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Making Their Mark

USC Dornsife's Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and alumnus Thomas Denson recognized by the Association for Psychological Science as 'Rising Stars.'

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, assistant professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute housed in USC Dornsife, and alumnus Thomas Denson, who earned his Ph.D. in psychology from USC Dornsife in 2007, were recognized as “rising stars” by the Association for Psychological Science.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, assistant professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute housed in USC Dornsife, and alumnus Thomas Denson, who earned his Ph.D. in psychology from USC Dornsife in 2007, were recognized as “rising stars” by the Association for Psychological Science.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, assistant professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute housed in USC Dornsife, and Thomas Denson, a USC Dornsife alumnus, were recently lauded by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) for exemplary work in psychological research.

Each year the APS releases a list of “rising stars” recognizing today’s young psychological researchers who have made considerable advancements in the field. Eighteen researchers made the 2011 list.

“I think it is both humbling and gratifying to be recognized for one’s early contributions,” said Immordino-Yang, who is also assistant professor of education at the USC Rossier School of Education. “I take it as encouragement that more senior members of the field recognize that the direction I have taken has potential and that’s very exciting because it gives me confidence to continue.”

Immordino-Yang was named for her work in the neural, psychophysiological and psychological bases of emotion, social interaction and culture and their implications for development and schools.

With a bachelor’s in French literature from Cornell University and extensive experience living abroad in Kenya, Russia and other places, she spent two years teaching science at a junior/senior high school near Boston, Mass. After observing the ways in which her students’ cultural backgrounds and social relationships appeared to influence their conceptual development, she decided to return to graduate school, and pursued her master’s degree in cognitive development and doctorate in human development and psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“It is extremely important that we learn about the basic processes by which people interact by which their interactions with one another shape their own identity, their feeling of themselves and their morality and responsibility,” Immordino-Yang explained. “So then we can expose kids to the kinds of experiences that will help them to be good custodians of themselves, of their neighbors and the planet.”

After earning her doctorate at Harvard she arrived at USC in 2006 as a joint postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Robert Rueda, professor of education and psychology, and Antonio Damasio, University Professor, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience and director of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute.

Immordino-Yang’s contributions have earned her several past distinctions. In 2008, she was the inaugural recipient of the award for “Transforming Education Through Neuroscience,” cosponsored by the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society and the Learning and the Brain Conference. Immordino-Yang and her co-authors, including Antonio Damasio as well as Hanna Damasio, Dana Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience and BCI co-director, also received the 2009 Cozzarelli Prize from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) editorial board for the most distinguished paper of the year in the behavioral and social sciences category. At Harvard, Immordino-Yang was the recipient of grants from the Spencer Foundation and the American Association of University Women Education Foundation.

She is the associate editor for North America for the award-winning new journal Mind, Brain and Education.

Denson, who earned his Ph.D. in psychology from USC Dornsife in 2007, joins Immordino-Yang on the list of “Rising Stars.”

“I am internally motivated to do the work that I do,” said Denson, now associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “It was nice to be recognized.”

The Orange County, Calif., native discovered his interest in the causes and consequences of anger and aggression after reading the work of Norman Miller, Mendel B. Silberberg Professor of Social Psychology in USC Dornsife. With a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in psychology at California State University, Long Beach, Miller took Denson on as his Ph.D. student where the two worked side by side.

Denson credits his imaging research capabilities to a class taught by Zhong-Lin Lu, William M. Keck Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and co-director of the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center.

In his current position, Denson divides his time between teaching and conducting research on self-control, anger regulation, alcohol, and aggression and road rage.

“Our research has the potential to eventually help people,” Denson said. “One day these findings can be incorporated into therapeutic treatments for people who have problems with anger.”

For more information on the Association for Psychological Science’s “Rising Stars,” visit www.psychologicalscience.org.