Carney professor wins three awards for contributions to psychological science

Brown University scientist Oriel FeldmanHall has recently received three early-career awards from prestigious neuroscience and psychological professional societies for her contributions to science.

FeldmanHall, who is affiliated with Brown’s Carney Institute for Brain Science, is one of eight scientists worldwide to receive the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions from the Association for Psychological Science (APS). The award recognizes APS members who have made transformative early-career contributions to psychological science, such as establishing new approaches or paradigms or advancing research that spans fields of study. 

FeldmanHall was also named one of two recipients of the 2022 Young Investigator Award from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, which recognizes outstanding contributions by scientists early in their career. And she received the 2022 American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the area of cognition and human learning. Created in 1974, the award recognizes excellent psychologists who are at early stages of their research careers.

“Receiving these rewards is very much a product of having amazingly supportive mentors and a lab full of brilliant scientists that I am so lucky to work with,” ​​said FeldmanHall, Manning Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences.

FeldmanHall studies how the brain detects, values and assesses conflicting reward and punishment contingencies during moral dilemmas, and she examines the role of emotion and its operational power in shaping these social interactions. Her research merges multiple fields of study, including behavioral economics and social psychology, with imaging and psychophysiological techniques to investigate the brain mechanisms that support these complex processes. 

“In general, we try to think outside of the box as much as possible in regards to the questions we are asking, how we go about measuring people's behaviors, and the methods we use and combine to analyze what people are doing and thinking,” FeldmanHall said. 

Most recently, she published a study which is the first to demonstrate that people build cognitive maps to represent an enormous amount of social information in a more flexible format. Cognitive maps have historically been studied in the context of spatial navigation, and they have been proposed to organize knowledge about where objects are located relative to each other. FeldmanHall’s study shows evidence that people also rely on cognitive maps to represent relationships between social features—such as race, gender and personal interests—in a social network.

Now, members of the FeldmanHall Lab are taking their work on cognitive maps into the real world, where they will track an incoming cohort of freshmen at Brown to measure how their network forms and changes over the course of a year. The goal of this project, FeldmanHall said, is to examine how humans build cognitive maps of social networks in the wild and identify how the fidelity of the cognitive map is biased by where one sits in their network.