Early Career Impact Award Winners
FABBS is pleased to announce the 2017 Early Career Impact Award winners. This award is presented to early career scientists of FABBS member societies during the first 10 years post-PhD and recognizes scientists who have made major contributions to the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior. The goal is to enhance public visibility of these sciences and the particular research through the dissemination efforts of the FABBS in collaboration with the member societies and award winners.
2017 Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society Award Winner
Rebecca England Amariglio, PhD
Harvard Medical School
Dr. Rebecca Amariglio’s area of interest is to improve our ability to identify and track the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), by developing and optimizing sensitive instruments that measure subtle cognitive and functional changes. Beginning in fellowship, her research began to focus on the utility of subjective cognitive concerns as a risk factor for cognitive impairment in older individuals. Over the last five years, she has been awarded the New Investigator Research Grant by the Alzheimer’s Association and the NIH Career Development Award to further the study of subjective cognitive concerns and their association with objective cognitive testing, AD biomarkers, and longitudinal outcomes in clinically normal older individuals.
Concurrent with Dr. Amariglio’s work, the concept of Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) as an at-risk stage for AD has gained significant recognition in the field of aging and dementia research. Dr. Amariglio is a member of the Subjective Cognitive Decline International Working Group that has worked toward developing universal criteria for defining SCD. This group recently published a paper in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, validating a specific questionnaire that measures subjective cognitive concerns of both the participant and a study partner. Her group found that the Cognitive Function Instrument tracked with longitudinal clinical and cognitive decline, as well as APOE carrier status. This study is highly relevant to AD secondary prevention trials that are in need of sensitive functional measures to quantify long-term clinical benefit in participants who are at preclinical stages of disease. Additionally, Dr. Amariglio and her group have published a paper in Neurology demonstrating that greater subjective memory complaints corresponds with advancing stages of preclinical AD. Dr. Amariglio is co-investigator of the Harvard Aging Brain Study.
Dr. Amariglio is a clinical neuropsychologist and a research investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She has also been recently promoted to Assistant Professor in Neurology at Harvard Medical School. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of New Mexico, completing a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Yale School of Medicine.
2017 Society for Judgment and Decision Making Award Winner
Edward Cokely, PhD
University of Oklahoma
Dr. Edward Cokely has made significant advances in the psychology of skilled decision making, with applications in risk communication and adaptive technology. He is known for his research on cognitive abilities and inclusive decision education. In addition, Dr. Cokely’s research has advanced frontiers in our scientific understanding of simple, effective decision aids, visual aids, and training programs including adaptive computerized tutors to improve high-stakes decision making among diverse and vulnerable individuals who vary widely in ability, proficiency, education, background, and country of residence.
A passage from one of his papers shows his conviction that people, regardless of background, can improve their decision making ability:
“For more than a century people have used theoretical assumptions to argue that general intelligence constrains decision making quality, causing substantial differences in human potential and outcomes…[with implications for] the structure of our policies, rights, institutions, and welfare practices. […] Setting aside moral and ethical outrage, at the heart of the scientific issue is a basic question about whether or not abilities actually constrain decision quality. [Our] experiments, training programs, and cognitive process tracing studies provide converging causal evidence [that] skilled decision making generally does not require high-levels of fluid intelligence or special abstract reasoning capacities… [With the right support] nearly anyone has the ability to make well-informed and skilled decisions so long as they understand risks.”
In his writings, Dr. Cokely discusses how these findings present both research opportunities and substantial scientific responsibilities (for example, all else equal, informed decision making is an ethical imperative). This foundation serves as the scientific and ethical basis for his efforts to nurture risk literacy and support science for informed decision making.
In fewer than ten years after earning his PhD, Dr. Cokely has published over 60 papers which have been cited over 2,000 times. In the same time period, he has mentored 10 PhD students and secured more than $2,000,000 dollars in funding for research and student support. His research has been featured in Scientific American, New Scientist Magazine, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other media outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Online. He’s received several major awards including a 2013 National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the APA’s Award for Best Research Paper in Applied Experimental Psychology (2012).
Dr. Cokely has developed the Berlin Numeracy Tests and associated outreach efforts via www.RiskLiteracy.org, a multinational collaborative informed decision making project. Today, more than 100,000 people from 166 countries have taken one of the Berlin Numeracy Tests. Hundreds of recent studies by research groups from business, psychology, economics, political science, law, medicine, social work, forestry, and other fields have published decision making research using the Berlin Numeracy Tests, improving our understanding of the needs and processes of diverse decision makers in more than 50 countries.
Dr. Cokely serves as Presidential Research Professor and Associate Professor of Psychology, and co-founding faculty of the National Institute for Risk & Resilience, at the University of Oklahoma and was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development after earning his doctorate in psychology from Florida State University.
2017 Cognitive Science Society Award Winner
Michael C. Frank, PhD
Dr. Michael Frank’s research is at the cross-section of experimental and computational approaches to development, with a focus on language and cognition. His general approach is to use large-n studies to examine specific cognitive and linguistic abilities that he then compares to model results from a Bayesian framework perspective. Dr. Frank has made theoretical contributions in early visual development by looking at how infants examine faces, math learning using experimental and interventional approaches, cross-cultural studies involving largely un-westernized populations (e.g. the Piraha), a long line of work on pragmatic inference in infancy and childhood, and a set of studies on children and adult’s word learning.
Dr. Frank begun his research career with two separate PhD Fellowships, one each from NSF and the Javits Foundation. After finishing his PhD in four years, he became a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. His research contributions have been incredibly broad, resulting in over 50 peer-reviewed journal publications to date, and over 100 including proceedings and chapters.
Dr. Frank has helped move the science forward in several large efforts focused on methods, reproducibility, and replicability. He has conducted several studies with hundreds of participants by testing outside the lab in a museum setting. He and his team created Wordbank, an open database of information about children’s vocabulary growth, using the Macarthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory. Dr. Frank has also contributed to the Open Science Collaboration, a meta-analysis project called ‘Metalab’, and has recently started a replicability project called ManyBabies.
Dr. Frank’s research has been featured in a number of public forums. His work on using a mental abacus was reported by Discover Magazine Online, New Scientist and Times of India. Other work on pragmatic reasoning in language games was featured on Science Daily, Wired Magazine. In addition, his discussion on the reproducibility of science received a great deal of media attention being covered by major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Nature, Science, The Atlantic and NPR.
Dr. Frank is an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University and earned his doctorate in brain and cognitive sciences from MIT.
2017 Psychonomic Society Award Winner
Richard Morey, PhD
Dr. Morey’s work focuses on the development and use of inferential methods in science in general, and psychology in particular. His work identifies alternative statistical and modelling techniques to replace known problematic ones that are in widespread use. He does so by revealing the differences and commonalities across approaches, underlying assumptions, and what the advantages are of the newer approaches by applying them to specific examples within the relevant field. The work is timely, innovative, and impactful. Dr. Morey’s work and ideas have sparked intense discussions both within the literature and the more modern domain of social media, where it has raised awareness of behavioral science and its importance more broadly.
Dr. Morey is the author of over 50 articles and book chapters, and in 2011, he was awarded a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research Innovational Research Scheme: Veni for work in cognitive psychology.
Dr. Morey is regularly active on social media championing statistical modeling and Bayesian interference, as the author of the BayesFactor software. He is a Digital Associate Editor of the Psychonomic Society regularly writing articles for broader public consumption.
Dr. Morey is a senior lecturer at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. He previously was an assistant professor at the University of Groningen and earned his doctorate in psychology – cognition and neuroscience from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
2017 National Academy of Neuropsychology Award Winner
Ozioma C. Okonkwo, PhD
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo’s research program currently comprises two interconnected themes: (1) examining how alterations in central nervous system biomarkers place some cognitively-normal individuals on a pernicious trajectory that culminates in Alzheimer’s dementia, and (2) generating new knowledge concerning whether and how specific modifiable (e.g., physical exercise, cognitively-stimulating activities) and non-modifiable (e.g., genetic makeup) factors provide resilience to the deleterious effects of biomarker changes on cognitive function.
Dr. Okonkwo reported novel findings linking specific biomarker profiles to cognitive decline, disease progression, and conversion to Alzheimer’s dementia in persons with mild cognitive impairment. In later studies, he discovered that asymptomatic middle-aged adults with a parental history of Alzheimer’s disease exhibited very circumscribed atrophy of the posterior hippocampus over a 4-year interval, but that this hippocampal shrinkage was not accompanied by observable memory changes. This work challenged the prevailing hypothetical model of Alzheimer biomarkers by demonstrating that shrinkage of critical brain structures occurs much earlier in the course of the disease than postulated. In another landmark study, Dr. Okonkwo and colleagues showed that cognitively-normal middle-aged adults whose mothers have Alzheimer’s disease exhibit decreased cerebral blood flow in the same brain regions that were hypoperfused in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia. He has utilized avant-garde machine learning to decipher the pattern of brain atrophy that predicts future cognitive decline in presently asymptomatic individuals.
Dr. Okonkwo has contributed several novel findings to the field showing that certain lifestyle and genetic factors attenuate the impact on risk of aging, the cardinal risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, he reported that high levels of physical activity in midlife attenuates the deleterious effect of aging on core biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease including amyloid burden, glucose metabolism, and hippocampal volume. He has also shown that intellectual enrichment accruing from higher educational attainment abates the adverse effect of aging on cerebral amyloid and tau, thereby suggesting a pathway through which educational attainment favorably alters lifetime risk for Alzheimer’s dementia. More recently, he and colleagues have discovered that the gene KLOTHO mitigates the effect of aging and apolipoprotein E4 on biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Other work has shown that both higher cardiorespiratory fitness and frequent engagement in cognitively-stimulating activities are beneficial for brain health and cognitive function in middle-aged adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
The ultimate goal of Dr. Okonkwo’s research agenda is translational—the identification of people at greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease and the development of therapeutic strategies for decreasing their vulnerability.
Alzheimer’s dementia poses a global public health crisis, with monumental personal and societal costs. While concerted effort continues to be expended in the search for curative therapies, increasing attention is turned toward avenues for prevention. Dr. Okonkwo’s work is well-attuned to this two-pronged approach to forestalling Alzheimer’s looming epidemic: discovering sensitive methods for identifying cognitively-normal individuals who may be at heightened risk for the disease and providing critical information concerning lifestyle steps that people could take toward lowering their risk.
Dr. Okonkwo is very active in raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and pathways to building resilience to it. He makes presentations at regional, national, and international forums on Alzheimer’s disease. He has organized and/or chaired symposia at international conferences, and his work has been selected for press release at such conferences. He received invitations to offer expert opinion on notable publications in the field. He interacts regularly with the media, with work appearing in high-profile outlets such as the Washington Post, NPR, and NBC. He engages in speaking engagements at lay community events organized by groups such as the YMCA and local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association. He is also engaged in outreach to high school and college students.
Dr. Okonkwo is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He completed a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and also a VA Advanced Fellowship at the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center after earning his doctorate in medical/clinical psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
2017 International Society for Developmental Psychobiology Award Winner
Bethany Reeb-Sutherland, PhD
Florida International University
Dr. Bethany Reeb-Sutherland’s research examines individual differences in socio-emotional behavior and the biological and environmental factors that influence such development. She has made major contributions to our understanding of the development of anxiety and various behavioral and neural mechanisms which contribute to this disorder as well as furthering our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the development of heterogeneity in social behavior during infancy and toddlerhood.
One area of Dr. Reeb-Sutherland’s research focuses on risk factors associated with the development of anxiety and the moderating role of attention processes. To address this issue, she examined measures of attention both at the neurophysiological (i.e., EEG, ERP) and behavioral levels and found that attention processes are heightened only in behaviorally inhibited adolescents with a history of anxiety when stimuli are either novel or threatening. These biases in attention are apparent earlier during both childhood and even infancy long before the manifestation of anxiety suggesting that attention processes especially those related to the processing of novel or threatening stimuli may provide insight into the etiology of anxiety.
Dr. Reeb-Sutherland’s most recent line of research focuses on furthering our understanding of underlying mechanisms of heterogeneity in infant social behavior and associated neural correlates. To better understand the underlying mechanisms involved in these associative learning processes, she examined the modulatory effect of social stimuli on learning processes in human infants during the first months of life as well as the relation between heterogeneity in early associative learning and the development of later social behavior. Results suggest that infants who more readily detect contingencies and learn the relations between stimuli in their environment display higher levels of social skill across the first year of life. Preliminary findings also suggest that this measure continues to predict language abilities into the second year of life and that these measures are moderated by mother-infant relations. Understanding more about the role of social context on learning and memory processes during early infancy may be useful in developing biomarkers for neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly those associated with social deficits such as autism spectrum disorder and Fragile X.
Dr. Reeb-Sutherland’s research has been featured in Science News and in her university’s news magazine. She has also made a number of community presentations, including to the Children’s Trust Family Expo. She also engages and trains many under-represented individuals in the STEM fields at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Currently 90% of her undergraduate research assistants are Hispanic females, and two of three graduate students are Hispanic females.
Dr. Reeb-Sutherland is an assistant professor of psychology at Florida International University. She completed a fellowship at the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Maryland after earning her doctorate in psychology at the University of New Mexico.