New inter-school program to begin Winter Quarter

Rani Gupta

A new program studying the interplay between cognition and emotion will begin at Northwestern Winter Quarter after receiving approval from NU’s Cross-School Initiative Program.

The new program, the Center for Cognition, Emotions and Emotional Disorders, was approved in the spring of 2000 but will start this year with research projects and a two-quarter seminar.

Paula Young, a psychology research assistant professor, said the new program reflects a trend in psychology to look to other disciplines for insight into traditional psychological questions.

“There’s been a lot of research that draws from (multiple) areas that has become pretty popular lately,” she said. “We want to bring Northwestern into that realm.”

Program coordinators also will conduct a seminar about cognition and emotion during Winter and Spring quarters.

The program’s co-director, psychology Prof. Richard Zinbarg, said a “rather large chunk” of its two-year $100,000 grant will be used to invite experts on topics such as psychopathology from as far away England to speak to seminar students.

Zinbarg said program directors hope to attract faculty and students from the School of Education and Social Policy, McCormick School of Science and Engineering, and School of Music.

“Most of the students will probably be from the psychology department, but if we don’t also succeed in attracting students from other schools, we’re not living up to what our mission was,” he said.

Seminar students also will be required to submit research proposals, and the best of these will be funded with grant money, Zinbarg said.

The program’s research may include studies to test if people with anxiety disorders have lower sensory thresholds. For example, researchers may test if people afraid of dogs can hear dogs from unusually long distances.

The program has no plans to start a minor or major in the subject but may build a research center in the future.

“It’s really more of a virtual center now,” Zinbarg said. “As opposed to a place, it’s a group of faculty members and, we hope, students who all share some interest.”

The cognition and emotion program is one of many to come out of the 4-year-old Cross-School Initiative Program.

Last year, the initiative funded nine proposals, including the Center for the Study of Imagination, a program on media and technology convergence, and a minor in transportation and logistics.

Music Dean Bernard Dobroski, chairman of the initiative’s evaluation committee, said the initiative was created to facilitate collaboration between schools.

“We wanted to lower the fences between schools and make it easier to view (NU) as a university rather than a collection of schools,” he said.

Dobroski said that for proposals to be approved, they must have an undergraduate teaching component, which could include classes or symposiums. The proposals also must show that they can receive research funding from outside sources after the initiative’s funding expires in one to three years.

After this year’s round of funding, Dobroski said the committee will evaluate the program to determine its true effects.

“We want to increase the synergy between teachers who may have one school as their home but think and research in similar manners,” he said. “I think it’s been a very successful program, but we’re going to evaluate at the end of this round to see if it’s really impacting undergraduate education.”