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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Science
October 28, 2016
Canadian Excellence



Strategic Plan - Psychology

Dr. G. Nelson

published: 2007 | Research publication | Strategic Plan - Psychology


The University’s Century Plan for 2005-2011 targets increases in funding from each of the three major granting councils (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR) in the years ahead.  The diversity and uniqueness of research in modern Psychology departments is reflected in the fact that it houses people who apply to all three of these councils. Consistent with this diversity, the Strategic Research Plan for the Psychology Department involves three distinct areas of concentration, each with its own sub-areas of research expertise. One area, Brain and Cognition, focuses upon an analysis of the fundamental processes of perception, attention, memory, learning, and motivation in both humans and animals. This work is supported by NSERC and CIHR. A second area, Social and Developmental Psychology, focuses upon an analysis of social cognition, life transitions, and social and cognitive development across the lifespan. Work in this area is primarily supported by SSHRC and NSERC. A third area, Community Psychology, emphasizes the study of community mental health from the perspective of primary prevention, community-based development and culture and gender diversity. Research in this area is primarily supported by CIHR and SSHRC, as well as provincial (e.g., Ontario Mental Health Foundation, Ontario Ministry of Health) and other granting agencies.

The Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience fields currently represent a strong group of 11 scholars, all of whom are supported by NSERC funding. The University has committed two CRC chairs (one Tier I and one Tier II) in support of this field.
The field of Behavioural Neuroscience currently includes 5 tenured or tenure track faculty members, one to begin his appointment in July 2007 (Marrone).  The university has additionally expressed a commitment to this field by the allocation of a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience. This new faculty member will be recruited during Spring 2007.  Over the next few years, as the department expands, this field is expected to grow to 7 faculty members.  The researchers within this field have interests which can be grouped into two connected streams.  A major stream focuses on animal models of human medical (mental) disorders.  In particular, this includes: 1) animal models of addiction (Eikelboom and Mallet), with a focus on the  neurobiology of the endogenous cannabinoid system and other lipid modulators (Mallet and Teather), 2) animal models of eating disorders (Eikelboom), and 5) animal models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (Teather).  The second broad stream investigates the importance of learning processes.  The focus here is: 1) neurobiology of learning and memory (all), 2) comparative cognition of time and number processing (Santi), 3) multiple memory systems (Teather), 4) the learning-motivation interface (Eikelboom and Mallet), and 5) neural plasticity (Mallet and Marrone).  The researchers within this field work with rats and pigeons.  Up-to-date behavioural testing facilities, surgical facilities and molecular facilities are available for students and researchers within this field.

Research within the Cognitive Neuroscience area spans several domains included in the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Sciences.  The relationships between neurobiology and perception, cognition and motor control are investigated using state-of-the-art techniques including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and psychophysics.  The University has expressed its commitment to this field by the allocation of a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience (Servos). Currently there are 6 researchers in this area with diverse but connected research interests.  These researchers have founded Laurier’s new Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. Research at this centre ranges from exploring the neural basis of perception, to studies of attention, memory, language and motor control.  A number of researchers are interested in perceptual processing investigating the nature of the sensory channels used to process information from the visual (Olds, Servos), somatosensory (Servos) and auditory (Jones) modalities.The processing and recall of information is examined from several complementary perspectives:  attention (Olds), memory (Hockley) and language (Ferretti).  Finally, human action and interaction are explored through studies of human communication (Jones) and movement production (Obhi).  Investigators in the Cognitive Neuroscience area have many of the tools necessary for their work on site but also collaborate with researchers at other institutions to access research equipment requiring large infrastructure support.

The Social and Developmental fields are currently represented by a group of 12 scholars with a range of interests which yield both strong collaborative and individual research programs. These research programs are supported through significant external funding to all members.

In the Social Psychology area, researchers conduct basic and applied research on social cognition, the self, inter-group relations, social interactions, personality, political attitudes and behaviour, and life transitions. Spanning several levels of analysis (social, cognitive, physiological), this research examines individuals, dyads and larger groups using innovative methodologies (such as online reaction-time measures, experience sampling and longitudinal self-reports, physiological measurement, surveys, questionnaires, and direct observation). This research has clear practical implications within personal, organizational, social, political, and therapeutic contexts. The social cognition focus explores how people make sense of their social worlds, including personal memories, current understandings, and predictions for the future. Research on the self examines continuity in experiences of the self and identity across time, determinants of self-esteem and subjective well-being. Inter-group relations research explores issues unique to interactions between members of distinct social categories (gender, ethnic, religious groups). Research on social interactions and personality examines how enduring dispositions determine the character and course of dyadic interactions. Research in the area of political attitudes and behaviour focuses on individuals’ engagement in civic and political affairs. Life transitions research explores how people negotiate and cope with meaningful life changes. Future hiring in this area will be directed towards complementing and enhancing current strengths and research interests, with specialization in such areas as close relationships and culture. In the social area, students have the opportunity to explore issues of self-relevant memory and prediction (Buehler, Wilson), discrimination and prejudice (Foster, Jordan), self-esteem, well-being and identity (Foster, Jordan, Wilson), personality and interpersonal interaction (Kammrath, Sadler), social impressions and interpersonal judgments (Kammrath), and political behaviour and life transitions (Pancer).

In the Developmental Psychology area, researchers conduct experimental, observational, and applied research in cognitive development, social and personality development, and learning. This research involves the use of both traditional (i.e., surveys, interviews, observations) and innovative methods (such as narrative and discourse analyses, Intermodal Preferential Looking method (IPL), and large longitudinal datasets to study individual differences and developmental patterns using growth curve and causal modelling) and is sensitive to promoting an understanding of development within a cultural and social context. One line of inquiry examines social cognition, with a focus on how children, adolescents and adults think about themselves and their social worlds, and the implications of these processes for adaptation within the family. In this area, particular attention is devoted to processes of identity formation as they are related to cognitive and moral development. The life transitions research, as a second line of research, studies transitions to university, parenthood, and other critical life experiences in adolescents and adults, as well as how individuals and families cope with social and technological change. Transitions to university, parenthood, grandparenthood, and other critical life experiences are studied in adolescents and adults.  The lines of inquiry in the cognitive developmental area focus on children’s acquisition of language, reading and math, as well as memory and knowledge acquisition and retention from childhood onward. In addition, research examines the life contexts in which learning occurs, including schools, interactions with technology, and forensic investigations. Much of the research can be directly applied to “real-world” situations.  Future hiring in this area will be directed toward social and cognitive development from infancy to later adulthood.  In the Developmental field, students have the opportunity to work in the areas of socialization, personality and moral development (Pratt, Krettenauer, Norris), memory and knowledge acquisition in childhood and adulthood (Roberts, Wood), reading and language development (Gottardo, Lee), math learning in children (Lee), and successful aging (Norris).

The Community Psychology field is unique in English-speaking Canada in offering a PhD program.  It represents a group of 6 scholars.  It has two primary research areas: (1) community health and well-being, (2) social justice and social responsibility. Within these two research areas, the approaches that program members use are value-based, action-oriented, and ecological in nature (focusing not only on the individual, but on the social, physical and community environment in which that individual lives). In all areas, there is an emphasis on the involvement of citizens in programs and policies that affect their lives, the promotion of wellness and the prevention of problems rather than treatment after problems have developed, and issues of power in working with marginalized individuals and groups. Research questions drive the selection of research method, which may use various types of qualitative and quantitative data. Evaluation research is another aspect of both research areas.

In the area of community health and well-being, faculty, staff and students in the program have worked on school-based prevention programs, such as the Better Beginnings, Better Futures project (funded by three Ontario ministries), and the Family Wellness Project (funded by the federal government) (Nelson, Pancer). Also in this area, community psychology faculty (Mitchell, Nelson, Walsh-Bowers) and graduate students have initiated housing, self-help/mutual aid, and community support projects for people with physical, developmental and/or mental health challenges.  The theme of social justice and social responsibility reflects faculty and student research in culture and gender as well as civic participation and policy. The need for culturally-sensitive and gender-sensitive approaches to service delivery and social change to overcome the marginalization of visible minorities and non-visible minorities is a prominent theme in the research of many individuals. Community Psychology faculty (Loomis, Mitchell, Nelson, Walsh-Bowers) and students have worked with community members to develop programs to prevent violence against women and sexual minorities, improve access to health care for women (especially immigrant women), ease the transition to Canada of immigrants and refugees, and increase cultural competency among majority persons such as those working in social welfare organizations and businesses. Promoting civic engagement and social responsibility is reflected in research on community service learning (Loomis, Evans, Davock, Pancer), youth development (Evans, Pancer), and co-operative development, sustainability and impact on the environment (Loomis). The research in culture and gender diversity and social responsibility has direct implications for social justice and policy (Loomis, Mitchell, Nelson, Pancer).  Future hiring in this area will be directed towards areas of research specialization which complement the two research areas identified above.

The Community Psychology program is also finalizing a proposal for a new Centre for Community Research and Action. Students and faculty associated with the Centre will be dedicated to partnering with organizations and communities in the Waterloo Region to better understand and take action on community issues. Centre efforts will include research, evaluation, dissemination of information, consultation, outreach, capacity-building, and social action components.

revised Jun 8/07

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