Carnegie Mellon University

Three Psychology Faculty Members Receive Professorships

December 12, 2018

Three Psychology Faculty Members Receive Professorships

By Abby Simmons 

Carnegie Mellon University’s Jessica Cantlon, Brian MacWhinney and Michael Scheier have received professorships to support their work in the Department of Psychology.

“Distinguished faculty like these three individuals are why CMU’s Department of Psychology is consistently recognized among the top psychology departments in the U.S.,” said Richard Scheines, dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, during a Nov. 26 ceremony in Posner Center.

Jessica Cantlon

Jessica Cantlon received the Ronald J. and Mary Ann Zdrojkowski Career Development Chair in Developmental Neuroscience.

Alumnus Ronald Zdrojkowski and his wife, Mary Ann, established the chaired professorship. While Ronald earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from CMU’s College of Engineering, he has a deep personal interest in early childhood education, particularly for the socio-economically disadvantaged.

Cantlon, who joined CMU this academic year, investigates the origins of mathematical cognition in the developing brain and focuses on the role of evolution in shaping early mathematical logic in humans. She conducted some of the first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of mathematical cognition in preschool children.

She plans to use funding from the chair to build Pittsburgh-based collaborations for her lab that will make new discoveries about the genetic and environmental factors that promote healthy brain development during infancy and childhood.

A James S. McDonnell Scholar and Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, Cantlon was recognized by Science News in 2016 as one of 10 Outstanding Young Scientists.

In addition to her research, Cantlon also is a nationally recognized advocate for women’s rights. In 2017, she was among the “silence breakers” named TIME Person of the Year for speaking out against harassment and retaliation in academia.

Brian MacWhinney

Brian MacWhinney was named the Teresa Heinz Professor of Cognitive Psychology.

The Heinz Family Foundation, part of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, established the professorship to support a faculty member in CMU’s Psychology Department.

MacWhinney is widely recognized for his work at the intersection of psychology, computational linguistics and modern languages. He has spent the past three decades revolutionizing ways to study how we learn, use and understand spoken language.

Among his seminal work is the Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES) Project. MacWhinney and Catherine Snow co-founded CHILDES for the computational study of child language transcript data in 1984. Later, he created the TalkBank Project, which extends these methods to language areas such as aphasiology, second language learning, traumatic brain injury, conversation analysis and others. Thousands of researchers in more than 48 countries have used and supported the network of databases that comprise TalkBank.

MacWhinney's recent work includes studies of online learning of second language vocabulary and grammar, situationally embedded second language learning, neural network modeling of lexical development, fMRI studies of children with focal brain lesions and ERP studies of between-language competition. He is also exploring the role of grammatical constructions in the marking of perspective shifting, the determination of linguistic forms across contrasting time frames and the construction of mental models in scientific reasoning.

Michael F. Scheier

Michael F. Scheier was named the Walter van Dyke Bingham Professor of Personality and Health Psychology.

The professorship pays tribute to the legacy of the late Walter van Dyke Bingham, who founded Carnegie Institute of Technology’s Division of Applied Psychology in 1915. It was established in 1980 with funding provided by Bingham’s wife and the family’s estate.

A nationally recognized expert in personality, social and health psychology, Scheier joined CMU in 1975 and served as department chair from 2003 to 2013.

Scheier’s research builds on his interest in human motivation. He examines the role that dispositional optimism, purpose in life and adjustment abilities play in dealing with stressful life circumstances, including chronic disease. He has co-authored two research monographs and a textbook on personality, as well as more than 200 chapters and empirical papers.

Scheier is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), which recently presented him and his long-time collaborator, Charles S. Carver, with its Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. He previously served as president of the APA’s Health Psychology Division and received the association’s awards for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology and the Donald T. Campbell Award for distinguished lifetime contributions to social psychology. Scheier also is a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine and a member of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.

Pictured above (from left to right): Michael Scheier, Jessica Cantlon and Brian MacWhinney.