Research Spotlight: Psychological and Brain Sciences Program


Joanne Rhee
Staff Writer

The University of California, Santa Barbara offers a wide range of graduate programs in addition to its undergraduate studies. The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences offers graduate students the opportunity to conduct research in four different fields.

The Cognition, Perception & Cognitive Neuroscience (CPCN) graduate program “focuses on how humans perceive, remember and think about the world.” Areas of research in the program include language, visual perception and spatial cognition.

“I am primarily interested in what we call spatial cognition which is how people reason and think about, as well as act in, space,” Alexander Boone, a graduate student in the psychological and brain Sciences, said to The Bottom Line. “I am interested in this concept as it relates to both small-scale phenomena, like mentally rotating objects, as well as more large-scale phenomena, like human navigation. Further, my interest in navigation is focused on using virtual environments to understand how humans navigate in space. These problems serve a larger purpose. Most of us deal with spatial issues daily, and understanding what we are (and are not) capable of is important to study.”

Like other graduate students, Boone is heavily involved in research. He is currently working on four projects, including mental rotation and virtual environment navigation. He is also seeking to understand how people deal with various forms of data uncertainty. Boone’s ultimate goal is to receive his Ph.D, and he said that, “along the way the journey is really about honing my skills of thinking critically about the issues that we face and writing … and writing and writing and writing.”

Graduate students also have to opportunity to study developmental and evolutionary psychology, which looks at the development of human thought, reasoning and behavior from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Another area of study is neuroscience and behavior, which mainly focuses on visual neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology.

Students also have the option of exploring UCSB’s Social Psychology program, which spans “the spectrum of cognitive, affective and motivational processes underlying intraindividual, interpersonal, intragroup and intergroup behavior.”

“I encountered cultural psychology research when doing my M.A., and found it fascinating because it fit really well with my personal observation of people with different cultural backgrounds,” said Kimin Eom, a graduate student focusing on social psychology. “It confirmed “culture matters,” which I had always been thinking in my mind.”

Eom researches cultural psychology, the study of how human minds and culture co-shape each other. He is interested in how socio-cultural factors influence pro-social and pro-environmental behavior.

“UCSB is a great place with a great support for my research and life. I am very happy to be here,“ he said.

UCSB offers many opportunities for research, within and outside of the Psychology and Brain Sciences graduate programs. For students who are interested in conducting research, Boone says, “My advice to undergraduates interested in research is to get involved early.”