In Brief

Two psychologists received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) at a White House ceremony Sept. 9. The PECASE awards honor researchers in the early stages of their careers whose research efforts are supported by federal funding. The awardees-- who include biologists, computer scientists, psychologists and engineers, among many others--are nominated by individual government agencies. The National Science Foundation nominated the psychologists, Roxana Moreno, PhD, JD, of the University of New Mexico, and Jennifer Lerner, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon University.

Lerner studies social and emotional influences on judgment and decision-making--for example, how specific emotions influence economic decisions. Previous research suggested that negative emotions, in general, cause people to value things less; they're not willing to spend the same amount of money on an object as they might when they feel a positive emotion. But Lerner and her colleagues found that by separating out specific negative emotions, they got different results: People who felt sad were willing to spend more money for an object, but people who felt disgusted didn't want to buy anything at all.

Lerner's newest work examines how brain maturation may explain differences between adolescents and adults in the role of emotion when making economic decisions.

Meanwhile, Moreno applies cognitive theories to educational technology to improve teacher training. Right now, she's working on developing a computer-based "virtual classroom" through which student teachers can practice handling the demands of leading a multicultural classroom. The virtual classroom will present teachers with classroom situations in which the teacher must deal with the needs of a diverse student body. The program then gives feedback and problem-solving advice.

Lerner says that she sees the award as an opportunity to promote the science of psychology.

"Having this recognition from the National Science Foundation and from the White House may help to raise public awareness about the science mission of psychology," she says. "Many intelligent and educated people think of psychologists only as therapists. I'd like to broaden that perception so that people, including policy-makers, know that research can help them understand and improve judgment and decision-making."

--L. WINERMAN