders; early identification and development of psychotic disorders; application of biobehavioral measures to identify at-risk populations; utilization of psychophysiological performance to assist in refining diagnostic nosology; and assessment of the interface between affective and cognitive processing in schizophrenia and related disorders. Students working with me are taught psychophysiological, neuropsychological, and clinical assessment techniques.

Judith Harackiewicz
I am interested in human motivation, specifically achievement motivation and interest. I study how different kinds of performance evaluation and feedback influence an individual's interest in an activity. For example, I study how achievement goals, rewards, competition, and cooperation influence task enjoyment and interest, and how personality variables moderate these effects. I am also interested in motivational issues in educational psychology, and I study how goals affect the development of interest and perceived value in academic subjects. Most recently, I have become interested in the role that parents can play in promoting perceived value and academic motivation in their adolescent children. My graduate students and I do experimental laboratory studies as well as longitudinal studies.

Janet Hyde
My research falls in the areas of psychology of women, human sexuality, and gender development. One current research project, the Wisconsin Study of Families and Work, focuses on working mothers and their children. A spinoff from that project is the Adolescent Development Project, in which we are studying the emergence of gender differences in depression in adolescence and peer sexual harassment victimization in adolescence. A current meta-analysis is investigating gender differences and similarities in mathematics performance.

Rick Jenison
Jenison Laboratory
The long-term objective of my research is to understand the neural mechanisms and coding that underlie economic decision-making in the human brain. My focus recently has been the statistical modeling of populations of neurons in the human amygdala recorded directly from patients with pharmacologically intractable epilepsy. A major challenge in the study of neural coding is identifying the role of coordinated activity between neurons. To this end, I am developing new statistical approaches for analyzing large arrays of simultaneously recorded single neurons.

Keith Kluender
My students and I are working to better understand how people hear complex sounds such as speech and how experience shapes the way we hear our world. Our research questions have encouraged the use of many experimental tools. We study the performance of human listeners in a broad array of tasks, and we use animal subjects to control effects of experience. We also use neurophysiological recordings to reveal auditory processes, and computational simulations of hearing and learning. Although our emphasis is upon fundamental aspects of perception, our work is being extended to practical problems or computer speech recognition and hearing aid design.

Wen Li
My research pertains to psychological and neural underpinnings of emotion processing and emotion-cognition interactions, and how these mechanisms are implicated in anxiety disorders. I study emotion processing at different stages, categorized as “quick-and-dirty” analysis versus slower-yet-elaborate evaluation of stimulus information.  My findings suggest that emotion processes interact with diverse cognitive operations, in an automatic or even unconscious fashion, resulting in various cognitive biases that are especially salient in anxious individuals.  On the other hand, my research demonstrates that emotional experiences can lead to remarkable cognitive improvement, highlighting the extraordinary capacity humans possess to maximize ecological advantage. Nevertheless, impairment in this kind of learning may underlie anxiety symptoms characterized by excessive sensory sensitivity and hypervigilance.  Given the unique psychological and neural intimacy between olfaction and emotion, olfactory (in addition to visual) stimuli are often applied in my experiments to facilitate emotional responses.  Multiple approaches and methodologies, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), event-related potentials (ERPs), autonomic physiology and sensory psychophysics, are incorporated in my investigations.

Maryellen MacDonald
Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory 
My research focuses on language comprehension and language production. We investigate how people turn their thoughts into language and how people turn sound waves (speech) into an understanding of what other people are saying.   We also investigate the relationship between working memory and language comprehension and production abilities, including individual differences in memory/language abilities and changes in these abilities over the lifespan.

Catherine Marler
My research centers around bi-directional interactions between endocrinology , animal behavior and the social environment. We are currently investigating how the social environment during development can influence neuroendocrinology and behaviors such as aggressive and parental behaviors, how aggressive experiences as an adult can influence hormones and aggressive behavior in the future in both males and females, and how hormones influence aggression and paternal behavior. We employ a wide range of model systems that permit study of both the mechanisms controlling behavior and the evolution of social behaviors, although a primary focus is Peromyscus mice because species display variation in aggressive and paternal behaviors.

Yuri Miyamoto
Culture and Cognition laboratory
My research focuses on the interplay between psychological processes and the socio-cultural environment. To illustrate how psychological processes are grounded in cultural context, my first line of research focuses on demonstrating cultural variations in holistic vs. analytic cognitive processes and dialectical emotions. Furthermore, to elucidate how such cultural differences emerge and are sustained, my second line of research examines interpersonal and developmental antecedents and health consequences of culturally divergent ways of thinking and feeling.

Colleen Moore
I study judgment and decision making, psychology of environmental issues, and moral thought about environmental issues.  My lab group is currently working on psychological processes in the perception of environmental justice issues.  In addition, I have collaborative projects with Professor Schneider on prenatal influences on development.

Joseph Newman
Self-Regulation Laboratory
I am studying the psychological processes that contribute to the dysregulation of behavior, emotion, and cognition. Most of this research has focused on syndromes of disinhibition such as psychopathy, conduct disorder, aggression, and impulsivity. However, our group is also interested in studying how emotionality short-circuits cognitive processing and engenders dysregulation in people with high anxiety.

Seth Pollak
Child Emotion Research Laboratory
In my lab, we approach research on child development from both basic science and applied, public health perspectives. From the vantage point of basic science, my students and I explore mechanisms of developmental change. Through our research, we address questions about the interpersonal, cognitive, and neurobiological mechanisms that are responsible for the increasingly complex behaviors that children acquire during infancy, early childhood, and into adolescence.  My particular area of interest is in understanding how the quantity and quality of early experiences in children’s lives influences the way children think about and process information. Members of our lab group hope to leverage an understanding of how developmental change occurs to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies for children most at risk for emotional, learning, and behavior problems.

Bradley Postle
Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
Our interests in human memory and cognition encompass the cognitive and neural bases of working memory, attention, control, intelligence, and nondeclarative memory. The methods that we use include behavioral studies, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS),  simultaneous rTMS and EEG, and simultaneous TMS and fMRI.

Tim Rogers
Knowledge and Concepts Laboratory
I am interested in understanding human semantic memory; that is, our knowledge about the meanings of words, objects, and events. Specifically, I would like to understand how semantic knowledge is stored and represented in the mind and brain, how it is acquired throughout development, how semantic tasks are performed by healthy adults and experts, and how semantic knowledge degrades in dementia.

I address these questions using computer models and empirical investigation with healthy and brain-damaged populations. In work with Jay McClelland I have used a simple feed-forward connectionist model to illustrate how the principles of parallel distributed processing (PDP) can make sense of a range of empirical phenomena from the domains of conceptual development, normal and disturbed adult semantic cognition, expertise, and "theory-theory." This work has recently been published in a book from MIT Press. With Karalyn Patterson and John Hodges at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, and Matthew Lambon Ralph at the University of Manchester, I have conducted empirical work investigating the breakdown of semantic memory in different neuropsychological disorders. With Cathy Price at the Functional Imaging Lab in London, UK, I have done some funtional imaging work to determine how patterns of brain activation seen in the temporal lobes during semantic tasks might reflect the similarity structure of visual and semantic representations.

Carol Ryff
I study multiple aspects of psychological well-being (e.g., purpose in life, personal growth, mastery, positive relations) and how they are contoured by social structural influences (e.g., age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, culture) as well as how they change as people negotiate life challenges and transitions (e.g., relocation, caregiving).  Understanding their biological (neuroendocrine, inflammatory, cardiovascular, bone) and neural correlates is also a primary focus    These interests are pursued in the context of a large national study, MIDUS (Midlife in the U.S.), which I currently direct (see  I also direct the Institute on Aging (see, which is devoted to promoting multidisciplinary research from early adulthood through old age.

Jenny Saffran
Infant Learning Laboratory
How do children acquire their native language? My research focuses on the kinds of learning abilities required to master the complexities of language. Three broad issues characterize my work. One line of research asks what kinds of learning emerge in infancy. A second line of research probes the biases that shape human learning abilities, and the relationship between these biases and the structure of human languages. A third issue concerns the extent to which the learning abilities underlying this process are specifically tailored for language acquisition. Related research concerns infant music perception, and the relationship between music and language learning.

Mark Seidenberg
Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
My research focuses on issues concerning language and reading. The fundamental questions concern the kinds of knowledge that support these skills;  how this knowledge is acquired, used, and represented in the brain; and anomalies that occur developmentally or following brain injury or disease.  We use a variety of methods including behavioral studies of typical and atypical individuals, neural network models, and neuroimaging.

Charles Snowdon
Our laboratory studies primate behavior: olfactory, auditory and acoustic communication and its development; social learning and cognition; the hormonal basis of pair-bonding, bi-parental care and reproductive inhibition; parental care and the effects of multiple caretakers on infant development. We collaborate on studies using fMRI of awake monkeys to understand brain mechanisms of behavior and communication. We maintain a captive colony of the cooperatively breeding cotton-top tamarin, and several recent students have done field work in Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Kenya.
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