American Psychological Foundation

Saffran wins cognitive development award

Jenny R. Saffran, PhD, an assistant professor in the psychology department and the Waisman Center of the University of Wisonsin­Madison, will receive the APF's 2000 Robert L. Fantz Award, recognizing her research on language acquisition.

Saffran completed her undergraduate degree in cognitive and linguistic science at Brown University in 1991 and her doctoral degree in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester in 1997. With her graduate mentors, Elissa Newport, PhD, and Richard Aslin, PhD, Saffran developed statistical learning accounts to address problems in children's language acquisition. She is currently pursuing studies of infant language and musical learning.

Her work characterizes the cognitive capacities of young learners by using research methodologies that get inside the infant's head, a process that is complicated by infants' limited behavioral response repertoire.

The Fantz Award was created to encourage and support the careers of promising young investigators in psychology, especially those with research and publication in perceptual-cognitive development. The winner receives a $2,000 grant awarded to the winner's institution on his or her behalf for equipment purchase, professional travel, computer resources and other research-related costs.

Saffran was nominated by APA's Committee on Scientific Affairs. APF's Board of Trustees approved the nomination in late January.

Azrin studies severe and persistent mental illness

Susan T. Azrin, PhD, won the American Psychological Foundation's 1999 Todd E. Husted Memorial Fund for her dissertation "Explanatory style as a coping mechanism in persons with schizophrenia."

The fund awards $1,000 for the best dissertation proposal or abstract that contributes to the development and improvement of services for those with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI). APA's Science Directorate administers the award, and its dissertation awards committee recommends a winner to the APF Board of Trustees for final approval.

Azrin, formerly a doctoral candidate in the psychology department of the University of Maryland, College Park, received her doctoral degree in January. She has focused her work on improving the quality of life for people with SPMI. Prior to graduate school, she worked for two years with people with SPMI in a vocational rehabilitation program, helping them to achieve competitive employment in settings that respect the individual's potential for growth.

In her dissertation research, Azrin studies explanatory style, an individual's characteristic way of explaining life events, in people with schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder. Previous research has indicated that people with a pessimistic explanatory style are vulnerable to helplessness deficits, for instance, decreased motivation and self-esteem, hopelessness and dysphoria. In encounters with negative life events, individuals with an optimistic explanatory style tend to experience a sense of self-efficacy, hopefulness and positive self-image and emotions.

As Azrin explains, "My dissertation research examines whether highly competent people with schizophrenia employ a more optimistic explanatory style to explain upsetting life events than do average copers. If this hypothesis finds support, targeted interventions might have the potential to modify the average copers' explanatory style and, thus, improve their coping capability."

Azrin plans to use the award to facilitate research that involves interviewing 80 people with schizophrenia in over a dozen mental health programs in the Baltimore­Washington area.