Mentors and Examples of their Research Projects

Margaret Beier

Example project: Workplace Development and Career Transitions

What factors contribute to a happy career? Why do some people work as long as they possibly can and others retire as soon as they are able? Our lab investigates the factors – related to individual attitudes and the work environment – that lead to job satisfaction, job performance and decisions to retire throughout the career lifespan. Currently we are most interested in examining the social environment of the workplace and its influence on turnover and retirement decisions for older and younger workers.

Example project: Predicting Success in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

What factors make some people more successful in STEM disciplines than others? What is the role of early educational and home experiences in choosing STEM majors in college and choosing STEM careers. Multiple ongoing projects examine the determinants of majoring in STEM and choosing STEM careers. In particular, we examine how vocational interests, self-efficacy, and classroom experiences are related to STEM success, focusing on the experiences of women and underrepresented minority groups.

Mike Byrne

Example project: Visual grouping for human-computer interaction

One of the most primitive operations performed by the human visual system is grouping, that is, identifying clusters of visual objects. Most of the research on grouping considers either difficult photograph-like images where simply identifying what the objects are (vs. what the background is) is a challenge. On the other end of the spectrum, most of the remaining research considers grouping of just patterns of dots. We want to understand the space in between, which is typical of computer displays: how are collections of buttons, text, lines, etc. grouped? We will conduct a series of experiments to try to understand this phenomenon and test our current theory for how this is done.

Patricia DeLucia

Example project: Multisensory integration of information in judgments of collision

The objective of this project is to study how people combine information from vision and hearing to make judgments about collisions. A fundamental component of mobility is the ability to avoid collisions with objects or people in the environment, for example, walking in a shopping mall or crossing a street. These abilities have been considered mostly visual and there are few studies of the use of auditory information for collision avoidance, and even fewer on how auditory and visual information are combined. The current study will use auditory and visual simulations of approaching objects and measure the relative contributions of vision and hearing to judgments of collisions. Results will have implications for training and rehabilitation of people who have vision loss and thus might compensate for this loss by relying more on hearing.

Example project: Effects of training on judgments of collisions

The objective of this project is to study the effects of training on a driver’s ability to make judgments about collision. Prior research showed that people can improve perceptual judgments. However, such improvements were limited to basic stimuli and tasks and did not generalize to non-trained tasks. Our prior research showed that, in contrast to earlier studies of perceptual-motor skills, people who trained with occlusion glasses (stroboscopic viewing) did not improve judgments of when an approaching object with hit them. The current study aims to measure the effects of a different training method– attentional instructions and to determine whether people can be taught to rely on the most effective visual information. Results will have implications for transportation safety, sports, and rehabilitation of the visually impaired.

Chris Fagundes (unavailable this year)

Summer trainees will have the opportunity to design a project based on Dr. Fagundes’ current funded work. If accepted, trainees will work with a team that includes post-doctoral fellows, staff, Ph.D. students, and undergraduate research assistants. Trainees will be provided a work space equipped with a computer at the new Bioscience Research Collaborative at Rice University. For detailed information about ongoing projects, potential trainees should go to and click on the project tab. In brief, we have three active studies:

Example project

We are currently running a large study funded by the National Institute of Health to examine the biobehavioral mechanisms underlying grief in order to better understand why those who are widowed are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in the first year after the loss compared with age-matched comparisons. We are also examining how socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity, and geographical location (and its relation to SES) impact the grief process.

Example project

We are the host site for a large NIH funded trial examining the biobehavioral mechanisms that predict smoking cessation in African American smokers.

Example project

In a series of studies led by Dr. Luz Garcini, a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Christopher Fagundes, the BMED lab has shown that despite being a resilient population, undocumented immigrants experience a high prevalence of contextual stress that is associated with clinically significant psychological distress. Proyecto Voces (Project Voices) is a combination of research and community outreach efforts aimed to identify and meet the health needs of undocumented immigrants. This includes identifying protective factors at the psychological and biological level that can help ameliorate the effects of contextual stress on the well-being of the undocumented community and all those who love them. Research findings from Proyecto Voces are essential to inform the development and implementation of advocacy, intervention and policy efforts.

Simon Fischer-Baum

Example project: Language impairments and recovery following brain damage

Immediately following brain damage, many individuals are left with selective difficulties in understanding and producing language , with at least partially recovery common over the course of 6-12 months. The goals of this project is to understand how language functions associate and dissociate following brain damage, to identify the neural basis of these different language functions using lesion-based methods and to map how changes in the patterns of brain activity following brain damage relate to recovery of function.

Example project: Reading by touch

Braille opens a world of information to individuals who are blind. At the same time the literacy rate among individuals who are blind in the United States is a cause for concern. The goal of this research is develop a better understanding of the cognitive processes involved in braille reading. Because of differences between tactile and visual perception, reading by touch might differ substantially from reading by sight and there are also differences between how words are written in braille and how they are written in print. Because of these differences, there may be ways to effectively teach braille reading that differ from standard approaches for print reading.

Ozge Gurcanli

To be determined

Mikki Hebl (unavailable this year)

Example project: The influence of regional accents on employment decisions

In this study, we examine perceptions associated with U.S. regional accents. We propose that employer’s first impressions may be influenced by the candidate’s accent (Lippi-Green, 1997). This project extends work on native/nonnative accents (i.e., British accent) to look at how applicants with one of four different regional accents (i.e., southern, Midwestern, east coast, west coast) are evaluated by potential employers.

Example project:  The relationship between stereotypicality and leadership

For this study, we examine the extent to which stereotypicality influences leadership. Stereotypicality refers to the extent to which someone looks more (or less) like members of their own racial group, and this construct has been shown to significantly influence criminal sentencing, social networks, and persistence in STEM fields for those who look more or less like members of their race. In this study, we examine the relationship between stereotypicality and leadership.

Danielle King

Example project: Resilience to Adversity and Goal Focus

The aim of this study is to assess whether and how the way we think about our work goals impacts our ability and tendency to overcome adversity at work. We aim to inform programs and interventions meant to help employees better manage stressors in the workplace.

Example project: Developing a measure of employee resilience

This project focuses on developing both a trait and a behavioral measure of resilience to adversity. This work seeks to improve upon currently available measures and to help guide future research through the development of a clarified and valid measurement tool.

Eden King (unavailable this year)

Example project:

The American Academy of Pediatrics specifies that exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding with supplemental foods for one year or longer, drastically improves child and maternal health. Yet, only half of American children are breastfed at six months, and only one-third (30.7%) are breastfeeding at 12 months. A critical—and potentially malleable—reason for breastfeeding cessation is that women find it difficult to manage nursing when they return to work. Our lab is working to understand and reduce barriers to breastfeeding among working women.

Example project: 

Subtle forms of discrimination in educational contexts can cause anxiety, usurp cognitive resources, and ultimately undermine interest, confidence, and achievement. Our lab is working to identify and test strategies that enhance the retention of underrepresented students in STEM careers by empowering them with effective strategies to overcome the detrimental consequences of subtle discrimination at present and in their future workplaces. We will analyze why and how subtle discrimination is problematic and assess ambiguity reduction strategies as powerful theory-driven buffers of these effects.

Phil Kortum

Example project: The impact of cognitive ability on the assessment of usability

What types of people tend to find systems more or less usable? Factors that have been investigated to-date include gender, the geographic location of users, user experience with a system, and personality characteristics. This research project aims to extend this understanding by evaluating how cognitive ability might predict usability assessment. It is remarkable that the impact of cognitive ability on the subjective assessment of usability has not been widely studied, given that a century of research shows how measured cognitive ability predicts a very wide range of tasks at work, in school, and in everyday life. This project will involve collecting users’ assessment of the usability of various items and measuring their cognitive ability, then examining the data to look for relationships between the two.

Example project: Creation of ballots that can be more easily counted by hand.

Paper trails from elections are often assumed to be the gold standard in election counts. However, research has shown that the error rates in these hand counts can be significant enough to change the outcomes of reasonably close races. This research will examine whether there are perceptual and cognitive principles can be used to develop ballot forms that have superior hand counting characteristics, in order to aid voting officials when recounts/hand counts of elections are required.

Randi Martin

Our lab is interested in the psychology of language. Most of our current projects investigate the structure of verbal short-term memory and how it supports language production and comprehension. A student would work on an independent project related to the existing research happening in the lab.

Example project: The relation between rehearsal and WM in healthy aging

Models of working memory (WM) commonly assume some sort of rehearsal mechanism which keeps information active until further processing can be carried out. Many people have the subjective experience of feeling like faster rehearsal helps them remember more information, but is this actually true? Does rehearsal efficiency actually determine WM capacity, and could this relation be different across the lifespan? The goal of this project is to examine the role of rehearsal in WM performance in both younger and older adults to replicate and expand on past work addressing the relationship between rehearsal and WM.

Example project: Narrative Production and WM in aphasia

Individuals who struggle with language difficulties post stroke offer a way to look at how the language production system works when it is disrupted. Using the transcriptions of stories told by individuals with aphasia and their performance on WM tasks we can examine the role of WM in language production. Do different modalities of WM affect language production in distinct ways? Do these relationships change with recovery post stroke? The goal of this project is to investigate the role of WM in language production through the use of data from individuals with lesions due to stroke.

Example project: The role of domain-general cognitive processes in sentence comprehension

In the psychology of language, the question remains whether the cognitive processes that support comprehension (e.g., attention) are specific to language processing or domain general, meaning they are also engaged across other, nonverbal tasks. Using a combination of neuroimaging and eye tracking methods, we can ask: Does a combination of the default mode network and a network specific to language processing predict the ability to resolve interference in sentence comprehension better than a language specific network alone? The goal of this project is to use methods from network neuroscience to understand the role that domain general processes play in understanding language.

Fred Oswald

All projects are relevant to organizations and the workplace, but they are also relevant to a range of other settings (e.g., educational, medical, legal), and they speak to the effectiveness of organizations and individuals.

Undergraduate RA responsibilities could be tied to existing or new research projects that fall under the following categories:

Example project: The Nature and Future of Work

Researching the psychological nature of occupations and the future of work. National data sets and the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) are involved in this work.

Example project: School-to-Work Transitions

Researching success in students’ transitions into jobs and careers. Outcomes of this research include choosing one’s major and job, graduating from college in a timely manner, and finding work relevant to one’s major and career goals.

Example project: Developing Psychological Measures

Measuring socio-emotional learning or 21st century skills relevant to education, work, and other aspects of life, in addition to personality traits, knowledge, motivation, experience, and interests.

Example project: Using R Shiny for Tool Development

Many of our projects involve programming in R Shiny to create tools that make psychological findings more accessible to other researchers, practitioners, organizations, federal agencies, and the educated lay public.

Ed Salas

To be determined

Bryan Denny

Example project: Investigating the neural mechanisms of enhancing emotion regulation in bereaved spouses

The loss of a spouse is one of life’s most singularly stressful events. In this project we are investigating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying a novel emotion regulation intervention in bereaved spouses by examining how thinking about an emotional stimulus in a more adaptive way can affect the relationship between psychological stress, psychophysiological biomarkers of adaptive cardiac response, and brain activity as measured via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Through this work we seek to gain a greater understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying adaptive and maladaptive responses to stress among bereaved spouses and to further the development of optimized, effective emotion regulation interventions in this population.

Example project: Investigating biobehavioral mechanisms of cognitive emotion regulation training for family caregivers of Alzheimer’s Disease patients

Caring for a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease is highly stressful. In this project we are investigating the biobehavioral mechanisms underlying a novel smartphone-based cognitive emotion regulation intervention in primary family caregivers of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or a related dementia (AD/ADRD). In particular, we are examining how thinking about an emotional stimulus in a more adaptive way can predict changes in health-related behavior via changes in negative affect and psychophysiological health-related biomarkers. This work may hold clinical significance in the development of new, scalable interventions to improve emotional health and well-being in family caregivers of AD/ADRD patients.

Stephanie Leal

Summer trainees can work on projects related to memory, aging, depression, emotion, preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive tasks, & neuropsychology.

Example project: How does stress impact memory for emotional events?

Stress influences how we remember emotional events and how these events shape future behaviors. However, the impact of stress on memory specificity for emotional events has yet to be examined. When experiencing a stressful situation, do we remember the gist or details of the experience? Is our memory enhanced for stressful events or diminished? The goal of this project is to examine how acute stress might impact how we remember emotional events.

Example project: What are the effects of sleep on the aging brain?

Along with the physical changes that occur with aging, changes to sleep patterns are also part of the normal aging process. Sleep promotes the consolidation of experiences and plays an important role in memory and other cognitive functions. Does the amount of sleep at night directly impact our memory performance the next day? Does this get worse as we age? The goal of this project is to examine how the quality of sleep influences memory across the lifespan.

Example project: How are amyloid and tau related to cognition in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease?

Amyloid and tau are the main proteins involved in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. We can measure these proteins in the living human brain using PET imaging. Some cognitively normal older adults already start accumulating these proteins before clinical symptoms manifest. How does the presence of these proteins in the brain influence cognition? Can we detect changes in cognition early before clinical symptoms manifest? The goal of this project is to explore how amyloid and tau may impact cognition (attention, memory, processing speed, etc.).