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Graduate Office

Sherri Gilliland, Graduate Records



Department of Psychology 
125 Moore Building 
The Pennsylvania State University 
University Park, PA 16802-3106

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Research in the Cognitive Area

The Cognitive Psychology program at Penn State emphasizes research and theory in a variety of sub-areas of cognitive psychology and human performance. All cognitive students' programs emphasize basic theoretical issues and research methodologies in cognitive psychology, but individual programs vary widely depending upon the student's substantive interest. As in the other programs in the department, the student works with his or her faculty adviser to develop an individualized program of major and minor areas. Faculty and students in the cognitive area participate in a weekly "bag lunch" that provides opportunities to discuss ongoing research projects and issues. Graduates of the program are prepared to enter research and teaching positions in university or college settings, or to work in applied research organizations.

Research Labs

Bilingualism and Language Development (BILD) Lab - Website

Director: Janet van Hell

The Bilingualism and Language Development (BiLD) Lab studies the cognitive and neurocognitive processes related to language development, second language learning, and bilinguals’ use of two languages. We combine behavioral, neuropsychological (mostly ERPs), and linguistic techniques to study patterns of cross-language interaction and transfer in child and adult second language learners at different levels of proficiency. We also study the neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in code-switching and in the comprehension of foreign accented speech. A second research theme in the BiLD Lab focuses on language development in school-aged children with typical or atypical development, including children with specific language impairment and children who are deaf. Part of our neurocognitive research takes place in an RV mobile lab parked at schools, the 'brain bus'. We also use the 'brain bus' for outreach activities, e.g., science fairs or research demonstrations. For more information on our research projects, the people in the BiLD lab, how to get involved, and our recent publications, see the BiLD lab website,

The Brain Development Lab - Website

Director: Rick Gilmore

Research in the Brain Development Lab takes a cognitive neuroscience approach to understanding the development of perception, action, and memory. Our goal is to understand patterns of brain and behavioral changes in infants, children, and young adults. We use behavioral, EEG, and computational methods in our research. We have several foci. One is the development of motion processing, specifically optic flow patterns associated with self- and object motion. A second concerns the expansion of open science practices and the development of 'big data' infrastructure to support research and advance discovery in developmental cognitive science.

The Cognitive Aging & Neuroimaging (CAN) Lab - Website

Director: Nancy Dennis

The Cognitive Aging & Neuroimaging (CAN) Lab, in the Department of Psychology at Penn State, examines the effects of aging on learning and memory processes using both behavioral and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) methods. Our lab focuses on several cognitive processes associate with learning and memory including the study of true memories, false memories, relational memories, implicit learning and cognitive control of both remembering and forgetting. With respect to cognitive aging, our research concentrates on the examination of age-related neural markers of cognitive decline, as well as mechanisms for neural compensation.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Laboratory - Website

Director: Roger Beaty 

Our lab examines neural and cognitive mechanisms of creative thinking. In particular, we study the roles of memory systems and cognitive control in creative thought. One area of our research uses fMRI to characterize brain networks supporting divergent thinking. A goal of this work is to identify cognitive processes associated with patterns of functional brain connectivity during idea generation. We also study creative thinking in the context of figurative language production, focusing on novel metaphor.

Lab of Developmental Neuroscience - Website

Director: Suzy Scherf

The Lab of Developmental Neuroscience studies a variety of topics in human brain development using both fMRI imaging and behavioral techniques. We are particularly interested in the development of face processing. The lab is located in Chandlee Laboratory, home of the Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center (SLEIC).

Language & Aging Lab - Website

Director: Michele Diaz

Individuals in the Language and Aging Lab study age-related differences in language. We are specifically interested in how the brain supports language and use a variety of behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to answer our research questions. Our lab has focused on phonological and semantic aspects of language production because older adults differ in these areas. Semantic aspects of language, such as world knowledge, experience, and vocabulary, continue to develop and grow throughout the lifespan. In contrast, older adults have greater difficulty with phonological aspects of word retrieval (e.g., increased incidences of tip-of-the-tongue phenomena). We are also interested in neural plasticity and how individual differences in ability or experience influence the brain.

The Learning Lab - Website

Director:  Elisabeth Karuza

Whether mastering a new language, forming a new category or processing a new scene, we navigate the world by extracting patterns from sensory input, often without realizing we are doing it. Gaps persist in our understanding of precisely how learners go from tuning into these patterns to building up sophisticated knowledge systems, particularly when this process is hindered by noisy input or competing signals. Through a combination of behavioral and neuroscience methods (e.g., functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), our lab examines both the processes and the outcomes of pattern learning in the human brain.




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