Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Barth’s Study Finds Mental Connections between Space and Time

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

“We’ve moved the meeting/truck forward.”
“That was a long wait/ hotdog.”
“We’re rapidly approaching the deadline/guardrail.”

English speakers use a shared vocabulary to talk about space and time. And though it’s not something we’re necessarily conscious of, psychologists have found that the identical words we use to describe our wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the length of an especially impressive hotdog are not a fluke, but rather are telling of the cognitive processes involved in thinking about time. Past studies have shown that priming people with spatial information actually influences their perceptions of time. For example, people primed to imagine themselves moving through space will make different judgments about the temporal order of events than people primed to imagine objects moving through space toward themselves.

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is working to better understand the mental connections between space and time. She recently published an illuminating new study in the June 2012 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. According to Barth, it seems we use the more concrete world of space to think about the more abstract world of time.

Barth and co-author Jessica Sullivan ’08—formerly one of Barth’s student in the Cognitive Development Labs, now a graduate student at the University of California-San Diego—noticed that though past studies in this area attribute the effects on participants’ temporal judgments to the spatial qualities of the prime used, most of the primes involved both space and movement. For example, previous studies have used primes that involve a stick figure walking toward a plant or pulling on a wagon—scenes that use motor words like “run” and show actors engaging in self-powered motion.

5 Questions With . . . Richard Grossman on the Libor Scandal

Richard Grossman, professor of economics.

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Professor of Economics Richard Grossman. In July, Grossman spoke to the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s about the Libor scandal rocking the global financial industry. Grossman’s 2010 book, Unsettled Account: The Evolution of Banking in the Industrialized World since 1800, reviews banking crises over the past 200 years in North America, Europe and other regions, and considers how they speak to today’s financial crises around the world. He blogs at Unsettledaccount.com.

Q: Professor Grossman, what is the Libor, and what is this scandal all about?

A: “Libor” is the London InterBank Offered Rate. Produced daily for the British Bankers’ Association, it is calculated by asking a group of banks how much they estimate it will cost them to borrow money. Banks are asked to provide estimates of borrowing costs for 15 different maturities ranging from overnight to one year in ten different currencies, so Libor is not one interest rate, but 150. Because not all of the banks deal in all maturity-currency combinations, somewhere between 6 and 18 banks are polled. The highest and lowest estimates are thrown out and the remainder—about half–are averaged to yield Libor. Libor plays a vital role in the world financial system because it serves as a benchmark for some $800 trillion in transactions–everything ranging from complex derivatives to simple home mortgages.

Because so much money is riding on Libor, traders have an incentive to pressure their banks into altering submission estimates to improve their profitability. The scandal is that they did just that. Even a small movement in Libor can lead to millions in extra profits–or losses–for banks.

It has also been alleged that the British authorities encouraged banks to lower their submissions in the wake of the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy to give the impression that banks had access to plentiful and cheap funds and were therefore less vulnerable to the crisis than they actually were.

Q: Sounds like a big deal for the banks, but why should an average person like me care?

A: If the interest rate you pay on your mortgage, home equity loan, or credit card balance is tied to Libor—and it may well be—then you should be concerned that the rate is set fairly.

Shusterman, Students Teach Local Pre-K Summer Program

Wesleyan students taught a five-week pilot Kindergarten Kickstart at Macdonough Elementary in Middletown this summer.

Inspired by her students’ passion for education reform, Assistant Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and several of her students launched an innovative five-week pilot program this summer to prepare children entering kindergarten at Macdonough School in Middletown.

Fifteen children participated in this research-based program, with a curriculum designed by Shusterman, her students and a Macdonough teacher. According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot. About 80 percent of Macdonough students are on free and reduced lunch programs.

The summer program was taught by Taylor Deloach ’13, Sydney Lewis ’14, Julia Vermeulen ’14 and Andy Ribner ’14 in collaboration with Shusterman and an early-education certified teacher, Felicia Johnson. Julie Kastenbaum ’06, who is working toward a Ph.D. in school psychology, volunteered her time to administer a standardized assessment at the beginning and end of the program.

Rani Arbo, a local folk singer, visited the Kickstart program.

The daily and weekly lessons were designed to help children walk in as ready as they can be for the first day of kindergarten. According to Shusterman, activities were designed to boost a few high-impact target areas based on current research in child development and school readiness. These included dramatic play; outdoor play; science and math games; stories and letters; focus games and goal-setting conversations. The group also took weekly field trips to the local children’s museum and the library, and participated in daily activities led by Wesleyan students, including dance, yoga, sign language and music. Children were also provided with free breakfast and lunch.

A graduation ceremony will be held Aug. 2 at Macdonough School.

The project was made possible by an intensive collaboration between Shusterman, Macdonough Principal Jon Romeo, and Izzi Greenberg ’05, executive director of the community organization NEAT. Shusterman and her students independently raised funds to run the program.

Ongoing updates are available at a blog written by Lewis. Ribner ’14 shares photos of the program on his web site.

Wang is an Expert on Medieval Chinese Poetry, Chinese Literature

Ao Wang, assistant professor of Asian languages and literatures, assistant professor of East Asian studies, will teach “Third-Year Chinese” and “Man and Nature in Classical Chinese Literature” this fall.

For the past two years, Ao Wang has shared with his students at Wesleyan a passion for Chinese poetry and intellectual debate over East Asian cultural issues.

Wang came to Wesleyan in fall 2010 as a visiting professor. He was hired in the 2011-12 academic year as an assistant professor of Asian languages and literatures and East Asian studies.

Originally from Qingdao, China, Wang was drawn to the United States because of his love of American culture, particularly music and poetry. Though he didn’t have a specific career goal at that time, he eventually decided to become a translator of poetry—from Chinese into English, and English to Chinese. Wang went on to earn a Ph.D. from Yale in East Asian languages and literatures.

Prior to teaching at Wesleyan, Wang taught briefly at the University of California-Davis, and then for two years at Trinity College in Hartford. He was attracted to Wesleyan because of its vibrant and active intellectual community. “The students at Wesleyan are serious about their studies,” he says. “They dedicate themselves to their work, and push their teachers to do a better job.” In fact, Wang says, his students actually ask for more homework—the opposite of what he encountered in previous teaching jobs—and push for more intellectual challenge.

This past year, Wang taught “Introduction to Chinese Poetry.” Students in this course, who were not required to know the Chinese language, compared different translations of classical Chinese poems to examine how the image of ancient Chinese poetry was constructed in the process of cultural exchange.

Wang also taught “Gender Issues in Chinese Literature and Culture,” which he called a “fun class.”

“The students are very interested in the daily lives of ancient Chinese women—how they saved money, how they raised and educated their children—and Confucian ideas about Chinese women. These are all very interesting ideas, and still relevant for our time,” he says. The class read excerpts from Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and watched debates on YouTube over its messages. A diverse classroom make-up, with about half the students of East Asian descent, made for a very interesting discussion, says Wang.

Wang’s own research focuses on Medieval Chinese Poetry, which he says is not well studied. “There are still numerous important and great poets who have not yet been introduced to the Western world,” he says. “They need study and translation, and eventually will become part of world literature.” Wang is currently co-editing an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry.

When not working, Wang enjoys reading, playing drums and guitar, and practicing a form of martial arts known as Kuntao.

Grossman Speaks on Banking Regulation in Canadian Magazine

Richard Grossman, professor of economics.

In the wake of the LIBOR banking scandal, Richard Grossman, professor of economics, commented in the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s on July 13 about banking regulation throughout history. “It’s guaranteed to be a losing battle,” he said. “The incentives in banking are so strong and the money is so big. As soon as you close off one area, someone is going to think of a new way to do things.”

Grossman stressed that governments and the public have a short memory when it comes to financial crises, so that regulations that seem prudent in one era become the next generation’s “political red tape.”

“The short answer is probably no, we can’t trust the banks to regulate themselves,” he said. “People and institutions react to incentives and there’s a lot of money to be made in financial sectors as long as that incentive is there.”

Burke Teaches Human Anatomy in Nepal as Fulbright Specialist

Ann Burke

Professor of Biology Ann Burke recently completed a Fulbright Specialists project in Nepal at The Patan Academy of Health Sciences. It is the mission of this new medical program to train students from rural areas of Nepal who are committed to returning to their villages to provide desperately needed health care. Burke’s project, which involved training local faculty in the teaching of human anatomy for medical students, was completed during the months of May and June.

Burke was one of over 400 American faculty and professionals who will travel abroad this year through the Fulbright’s Specialists Program. The program, created in 2000 to complement the traditional Fulbright Scholars Program, provides short-term academic opportunities to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at post-secondary academic institutions around the world.

The Fulbright Program, in existence for 60 years, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Barth Published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of “Active (not passive) spatial imagery primes temporal judgements.” Written along with Jessica Sullivan of the University of California-San Diego, the article was published in the June 2012 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

For this article, Barth and Sullivan looked deeper into the previously demonstrated cognitive connections between how we think about space and time. They found that only when people are asked to imagine actively moving themselves through space are their perceptions of time influenced. When participants in the experiment were primed with a similar scenario involving passive motion through space, the same influence was not seen on their temporal judgments.

The article can be read online here.

Kurtz Co-Edits Book on Schizophrenia

Matthew Kurtz

Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-editor of a new book, Clinical Neuropsychological Foundations of SchizophreniaThe book, co-edited by Bernice Marcopulos, was published on July 11 by Psychology Press.

A resource for practicing neuropsychologists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and neuropsychiatrists, as well as students of these disciplines, the volume provides knowledge and tools for providing professional neuropsychological services to patients with schizophrenia. It offers an overview of developmental models of schizophrenia and associated neuropathologies, and covers contemporary evidence-based assessments and interventions, including cognitive remediation and other cognitive-oriented interventions.

Birds, babies learn how to vocalize in similar ways

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of neuroscience & behavior, recently spoke to McClatchy Newspapers about a new finding in his field of expertise–the neuroscience behind song learning and production in birds. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, found that birds use the left side of their brain for perceiving and producing song, just as humans do for speech.

“Showing left side dominance for auditory memories, which is very similar in humans, is novel,” said Kirn, who was not part of this study. However, “within songbirds the whole idea of left side dominance is not ironclad, even within the same species.”

 

When Banks Are Too Big to Behave

In the wake of the LIBOR banking scandal, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman recently spoke to the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s about banking regulation throughout history. “It’s guaranteed to be a losing battle,” he says. “The incentives in banking are so strong and the money is so big. As soon as you close off one area, someone is going to think of a new way to do things.” He adds that governments and the public have a short memory when it comes to financial crises, so that regulations that seem prudent in one era become the next generation’s “political red tape.”

5 Questions With . . . John Kirn on Songbird Neuroscience

John Kirn

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, in May published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience on neurogenesis in songbirds. He recently spoke about his research on WNPR public radio and in The Hartford Courant

Q: Professor Kirn, you study the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. Please tell us about your research, and the surprising findings to come out of your most recent work.

A: I’m interested in the normal functions of adult neurogenesis—the continual addition and replacement of neurons. This happens to a limited extent in humans but is very widespread in the brains of birds. It is a widely held view that this process helps us learn, because young neurons might be more malleable than older ones. In some songbirds, like the canary, the highest numbers of new neurons are added annually when birds are learning new song. But neurons are also added when song does not change.

In the zebra finch too, neuron addition is highest when they are juveniles, learning their song. But song learning is over by adulthood and yet new neurons are still added. Why? We think that neurogenesis may also function to preserve pre-existing knowledge. Our most recent work, though still only correlational, supports this notion. If you deafen an adult zebra finch, song structure breaks down, as is also true with human speech. We recently showed that birds that preserved their songs the longest after deafening also had the highest number of neurons added to a brain region that appears to be critical for the maintenance of song structure.

Q: What are the implications of these findings?

A: They might indicate that adult neurogenesis serves more than one purpose. Depending on the brain region and type of cell produced, perhaps in some cases it promotes the acquisition of new information, while in other cases, it promotes stability of older information.

Ospina is an Expert on War and Memory in Contemporary Latin American Culture

Maria Ospina, assistant professor of romance languages and literatures, studies Columbian literature; film and cultural production; violence, history and cultural memory in contemporary Latin America; political economies of drug trafficking; and Latin American film. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Assistant Professor Maria Ospina, who recently completed her first year in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at Wesleyan, can trace her academic interests directly back to her childhood in Colombia and her longtime interest in history.

“My interests in violence, memory and culture stem in part from my own experiences growing up in Colombia during the 1980s and 90s, in a very complex region that has been marked by armed conflict, the hemispheric War on Drugs and different waves of migration. The combination of political turmoil and a vibrant cultural production that actively reflected on the histories of violence and crisis in the region fostered my interest in the relationship between aesthetics, politics and historiography,” she explains. “Realizing that it is in Latin American literature, art, fiction and performance where the most productive social and political reflections about the region have and are taking place led me to want to study it in depth.”

Ospina left Colombia when she was 18 to attend Brown University, where she studied history and cultural studies. After working in New York for a few years, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures from Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she traveled frequently between the U.S. and Colombia in order to coordinate and curate the Cartas de la Persistencia (Letter of Persistence) project. Ospina describes the project as “an important public trans-disciplinary project and archive funded by one of the country’s major cultural institutions. This amazing archive of thousands of recent testimonies about civil resistance to violence led us, among several public initiatives, to publish an anthology, which I edited in 2008.” After earning her Ph.D., Ospina went on to hold a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, where she taught several courses on contemporary Latin American culture.

Teaching at Wesleyan appealed to Ospina because, “I was looking for a liberal arts institution where teaching and research share equal importance—a place that values and fosters reflections about the intersections between arts and politics. Also, I was drawn by the collegial and collaborative spirit of the faculty here, and was particularly interested in the strength of Wesleyan’s arts, film and humanities programs.”

During her first year at Wesleyan, Ospina taught “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures,” the gateway class to the Romance Languages and Literatures major.

“It’s a wonderful course, which prepares students to delve deeper into the culture of Spanish speaking countries and to get really excited about further studying the area,” she says. She also taught a course called “Narratives of Crisis: Violence and Representation in Contemporary Latin American Culture,” which, she says, “explored the intersections between symbolic practice (film, testimony and literature) and histories of violence and crisis in contemporary Latin America and looked at the ways in which cultural texts operate vis-à-vis contemporary dynamics like drug trafficking and armed conflict.”

In the spring, Ospina taught a course called “Minor Tales: Narratives of Youth and Childhood in Latin America,” which focused on Latin American literature and film about childhood and youth in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ospina says she has found her students to be “creative, interested, and excited about politics in the broadest sense of the word. I feel extremely lucky to teach a very diverse group of students.”

Next year, she looks forward to teaching the “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures” course again during both semesters, as well as a course called “Dangerous Plots: Fictions of the Latin American Jungle.” This class will explore the ways in which nature has been plotted in fiction, films and popular culture, focusing specifically on the tropical jungle as a space that has been central to the way Latin America has been imagined for centuries. In the spring, she will teach “Spanish American Literature and Civilization,” which studies some of the major writers and intellectuals in Latin America from the colonial period to the present.

Ospina also had a very productive year in research. She recently finished an article about representations of Amazonia in the context of the War on Drugs, which will be published in Chile in the fall as part of a volume on virtual geographies of Latin America. She also presented work on memory and armed conflict in recent Colombian film at a conference in Lisbon focusing on post-conflict cinema, and attended the Cartagena International Film Festival.

Here at Wesleyan, Ospina is involved in organizing a mini film festival of recent acclaimed Spanish and Latin American film, which will take place at the Wesleyan Film Center in September. “Everyone is invited!” she says.

Outside of work, Ospina enjoys writing fiction, biking, dancing, and spending time in New York City. In addition, she says, “Recently, I’ve also taken up vegetable gardening, because I want to grow some of the food I eat. I grew up in a family of farmers and gardeners in Colombia, but I’ve never had the chance to plant a garden in the Northern Hemisphere—that is, in a place with seasons. It’s been fun, but I’m in a strenuous fight with the local ant population.” Of late, Ospina also has taken an interest in studying birds, particularly migratory species.