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Areas Of Study

Cognitive Psychology & Cognitive Neuroscience

The study of cognitive psychology encompasses perception, learning, memory, language, reasoning, and problem-solving. Cognitive neuroscience focus on the links between psychological functions and neural mechanisms. The two areas are strongly integrated at Carnegie Mellon, with many cognitive faculty pursuing the methods and issues of both behavioral and neural approaches.
The department played a pioneering role in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It was among the first to emphasize precise specification of the mechanisms underlying cognitive processes, often by using computational models. Our faculty developed architectures for computational modeling and new behavioral methods to test these models, such as the analysis of think-aloud protocols and eye gaze. Carnegie Mellon faculty were among the first to use fMRI and other physiologically- based measurements of cognition and to draw inferences from a variety of populations, such as experts in particular content domains, bilinguals, and neuropsychological patients.
These emphases on mechanism and precise theory continue to characterize the cognitive psychologists at Carnegie Mellon. As cognitive neuroscientists, faculty in the department base their theories of cognition on physiological processes at multiple levels, from single cells and neural circuits, to brain modules and their interactions. The research involves a number of techniques, including neuropsychological analysis of patients with brain damage and mental disorders, computational modeling, functional neuroimaging, and experiments on the relation between brain development and cognition in human infants and other species.
Interdisciplinary interaction is a characteristic of Carnegie Mellon as a whole, and it is well represented by researchers in psychology. Research groups interact with other researchers in the biological and neuro-sciences at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. There are frequent interactions with units in the School of Computer Science, including the departments of Machine Learning and Robotics.
Our graduate program directly reflects Carnegie Mellon's unique flavor of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. The graduate program in cognitive psychology encourages the analysis of the functional and neural mechanisms underlying cognition using a variety of methodologies, populations and computational formalisms. Students concentrating in cognitive neuroscience complement their training in psychology with course work and research experience in neuropsychology and neuroscience. For more intensive training in this area, students in the psychology department are eligible to participate in the graduate training program of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and its associated graduate tracks. This program provides exposure to cognitive, computational and systems neuroscience as well as cellular and molecular neuroscience, complementing the research training offered in the department, and extending the time to complete the Ph.d. to five years.

Developmental Psychology

Understanding human behavior requires understanding how that behavior came to be. Developmental psychologists at Carnegie Mellon study the behavioral capabilities that infants bring to the world and the processes that allow the vast expansion of these capabilities in infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Particular emphasis is placed on the cognitive and perceptual-motor processes that produce development in such areas as problem solving, mathematical and scientific reasoning, language, visual perception, and locomotion.
What unifies the various research programs is a common effort to understand how developmental change occurs. In service of this goal, many different experimental and observational methods are used, including analyses of patterns of errors, verbal protocols, hand gestures, eye movements, and exploratory behavior. Several research programs utilize computer simulations to promote explicit theories of the skills and knowledge that underlie children's behavior, the processes that put these skills and knowledge to work, and the processes that govern the acquisition of more advanced competence. There are a number of areas of the Carnegie Mellon campus that are dedicated to developmental research, including the Ambika Paul Infancy Research suite and the Children's School.
There is considerable overlap of interests among the cognitive and developmental faculty, and it is quite common for graduate students to work with faculty in both areas. Students interested in development also often interact with researchers in the computer science program at Carnegie Mellon, at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and are involved in the PIER program. Thus, the program offers a wide variety of opportunities to study many aspects of development in infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents.

Social / Personality / Health Psychology

Humans are fundamentally social beings. They are also individuals with unique histories, experiences and perceptions. Their social and cognitive behaviors, the nature of their relationships and their health are influenced not only by the social contexts in which they find themselves but also by the personality traits they bring to those situations. The social/personality psychologists in the department are interested in the areas of self-regulation, gender, emotions, health, relationships, stress and coping. Included in their work are studies on the nature of relationships, the functions of emotions within relationships, the impact of personality characteristics and social support on health, the impact of stress on disease, and pathways linking mindfulness meditation with health outcomes. Within the area of health psychology, studies are being done on the role of psychological and social factors in heart disease, cancer and infectious diseases. Within the area of relationship research, studies are being done on psychological processes occurring in newly forming relationships, friendships, romantic relationships and marriages.
The program builds upon traditional research and training experiences in the social/personality psychology laboratory as well as on the faculty's current interests and opportunities in studying patient populations. Researchers in the department interact and collaborate with researchers at other educational and medical institutions. For example, we currently have an NIH-sponsored training program in Health Psychology that involves researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), and in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Social and Decision Sciences.