Friday, April 19, 2024

Psychological Sciences Professor Receives Prestigious Career Award

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Grant Shields

The National Science Foundation has awarded Grant Shields, assistant professor of psychological sciences at AU, a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award to support his research on the mechanisms and cognitive processes underlying inhibitory control under stress.

Inhibitory control is the means by which automatic urges, emotions, and behaviors, such as the desire to tell your boss what you really think about being asked to work on Saturday, are controlled to achieve (ideally) better results (yes, you will work on Saturday because the need to the paycheck outweighs the desire to tell your boss).

A question of continuing interest to psychologists is to what degree different contexts, such as the experience of positive or negative emotions, influence inhibitory control, which is in fact underpinned by a range of cognitive processes. In this work, Shields will focus largely on studying inhibitory control under stress.

“Previous work on stress and inhibitory control has not taken into account all the potential processes that may contribute to stress-related differences in inhibitory control,” Shields explained. “This has led to some inferences and conclusions in this previous work that may be incorrect. This project will, for the first time, examine all of these processes together, and in doing so will determine whether the processes underlying stress-related differences in inhibitory control are Which we currently believe to be the case.

Shields added that the $454,000, five-year grant will be used to further test a new hypothesis that could lead to a revision of accepted explanations for these stress-related differences in inhibitory control.

CAREER Awards are NSF's most prestigious award for early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and teaching and to lead progress in their department or institution. The awards are five-year long and include teaching and public outreach components. This award will help establish the foundations of Shields' career.

Shields is careful in describing the details of the proposed work to maintain the integrity of the studies and hypotheses being tested. But volunteers will participate in experiments where they are asked to complete cognitive tasks under different conditions. Mission data will be integrated into advanced computational cognitive modeling. Additional cognitive tasks will also be analyzed through mouse tracking (the type of mouse in a computer).

The data collected in this project will be used to develop a publicly available course, as well as workshops to disseminate knowledge of the project results and the technical skills needed to use the project methods.

Shields is particularly excited about this last component. “I will be modifying and expanding quite a few computational models,” he explained. “This is some great computational modeling. I will be developing a course to teach others how to use these computational models, and I will be offering the course at the University of Arkansas and publishing the materials for it online as well.”

Although Shields believes this work can have long-term societal benefits that contribute to improved mental health and productivity, he can't promise that he'll get the right intervention when your boss asks you to work on Saturday. Sometimes, the right solution may be to reduce inhibitory control, or tell the boss.

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About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas's premier institution, the University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A does more than just teach new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship, career development and discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation ranks UCLA among the few American colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. US News and World Report U of A ranks among the nation's top public universities. Learn how U of A is working to build a better world in Arkansas Research and Economic Development News.

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