Pernille Hemmer’s research impacts are three-fold: challenging standards that lead to poor theory development, developing novel methods with real-world applications, and transforming science teaching to provide cutting edge programming and computational modeling skills.
Hemmer’s research examines the interaction of episodic memory and prior knowledge, showing that people appear to use knowledge of environmental regularities to improve episodic memory accuracy. This stands in contrast to the long-standing view in the literature that memory is fallible due to prior knowledge. Hemmer takes a new perspective: she shows the importance of ecologically valid stimuli by demonstrating how using unrepresentative stimuli can lead to erroneous conclusions about memory. This work has brought the laboratory in closer contact with the ‘real world,’ and has been recognized with awards from the Cognitive Science Society and the Association for Psychological Science.
Hemmer has focused on developing other transformative methods with real-world applications. In work funded by a prestigious NSF CAREER award, she developed a new framework for inferring individual differences via the application of Bayesian analysis to Bayesian models of cognition. In a first-of-its-kind assessment, this approach is being applied to patients suffering from Schizophrenia to characterize individual differences in subjective mental representations. This approach has value as both a diagnostic and a predictive tool.
Computational cognition modeling is a growing field. Successful students must have basic programming and computational modeling skills; however, these skills are not readily attained at many Universities. Transforming science teaching is critical in cultivating undergraduate and graduate students to be rigorous scientists in mathematical psychology and computational cognitive science. Dr. Hemmer has worked hard to improve computational training by developing unique courses in Bayesian Cognitive Modeling and Programming for Behavioral Scientists. She adapted these courses for online teaching to be disseminated at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She deeply integrates students of all levels into her research program, making a point to include them as co-authors on papers and conference presentations.
Hemmer is dedicated to promoting women and minorities in STEM. Her most important service engagements are with local and national organizations seeking to advance diversity and enhance the participation and visibility of women and minorities. Her outreach focuses on promoting the retention of women in science through mentoring workshops and participation on panels for national organizations. For 10 years she has co-organized annual Women of Math Psych Professional Development Workshops, working to establish a formal organizational structure and secure funding for WoMP. Hemmer received the Women in Cognitive Science (WiCS) Mentoring Award for her commitment to mentoring students from underrepresented groups. She serves on Advisory Boards for both WoMP and WiCS. To attract underrepresented groups to the academic setting, Hemmer practices outreach to pre-college organizations targeting at-risk inner-city youth. She mentors female high school students and hosts high school summer interns (funded by a Research Experience for Undergraduates award, two NSF awards).
Hemmer has served the behavioral sciences as Associate Editor for three journals (Behavior Research Methods, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, and Computational Brain & Behavior). She serves on the Psychonomic Society Publications Board, and is currently the President of the Society for Mathematical Psychology. For Hemmer, outreach integrates public engagement with research, teaching, and mentoring. This nexus energizes her to continue in her efforts to advance diversity and increase public awareness of science.