Former Award Winners


2016 Society of Experimental Social Psychology Award Winner

Emily_Balcetis Emily Balcetis, PhD
New York University

Emily Balcetis’ transformative research program focuses on a theoretical model of motivated visual perception. Her work demonstrates that a person’s goals and desires influence what they literally see and hear in the environment around them, through changes in visual and cognitive attention. By incorporating visual perception into motivated cognition, she advances comprehensive psychological models of how people regulate their behavior. Balcetis’s research on motivated perception provides new insights into self-regulation, goal pursuit, and complex social cognition.  It has fundamentally shifted the way researchers think about interactions between higher-order mental states and lower-level perceptual processes.

Moreover, her work has important applications, some already documented for understanding how to combat deleterious social problems, including obesity, bias in jury decision-making, racial bias in voting, and relationship dissatisfaction.

Dr. Balcetis has 57 publications, including 28 peer-reviewed journal articles, 11 book chapters, and 3 edited volumes. As of October 2015, Google Scholar lists 1349 citations of her work and notes an h-index of 15. Balcetis’s seminal paper on motivated perception (Balcetis & Dunning, 2006)—work for which she won the SESP Dissertation Award in 2007—has been cited 435 times, averaging over 48 citations a year since publication, which is 10 times higher than the impact factor of the preeminent journal it is published in (JPSP).

Balcetis’s outstanding work has received substantial support (over $1.07 million) from both internal and external grant funding agencies. In a sparse funding climate, Balcetis has three concurrent National Science Foundation grants, totaling over $989,000, supporting her work on motivated perception and attention.

Balcetis’ work has received significant attention outside of academia. She worked with National Geographic to produce and appear in a television program on the motivations behind altruism. Forbes, Huffington Post, Atlantic Magazine, Newsweek, Pacific Standard, Politico, Time Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health Magazine, and numerous NPR programs have covered her research. Emily’s reputation as the preeminent expert in motivated perception has led her to be invited to speak at multiple high impact public events including TEDx.

Balcetis is an innovative and inspiring researcher. She is an exceptionally engaging writer, a critical and creative thinker, a clever experimentalist, and a tenacious and prolific scientist.

Dr. Balcetis is associate professor of psychology in the Department of Psychology at New York University.  She earned her doctorate in social psychology from Cornell University in 2006.

Believing is Seeing

2016 Society for Computers in Psychology Award Winner

Rick Dale, PhDUniversity of California, Merced

Dr. Rick Dale is an internationally recognized authority in the experimental and computational analyses of language, human interaction, language evolution, cognitive dynamics, and big data. He uses computational modeling, analysis of naturalistic behavior, and human experimentation to investigate a range of linguistic behaviors related to conversation, thinking, sentence processing, word categorization, and deception.

Dale is known for a number of contributions but he is particularly well known for inventing technologies to measure subtle supportive nonlinguistic gestures that people make during conversation (e.g., eye and arm movements) and for his sophisticated application of numeric methods including dynamical systems theory to make sense of how those gestures impact and influence peoples’ comprehension and interaction. He is also very well known for his efforts to step outside of a limited analysis of linguistic behaviour to build a comprehensive analysis of how people use and understand language in naturalistic settings and without the imposition of too-artificial constraints. The fact that he makes progress on such an ambitious goal is impressive. He is quickly gaining a reputation for forging new paths and inventing techniques to tackle the frustratingly complex problem of how to measure, quantify, and examine the very difficult problem of unconstrained everyday linguistic behaviour.

Dale has already published an astounding 73 articles and has exerted an influence on the field. Google Scholar calculates his h-index at 29, his i10- index at 46, and his citation count at 2784. He collaborates with a large number of junior scientists and an impressive number of prominent senior scientists from around the world.

Dale is engaged in outreach and science advocacy. He has been cited and played roles in discussion of popular articles on language and psychology for The Economist,, and Science Magazine. He has serve as an Associate Editor to several journals including Behavior Research Methods, Discourse Processes, and Cognitive Science. He also edited the Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, which he also hosted in Pasadena. He is an active member of several academic societies. For example, Dale has also served as a program coordinator for meetings of the Cognitive Science Society and the International Conference on Development and Learning. Finally, Dale has been an extremely active member of SCiP for close to a decade, both as a researcher and as an invaluable part our leadership (he is the current secretary-treasurer).

Dr. Dale is an associate professor in the Cognitive & Information Sciences Department at the University of California, Merced and earned his doctorate in experimental and computational psychology in 2006 from Cornell University.

Deciphering Clues in Human Behavior

2016 Society for Computers in Psychology Award Winner

Vijay Mittal, PhDNorthwestern University

Dr. Mittal’s research focuses on identifying individuals at high-risk for psychosis, predicting who may transition to psychosis and refining understanding of the underlying pathophysiology. Additionally, he utilizes the information from these longitudinal studies to develop novel targeted treatments and remediations.

These psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, depression and bipolar disorder with psychotic features) are devastating for patients and their families as they involve the onset of symptoms and significant impairment during late adolescence- a critical developmental period when youth are only just starting to make a transition into independence. These disorders are highly prevalent, and once diagnosed, involve a chronic course and bleak prognosis. However, an emerging research field suggests that we can now effectively identify those who are at imminently high-risk for psychosis, several years before onset. These ultra high-risk (UHR) adolescents exhibit attenuated psychosis symptoms (e.g., experiencing unusual thoughts, seeing brief shadows, hearing strange sounds). Those who meet criteria for a UHR syndrome have a significant chance of developing schizophrenia or an affective disorder with psychotic features within a two-year period.

Over the past several years, Mittal has given a number of talks about his research to community health care centers and local schools to promote understanding of psychotic disorders and awareness of serious mental illness in youth. He has participated in local and national newspaper interviews, presented at numerous conferences and grand-rounds, and furthermore, encouraged and supported his students to do the same.

Mittal’s lab has published scientific papers, and also worked hard to present the material in a widely accessible manner (focusing on open access journals in several instances). To this aim, he has also published reports focusing on methodology in video format online. He participated as a speaker and host at the annual museum neuroscience and art series in Boulder Colorado. This series is designed to explain how neuroscience concepts pertain to areas of art and creativity, and has been an incredible success in bridging community awareness and enthusiasm for the research. Mittal is now working in Chicago to develop relationships with local media, schools and treatment facilities to continue this important work.

Dr. Mittal is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University and earned his doctorate in clincal psychology from Emory University in 2008.

2016 Association for Behavioral Analysis International Award Winner

Chris Podlesnik, PhDFlorida Institute of Technology

Chris Podlesnik’s work on behavioral momentum, the degree to which reinforced behavior persists in the face of disruption, and its connection with quantitative theories of choice, has resulted in important insights into the phenomenon of relapse. In his research, Podlesnik pushed the boundaries of knowledge in behavioral momentum theory and linked this phenomenon experimentally and quantitatively to an understanding of the fundamental processes underlying relapse.

Podlesnik’s work on relapse has important applied implications, which is an area he has excelled in the dissemination of science. Podlesnik has shown the applied implications of his basic research in at least two domains. In one, he noted that that a standard treatment for problem behavior, differential reinforcement of alternative behavior, could paradoxically decrease the occurrence of problem behavior while simultaneously increasing both its persistence and likelihood of relapse. In substance abuse, a second domain, he used an experimental model of alcohol abuse that incorporates voluntary excessive alcohol self-administration by rodents to assess relapse to drug use. These findings complemented the largely correlational evidence that the loss of alternative forms of reward (e.g., job loss, divorce) could contribute to the likelihood of relapse to drug use. Moreover, these findings suggested that treatment approaches like contingency management can, and should, account for reinforcement loss to decrease the likelihood of relapse when terminating treatment. This work has given rise to lines of research both in basic laboratories and applied settings.

Podlesnik’s interest in disseminating basic research into applied arenas has led him to move to a mostly applied department at the Florida Institute of Technology. While he continues to conduct laboratory research, he has become increasingly interested in expanding into applied domains. This is evidenced by recent publications and also the fact that he has nearly completed the credentials to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a process that entails 1,500 hours of supervised delivery of services. This is a next step toward expanding his research activities even more into the applied arena. He currently serves as Associate Editor for the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and is Program Chair for the Society for the Quantitative Analyses of Behavior. Podlesnik received the Early Career Research Award from Division 25 of the American Psychological Association in 2011.

Dr. Podlesnik currently is an Associate Professor in the Schools of Psychology and Behavior Analysis at the Florida Institute of Technology. Previously, he held a faculty position in the School of Psychology at The University of Auckland and currently holds a position there as an Honorary Academic. He received postdoctoral experience in behavioral pharmacology at the University of Michigan and earned his doctorate in Psychology from Utah State University in 2008.

2016 Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Award Winner

Tyler J. Stevenson, PhD
University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom

Dr. Tyler J. Stevenson has made major research contributions to a central question in regulatory biology, specifically the timing of biological functions to match environmental and seasonal conditions. His contributions include an examination of the role of one of the most important regulators of reproductive and sexual processes, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). He conducted some seminal work on a newly-discovered form of this neurohormone in birds (GnRH-II), outlining its role in seasonality and reproduction, was the first to clone the gene for this hormone, and then used this genetic information to study the ways in which social and seasonal processes affected gene expression in the brain. More recent work in a mammalian system has shown how epigenetic regulation of genes in the brain and periphery can coordinate annual rhythms and cycles.

An exceptionally novel set of experiments revealed that melatonin can exert opposite epigenetic effects on gene expression at the same time, depending upon the target tissue. In short days (simulating winter conditions), a timing signal from the brain can epigenetically suppress gene expression that helps regulate gonadal function (since reproduction is not critical in winter months for a rodent) while at the same time enhancing gene expression in the immune system, which is critical for surviving harsh winter conditions. Stevenson’s current work addresses similar questions on biological timing using another innovative technique, transcriptomics, to further identify the ways in which biological clocks exert their effects on seasonality in different physiological systems. Thus, Stevenson has made major contributions to an exceptionally important scientific question: how are annual cycles coordinated by the brain? Notably he has explored these questions using techniques that are innovative, cutting-edge, and sophisticated.

Dr. Stevenson has communicated his work to the general public through a variety of articles in the popular science press. The links between photoperiod and immunology are particularly relevant for humans, given the universal exposure of people to artificial illumination. Further, he was recently the lead author on a paper that is likely to have high societal impacts as it links disrupted seasonal timing of biological functions with human health, food security, and broader ecosystems health (PMID: 26468242).

Dr. Stevenson is Senior Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom and received his doctorate in Psychological and Brain Sciences from Johns Hopkins University in 2011.