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November 1, 2019

New Research on The Wisdom of Randomness

Congratulations to grad Atsushi Kikumoto and Department Head Ulrich Mayr on the publication of “Balancing model-based and memory-free action selection under competitive pressure” in eLife! They show how people make rule-based choices after they win but strategically shift to a random strategy following losses. Ready more here and below!

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so the saying goes. And studies show that in many situations, we do have a tendency to repeat whatever we did last time, particularly if it led to success. But while this is an efficient way to decide what to do, it is not always the best strategy. In many competitive situations – from tennis matches to penalty shoot-outs – there are advantages to being unpredictable. You are more likely to win if your opponent cannot guess your next move.

Based on this logic, Kikumoto and Mayr predicted that in competitive situations, people will toggle between two different decision-making strategies. When they are winning, they will choose their next move based on their beliefs about their opponent’s strategy. After all, if your opponent in a tennis match has failed to return your last three backhands, it is probably worth trying a fourth. But if an action no longer leads to success, people will switch tactics. Rather than deciding what to do based on their opponent’s strategy and recent behavior, they will instead select their next move more at random. If your tennis opponent suddenly starts returning your backhands, trying any other shot will probably produce better results.

To test this prediction, Kikumoto and Mayr asked healthy volunteers to play a game against real or computer opponents. The game was based on the ‘matching pennies’ game, in which each player has to choose between two responses. If both players choose the same response, player 1 wins. If each player chooses a different response, player 2 wins. Some of the opponents used response strategies that were easy to figure out; others were less predictable. The results showed that after wins, the volunteers’ next moves reflected their beliefs about their opponent’s strategy. But after losses, the volunteers’ next moves were based less on previous behaviors, and were instead more random. These differences could even be seen in the volunteers’ brainwaves after win and loss trials.

May 28, 2019

Congratulations to our award-winning grad students

Our department annually recognizes the work of our outstanding students with awards, made possible by donations from generous alumni. These annual awards are:

  • The Norman D. Sundberg Fellowship in Psychology, given to outstanding Psychology doctoral students whose research focus is on cultural, community, clinical or personality assessment issues to honor the life and work of Norman Sundberg.
    • This year’s Norman D. Sundberg Fellows are Melissa Barnes, Katherine Hagan and Tamara Niella.
  • The Beverly Fagot Dissertation Fellowship, given to an outstanding Psychology doctoral student who has advanced to candidacy and has a research focus in the area of social development and/or developmental psychopathology to honor the life and work of Beverly Fagot.
    • This year’s Beverly Fagot fellow is Grace Binion.
  • The Gregores Graduate Student Research Award, made possible by a generous gift from George Gregores in honor of his son who graduated with dual degrees in Psychology and Political Science in 2010.
    • This year’s award recipeints are Monika Lind and Cameron Kay.
  • The Distinguished Teaching Award, given to a Psychology graduate student (or students) who have demonstrated excellence in undergraduate classroom teaching.
    • This year’s award recipients are Arian Mobasser and Jenn Lewis.

Congratulations to our award winners!

December 10, 2018

Kikumoto, Mayr Research Featured in Around the O!

Research by doctoral candidate Atshusi Kikumoto and department chair Ulrich Mayr was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal eLife and featured in an edition of Around the O.

May 20, 2018

State of the Department Report 2018

We are pleased to share our inaugural State of the Department Report for the 2017-2018 Academic Year. This report was compiled in response to a call from the Provost to set goals and monitor progress, and is an intended to be a frank assessment of our accomplishments for the present year and aspirations for the next. We think we had a pretty good year!

May 9, 2018

Three Minute Thesis Competition

Update: Our departmental winner, Sarah Donaldson, earned second place in the campus-wide 3MT finals during Grad Forum. Congrats, Sarah! Pics of our students, Sarah and Cameron Kay are below. Psychology was the only department with 2 finalists.

The Department hosted a successful Three-Minute Thesis (#3MT) Competition last week. Titles and abstracts of the presentations are below. The winner, Sarah Donaldson, will compete with students from other disciplines at Grad ForumFriday May 11 in the EMU (prelim rounds at 10:00). Sarah, Cameron Kay, and Jeff Peterson – plus a whole bunch of other grads – will all be participating in the Forum!

Congrats, all, on this excellent work!

Testosterone, Cortisol, and Risk-Taking Behaviors in Adolescents

Sarah Donaldson (Winner!)

Current evidence suggests that testosterone’s (T) influence on risk-taking behaviors is moderated by levels of cortisol (C), a “stress hormone” released by the HPA axis. Specifically, T has a positive association with risk-taking when levels of C are low. While this interaction has been demonstrated in adults, no work to-date has investigated this model in adolescents. We obtained baseline saliva samples from 149 adolescents, ages 11-17 years, who then played a simulated driving game (the Yellow Light Game; YLG) as a behavioral measure of risk. In the YLG, participants make decisions about whether to “STOP” or “GO” at several consecutive intersections, and any “GO” decisions involves a risk of crashing with another car in the game. Results showed the opposite pattern, namely that testosterone predicted a decrease in risk-taking when levels of C were low. Future work will explore this interaction and how it relates to brain activity across adolescent development.


The trident of Westeros: Morality and the Dark Triad in fictional characters

Cameron Kay

Coined by Paulhus and Williams (2002), the Dark Triad comprises three related—yet distinct—personality traits: Machiavellianism, subclinical narcissism, and subclinical psychopathy. Machiavellianism refers to a tendency to exhibit cynicism, amorality, and manipulativeness, whereas narcissism refers to a tendency towards vanity, entitlement, and superiority. Psychopathy, in contrast, refers to a combination of impulsivity and a lack of empathy. These three traits have often been linked to immorality. However, it hasn’t been shown that those high in the Dark Triad traits are necessarily perceived to be less moral. In a sample of undergraduate students, we found that fictional characters rated as being high in the Dark Triad traits were considered to be less moral than those characters rated as being low in the Dark Triad traits. This effect was greatest for psychopathy, followed by Machiavellianism, and, lastly, narcissism. A similar pattern was found in a complementary study using non-fictional people.


Intergroup Empathic Accuracy: To Use or Not To Use Stereotypes

Sara Lieber

Empathic accuracy is the similarity between what a perceiver infers a target is thinking at a specific moment and the target’s actual thought. Intergroup contexts are important for investigating empathic accuracy, and factors influencing it, within since perceptual inaccuracies have been associated with worse intergroup outcomes (Holoien et al., 2015). The only intergroup context in which empathic accuracy has been studied used new mothers as targets and found that using stereotypes to infer the targets’ thoughts was associated with better empathic accuracy (Lewis et al., 2012). However, this relationship likely varies depending on the intergroup context since the accuracy of stereotypes varies among groups. The current study investigated white perceivers’ inferences for the thoughts of Middle Eastern men. Our results indicated that perceivers’ use of the words spoken by the men during their interviews to infer the men’s thoughts was associated with better empathic accuracy, while using stereotypes was not.

May 7, 2018

Psych Hosts Brainhack Global Eugene

This weekend, participants in the second annual Brainhack Eugene joined hundreds of others across four continents to work on innovative neuroscience projects. The event was organized by graduate students and postdocs in psychology and featured a 1-day workshop in open and reproducible neuroscience and a 2-day hackathon. During the hackathon, participants worked collaboratively on projects to: design an interactive power calculator for longitudinal MRI data, develop an fMRI-specific preregistration template, adapt a processing pipeline for 2-photo imaging data, implement reproducible workflows for MRI data preprocessing, develop a tool for automated motion artifact detection, and create an interactive art installation.

May 1, 2018

Grad Students Win More Awards!

Our excellent graduate students have taken home more awards!

Grace Binion received a Distinguished Teaching Award.

Theresa Cheng won a General University Scholarship and a Gregores Graduate Student Research Award.

Dani Cosme earned this year’s Beverly Fagot Dissertation Fellowship.

Jessica Flannery took home a General University Scholarship and a Gregores Graduate Student Research Award.

Rita Ludwig received a General University Scholarship and a Norman D. Sundberg Fellowship in Psychology.

Ben Nelson won a Norman D. Sundberg Fellowship in Psychology.

Lauren Vega O’Neil was honored with a Distinguished Teaching Award.

Dori Wright earned a Norman D. Sundberg Fellowship in Psychology.

Congratulations, everyone!






April 18, 2018

Department Participating in Brainhack Global

Several members of our department are working together to host a Brainhack on May 4-6 as part of a
global initiative. Save the date for this fun event!

Brainhack is a unique conference that convenes researchers across the globe from a myriad of disciplines to work together on innovative projects in neuroscience and psychology. Year after year, global Brainhack events have brought together researchers to participate in open collaboration, and regional Brainhack events help to continue the momentum.

Brainhack Global 2018 will unite regional events occurring the same week at 30+ different sites across 16 countries. We are participating as the only site in Oregon. Our site’s event is generously funded by the University of Oregon Graduate School, Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging, UO Vice Provost for Research and Innovation, and UO Psychology Department.

If you’re interested in attending and want to receive updates on Brainhack 2018, please fill out this form.


What’s going to happen at Brainhack?

May 4: We will host a workshop to introduce attendees to open science, open data, and reproducible neuroimaging tools (i.e. GitHub, BIDS, fmriprep)

May 5 & 6: We will all contribute to projects during times for open hacking – attendees can either pitch project ideas to work on or join proposed project teams. Prior to our event, we will collect project ideas from attendees. Each team will present their progress at the end of Brainhack. There will also be mini-unconferences, which are an opportunity to discuss topics of interest with other attendees, related to their areas of expertise.

What kind of projects can I work on?

Current project pitches include contributing to open science programs, such as NeuroVault and Brain Imaging Data Structure Apps. We welcome any projects related to the study of the brain and/or behavior.

I have a project idea! How can I let others know about it?

Great! Please fill out this form to let others know about your project idea.

I don’t have a project idea. What should I do?

It’s okay if you don’t have a project idea of your own, because other projects will need your skills and support. Take a look at this spreadsheet to look at current project ideas. All skills are valued at a Brainhack–you can always be a beta tester.

I don’t have a background in neuroscience -and/or- I don’t have strong programming skills. Can I still attend?

Yes! All are welcome. The purpose of Brainhack is to bring together people with different skills to learn from one another.

April 6, 2018

Graduate Student Wins NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a highly competitive fellowship sought by students in the sciences across the country. This year, five graduate students at the UO earned fellowships, with one of those fellowships going to one of our own in the psychology department.

Congratulations to Brendan Cullen on this prestigious award!

Read more about Brendan and his research interests on the SAN lab website.

View all winners of the NSF GRFP.

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