You are viewing 21 posts in the category Faculty News

Mike Tomasello wins APA's 2015 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award

    • Mike Tomasello

Congratulations to Professor Mike Tomasello, who has won the American Psychological Association's 2015 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. This award is APA's highest research award. Past recipients have included names like
 Wolfgang Koehler, Jerome Bruner, and Jean Piaget. Congratulations!


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Honoring Bob Thompson

    • Dr. Robert Thompson

On May 8th the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience held a thank you reception for Professor Bob Thompson at Bostock Library.  Thompson will be retiring in June but will continue to teach classes at Duke.

Thompson was lauded for his far-reaching impact on the University in a number of areas, from undergraduate education to campus culture to clinical psychology, as well as his personal integrity as a scholar and mentor.

 "Perhaps more than any other individual, Bob Thompson created the opportunities for pediatric and clinical child psychology to flourish at Duke,"  said longtime colleague John Curry.  "And this was all before he became Dean of Trinity College."

Thompson, who became Dean of Trinity College in 1997, returned to teaching full-time in 2008.  He holds appointments in the Departments of Psychology & Neuroscience and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Pediatrics.

Since 2009, he has consistently taught two undergraduate seminar courses:  Biological Psychology of Human Development and a first year seminar, Beyond Reason: Empathy and Identity.  Undergraduates rave about these classes, describing Thompson as a passionate instructor who is always engaged in the process of student development, especially taking the time to help students find topics of interest for final projects and meeting with them multiple times along the way.

"I do not know anyone at Duke who has been more committed to enhancing undergraduate education than Bob,"  said Associate Dean David Rabiner.  "Through his efforts and support, our department was able to launch and maintain an intensive summer research program that has provided a terrific opportunity for many talented students."

Liz Victor,  a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, has worked with Thompson since she was an undergraduate at Duke.  "When I first met Bob I was 18 years old and at that time I could not have fathomed the hugely significant role he would have in my professional and personal development," she said.  "His approach to mentorship is the perfect balance of providing empathy and support, while also pushing me to be a better clinician and researcher.  His passion for teaching, research, pediatric mental health, and personal student growth serves as a constant reminder for what I aim to achieve in my career going forward."

Thompson  was one of several  faculty members from Duke Psychiatry and  Psychology & Neuroscience  who created the Collaborative Clinical Psychology Program.  This group helped create  what is one of the top programs in the country, and one that is unique in its ability to train clinical psychologists for careers in academic psychology, academic medical centers, and the full array of scientific and professional options.  He was also founding member of the Association of Psychologists in Academic Health Centers, a professional home for psychologists in medical schools and other health centers.

Thompson became Dean of Undergraduate Affairs for Trinity College in 1997 and Trinity College Dean in 1999.  He was named Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education in 2004.  He also served as director of the Undergraduate Program in Human Development and co-director of the Faculty Associates Program. 

In 2008, The Thompson Writing Program at Duke was named in his honor.

One of Thompson's major accomplishments was helping craft Curriculum 2000, a major revision of the undergraduate curriculum that requires students to take courses in five areas of knowledge.  Thompson also promoted the creation of the Office of Undergraduate Research Support, and helped create Visible Thinking, an annual showcase of research in the natural and social sciences and the humanities by Duke students.  He was also chair of the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee.

As Dean of Trinity College, Thompson's open door policy and guidance was appreciated by many, said longtime former assistant Gail Hignight.  "I am not exaggerating when I say that I have seen thousands of students, faculty, administrators  and staff seek Bob out  for his guidance on everything from work issues to very personal problems," she said.

Thompson completed his undergraduate degree at La Salle University and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Dakota, with an internship at Indiana University Medical Center.  He  came to Duke to be the Director of the Developmental Evaluation Center, after having been the chief psychologist at Georgetown Medical Center's interdisciplinary developmental center, and a faculty member at Catholic University.

About two years after arriving at Duke, Thompson was asked to lead the Division of Medical Psychology within the Department of Psychiatry, which he proceeded to do with great distinction for 20 years.  He increased the size of the division, the opportunities for psychologists to work with virtually all of the medical specialties, and the academic impact of Medical Psychology.

"Thompson personifies the scientist-practitioner, the psychologist who is guided in practice by the best current science, and who, when he sees gaps in the science, conducts research to find answers that will be helpful to clinicians, children and their families," Curry said.  "He has accomplished all of this with integrity, in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect."



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P&N Welcomes Elika Bergelson

The Department welcomes Elika Bergelson, who will be joining P&N as a new assistant professor on July 1, 2016.

Dr. Bergelson received her PhD in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at the University of Rochester. Her research examines word learning in infants, using eyetracking and corpus methods. Her work focuses on the interactions between language acquisition and cognitive development, and on the influence of infants' linguistic, visual, and social environments on early learning.

    • Elika Bergelson
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Welcome Mike Tomasello

    • Mike Tomasello

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Michael Tomasello will be joining Duke’s faculty as a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. Dr. Tomasello is currently the Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. He is a world-renowned scholar on social cognition, social learning, and communication/language in human children and great apes. Dr. Tomasello did his undergraduate work at Duke and we are excited to welcome him back to campus!

Current Web Page:

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Welcome Rita Svetlova

    • Dr. Rita Svetlova

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Rita Svetlova will be joining Duke’s faculty as a Visiting Assistant Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience. Dr. Svetlova received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. Her research focuses on the development of prosocial skills, empathy, and morality. Please join us in welcoming her to Duke!

Current Web Page:

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Celebrating the Career of Philip Costanzo

    • Phil Costanzo speaks at FestSchrift

On Friday, May 2nd, the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience joined with the
entire university in celebrating the career of our colleague and friend Philip R. Costanzo.

The celebration, which was held at the Nasher Museum of Art, included a Festschrift in
the afternoon featuring four internationally recognized scholars who discussed the
implications of Prof. Costanzo’s work and a dinner and roast in the evening. The featured
speakers were: E. Tory Higgins, Columbia University; William Swann, University of
Texas-Austin; William Crano, Claremont Graduate School; and John Coie, Duke University

    • Phil Costanzo Festschrift Panel

The Festschrift attendees were welcomed by Prof. Laurie Patton, the Dean of the College
of Arts and Sciences, who lauded Prof. Costanzo for his more than 45 years of extraordinary
scholarship, teaching, mentoring, and service at Duke. Dean Patton also announced the
establishment of the Philip R. Costanzo Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship, an innovative
program in which the top undergraduate students in Psychology will have the opportunity to
receive training and experience in teaching and will serve as teaching assistants for
introductory courses.

    • Philip Costanzo and former students

Provost Peter Lange was the featured “roaster” for the evening and was followed by a
progression of friends, colleagues, and students who shared their favorite stories and
their gratitude for Prof. Costanzo’s scholarly contributions and  friendship.

P&N congratulates Prof. Costanzo on a truly extraordinary career and we are delighted to
have had the opportunity to recognize his work and his personal contributions. We look
forward to many more years of collaboration and colleagueship with Phil and we salute
him as he officially “retires”.

    • Philip Costanzo and Family

    • Phil Costanzo Festschrift
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Harris Cooper named the Hugo L. Blomquist Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

    • harris

Congratulations to  Harris Cooper, who has just been named the Hugo L. Blomquist Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience.   Dr. Cooper was recognized for his contributions to several areas of psychology, from educational practice and student learning to meta-analysis and research synthesis, as well as for his leadership at Duke and in  our department's discipline. He was one of seven Arts and Sciences faculty who were awarded distinguished professorships this year.

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'Belief Superiority' is Bipartisan

    • istock 000016777144large 1280x960
Psychology & Neuroscience PhD graduate Kaitlin Toner, professor Mark Leary,  undergraduate student Michael Asher, and doctoral candidate Katrina Jongman-Sereno, are featured in Duke Today for their research on people's feelings of superiority about their political beliefs. The Duke P&N team found that people who have more extreme political attitudes, in both liberal and conservative directions, tend to also think that their beliefs are superior to everyone else's. 
See the Duke Today website for the full article:
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Gary Bennett on NBC’s “Today"

    • garybennett

Associate professor Gary Bennett talks about a new program challenging weight-loss messages and healthy dieting concepts. (with video)

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P & N collaboration on global mental health in Tanzania

    • SOFT workshop Aug 2012

Psychology & Neuroscience professor Kathy Sikkema and  doctoral student Sarah Wilson, along with Dr. Melissa Watt at Duke Global Health Institute are featured in this month's Duke Research Blog for their upcoming study on psychological interventions for women with obstetric fistula in Tanzania.  Women with obstetric fistula have been found to have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD due to the social stigmatization associated with the disease.

See Duke's research blog for the full article:

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Mark Leary Elected SPSP President

    • Mark Leary
Mark Leary, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, has been elected President of the the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the world's largest organization of social and personality psychologists, with over 5000 members worldwide. 
Leary will serve as President-elect in 2014 and as President in 2015.
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Makeba Wilbourn Featured in Duke Today

P&N's Makeba Wilbourn is featured in  Duke Today for her work  at Durham's C.C. Spaulding Elementary.  Dr. Wilbourn's research-in-practice hopes to close the achievement gap with students by pairing gestures and body movements with vocabulary instruction and memory tests.  Full text of the article:

    • Makeba Wilbourn
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David Rubin Receives Honorary Degree From Denmark's Aarhus University

Congratulations to P&N faculty David Rubin, who received an honorary degree from Denmark's Aarhus University on September 14.  Check out the feature story on Duke Today as well as the video feature where Rubin talks about his research.

    • David Rubin Receives Honorary Degree From Denmark's Aarhus University

Dean Svend Hyllenberg, left,  presents Duke's David Rubin with an honorary degree. Seated wearing a gray dress (background, center) is Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. Photo by Lars Kruse/Aarhus University

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Harris Cooper Featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education

P&N's Harris Cooper starts a new psychology journal, Archives of Scientific Psychology. Read all about it in the  Chronicle of Higher Education.

    • Archives of Scientific Psychology
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Lise & Michael Wallach Co-author New Book

P&N's Lise and Michael Wallach co-author a new book, Seven Views of Mind, published by Psychology Press.

    • Seven Views of Mind
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Treating Depression Can Prevent Substance Abuse in Adolescents

Congratulations to P&N"s John Curry, whose  5-year study on adolescent depression and substance abuse featured in Duke Today. Don't miss his video on yoututbe either.


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Staci Bilbo's research featured on Duke Today

How Staci Bilbo's research could illuminate human brain development:

This article originally appeared in Gist from the Mill, the news magazine from the Social Science Research Institute.

Staci Bilbo is one of the few researchers in her field who meld neuroscience and immunology techniques.

Article from Duke Today

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Gist from the Mill, the news magazine from the Social Science Research Institute.

Staci Bilbo is one of the few researchers in her field who meld neuroscience and immunology techniques.

DURHAM, NC - Researchers sometimes go to great lengths to construct animal models that could shed light on human problems. Staci Bilbo, in studying the immune system and brain development, has been known to replicate life in a low-income housing project for her rodents and enroll the pups in a rodent after-school program. All this to determine what happens to human babies born to stressed mothers exposed to air pollution and what can be done about it.

"We're trying to figure out a behavioral intervention, like an enriched environment for the offspring," Bilbo said. "We take the pups to a playroom for a few hours each day and ask whether that reverses any of the negative effects we've seen."

Bilbo, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, is one of only a few researchers studying microglia, immune cells that reside in the brain. She looks at what happens in neural-immune interactions in the brain under various conditions and how that affects brain development. Her work has won widespread acclaim. Many of her research papers have been published in highly respected journals, and she recently received the Frank Beach Young Investigator Award from the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology. She has been a very successful grant writer and was elected to her department's advisory committee while an assistant professor. Her fall class evaluations were among the top five percent from across the university. All this in the first eight years of her career after graduate school.

Neuroscientist Staci Bilbo. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

"One of the most exciting things we're doing is trying to model socio-economic status in animals," Bilbo said. Poor neighborhoods not only have poor housing conditions but more maternal stress, fewer resources and greater exposure to toxins because they're usually located closer to highways -- all cumulative factors people in poor neighborhoods face that people in wealthy neighborhoods don't. Researchers rarely model cumulative risk factors, she said, because "throwing a bunch of factors in together gets very messy. "But people are messy."

Through work done in collaboration with a research grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and funded by a Research Incubator Award from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), Bilbo has found that giving air pollutant particles to rodent pups themselves doesn't change their brain or immune system much. But stressing the pregnant mothers while exposing them to pollution has a hugely synergistic effect on their offspring, she said.

"They're much worse off," she said of those pups. Once the baby mice grow up, they have cognitive deficits and anxiety and changes in metabolism that make them heavier. Bilbo's research is designed to tease apart any behavioral change in the mother that is mediating something in a pup from a physiological effect, such as transferring stress hormones while nursing the pup. Non-traditional in her methods, she is one of a few researchers in her field to meld neuroscience and immunology techniques, employing flow cytometry, a method of sorting cell types to find out what brain cells are producing.

"We're very interested in what about mom is producing the effect and how that's transferred to her pups," Bilbo said. "Is she changing her behavior? Or are her stress hormones getting to the fetus and interacting with the toxin exposure in an inflammatory cascade?"

In graduate school, Bilbo began with the notion of plasticity in the immune system: External events could impact the immune system, which would respond in an adaptive way to organize other systems in the body. Her research is built on emerging research that showed that stressors and nutritional deficiencies during development could permanently change metabolism, stress reactivity, anxiety and propensity for depression later in life. She figured it might affect the immune system, too.

First, Bilbo examined the interaction of the immune system and endocrine system. When she reduced the length of time Siberian hamsters were exposed to daylight, their bodies responded as if it were winter -- their fur grew thicker and whiter, their reproductive systems turned off and their immune systems kicked into high gear.

Randy Nelson, her doctoral mentor at Johns Hopkins University (he has since been successfully recruited to Ohio State), said Bilbo stands out in her ability to take information from many disparate fields and put it together in new, fresh ways that cause other researchers to say, "Of course!"

"But it took Staci to figure it out and do the critical studies," Nelson said. "She's brilliant in looking for unexpected outcomes and following those up in her work." Bilbo's interest in the brain's role developed as she studied sickness behavior. She discovered that the organized responses to illness an animal exhibits -- lethargy, fever, reduced interest in eating and drinking -- were adaptive, not pathological, behaviors.

"They're recuperative behaviors that help you overcome the infection more quickly," she said. "They're very cool because they're a motivational shift. You're not motivated to do the same things you usually do, and you have a very strong motivation to sleep. That implicated the brain."

Brain development is a very underexplored area, she said, yet it presented an interesting plasticity experiment: short-term plasticity resulted in long-term changes.

"The brain's development must be the time that all of these different things were set up," she said. "I looked at neuralimmune interactions in the brain and got immediately fascinated because I found all this early evidence that the immune system was critical for brain development."

Harris Cooper, chair of Duke's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, said that Bilbo's research on immune system compromise influencing risk or resilience for later brain functioning and behavior speaks to a broad spectrum of issues that interest scholars across psychology and other social sciences.

"Her work helps us understand serious concerns about the implications of childhood poverty," Cooper said. Bilbo is one of the pioneers in the field of understanding how the inflammatory response of the immune system affects other areas of functioning later in life.

Quentin Pittman, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Calgary, is familiar with Bilbo's work and, like many others in the field, holds her research in high regard. Her studies of microglia, the white cells in the brain that act as scavengers against infection, and how they are modulated by early infection, has implications for vulnerability in adults.

"Many central nervous system diseases have a very strong inflammatory component to them -- Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, dementia -- and the states of obesity and autism," Pittman said. "In the area of neuroinflammation, she's the most promising young investigator I know of."

Bilbo has recently uncovered a new class of molecules that could be useful in treating addiction. Yet she doesn't ignore the importance of behavioral interventions, like maternal bonding, exercise and the rodent playroom fun.

"You can't re-create a behavioral experience with a pill," she said. Bilbo grew up mainly in Texas and received an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She did her graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, obtaining her Ph.D. in psychological and brain sciences in 2003. She conducted postgraduate work at the University of Colorado's Center for Neuroscience, where she continued to be extraordinarily productive in writing and publishing research papers.

She joined Duke's faculty in 2007. She has been invited to speak at dozens of colloquia in the past few years and has published more than 40 articles and several chapters and abstracts, and serves as a reviewer for many well-respected journals. In an era of tight funding, she secured major grant funding for three path-breaking studies that she is now conducting simultaneously. She recently completed two others.

Bilbo is uncommonly efficient, said Nelson, her mentor at Johns Hopkins. When she had an idea for a project, he remembered, she would write up a protocol and explain what she planned to do in the study. She included the previous research on the topic, her hypothesis and what she intended to do with the results, and laid out the methodology. Once he approved her project, she was off and running. As soon as she got the results, she'd plug those in and take a few days to write the discussion section.

"Within a week of the study being completed, she had a paper to submit, and a very nice one at that," Nelson said. "She was the easiest grad student I had -- very independent, smart and highly motivated. She was the entire package."

Her longtime friend Jacqueline Wood attested to Bilbo's efficiency. Wood remembers sitting next to her in class, as an undergraduate, watching her take copious yet concise notes in a compact notebook.

"She's very observational," Wood said. "She's very patient and a good listener."

Wood also saw Bilbo's maternal side, not just with her whippet and cats at home, but the creatures in her lab. "She took very good care of her laboratory lizards, and the crickets she fed to them," Wood said.

Maternal bonding, among other behavioral interventions, can set the trajectory for the way the brain works for the rest of the lifespan. Bilbo's research underscores the importance of prenatal care and resources for moms, something the U.S. doesn't do a very good job of, according to Bilbo.

"The pregnant mother is a vastly underexplored slice of the population," Bilbo said, "and arguably one of the most important."

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Debating Dual Language Immersion

Listen to a podcast of Makeba Wilbourn and a panel of experts on today's "The State of Things"

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Idan Shalev of the Caspi/Moffitt group featured in USAToday

Idan Shalev of the Caspi/Moffitt group is featured in USAToday.

For full text of the Shalev article in Molecular Psychiatry, go to
    • DNA
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Hariri's work featured in May issue of *Discover* Magazine