2011 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Professor of Human Development & Family Studies;
College of Human Sciences;
Interim Director of the Texas Tech Neuroimaging Institute;
Office of the Vice President for Research
"It's interesting to note that you can get a child to change his/her behavior. It's more interesting to some, and to many, if you can also change the brain function that's behind that behavior."
What is your research objective/interest(s)?
My area of expertise is Cognitive Neuroscience, a hybrid discipline that combines principles of Experimental Psychology with aspects of Behavioral Neurology. Essentially, I am interested in how cognitive models of higher-order mental processes like perception, memory, and language relate to the underlying structures and neural circuitry of the developing, as well as the mature, human brain. In this regard, my current research interests include (1) investigation of the specialized functions of the left and right cerebral hemispheres and how they serve as a neurological basis for the development of individual differences in higher-order thinking processes, particularly, as they relate to handedness, sex, and exceptionality (i.e., autism, ADHD, and mathematical giftedness),and (2) the study of neurologically brain-damaged patients and the extent to which their impairments reveal fundamental principles about how perception, memory, and language are subserved by and develop in the human brain.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
There is intrinsic interest in the inner workings of the brains of children who are gifted in math, have autism, or suffer from ADHD. And by studying the way in which these brains operate, children all over the world who exhibit such differences will be better understood. Moreover, methods of intervention to promote or correct such conditions will, as a result of this kind of work, be informed by the highest quality brain-based information, which is important for creating "best practices."
Where do you get your inspiration?
Nowhere in particular – but if you view the world with a generally curious mind, all sorts of things become interesting and worth investigating. Then it's just a matter of coming up with the right experiments to test your hypotheses, and away you go.
What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?
I take a lot of pride in being able (in my various academic roles – research, teaching, and administration) to bring diverse groups of thinkers/researchers together and getting them to all "speak the same language." One can never tell what great collaborative things will come from such synergy, but it seems that everything from research projects to community service efforts all benefit when people of differing views, backgrounds, and cultures put their heads together; this is how the big problems get solved and the sticky social/administrative issues are resolved.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on two major projects:
1. Investigating the brain characteristics of mathematical genius. To that end, I use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) at the Texas Tech Neuroimaging Institute (which I direct) to scan the brains of mathematically gifted children/adolescents (little Einstein types), and compare them to those of average math ability, in an effort to better understand the neural correlates of why they are so good at math seemingly in the absence of any formal training.
2. Neuroimaging of the attentional system of autistic children. Again, I am using fMRI and DTI to determine if the areas of the brain associated with attention (e.g., cingulate cortex and frontal lobes) are differentially active and interconnected in children with autism compared to neurotypic children. I am also investigating if there are techniques to "train the brain" of such children in an effort to improve their attentional capabilities.
What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research, and service)?
Work hard, do your best, and things generally take care of themselves. Be sure to prioritize your tasks; not everything is equally important and not all tasks have the same deadline, so manage your efforts accordingly.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois.
B.S. Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago;
M.A. Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas;
M.A. & Ph.D. Cognitive Neuroscience/Psychology, University of Southern California.
Professor at Iowa State and the University of Melbourne (Australia) before coming to Texas Tech as a professor in human development and family studies in 2004.