Thursday 10 September 2015

Episode 6 - Laurie Bloomfield

Laurie Bloomfield is an associate professor of psychology at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.

Laurie grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, and did her BA at Algoma University College (1996-2000). Based on some fascinating research she had learned about during several classes with one particular professor (Laurie claims this was me), she was the only student to conduct her Honours thesis study on animal behaviour (a trend that hasn’t seemed to have changed in years at AU). Also while at Algoma University College she was a teaching assistant in Psychology and the Assistant Manager and bartender for the T-Bird Lounge, which at the time was open all day on Thursdays, and students and professors alike met and enjoyed a beverage or two.

Laurie Bloomfield, she's my boss....
In 2000 she began work on her Master’s degree at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario with Ron Weisman. There she investigated vocal production and perception in chickadees, as well as learned techniques to explore the neural correlates of auditory perception. She received the Canadian Psychological Association Award for Academic Excellence for her Master’s thesis which examined in detail the morphology and phonology of the “chick-a-dee” call of the eastern Carolina chickadee, and the perception of this species’ call by the closely related black-capped chickadee.

She then (2002) went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton to work with Chris Sturdy. There she continued her investigation of auditory perception in chickadees by examining the morphology and phonology of the chick-a-dee call of the western Mountain chickadee. Several lab studies that followed attempted to determine which acoustic features were most important to the birds in making species-specific discriminations.

Immediately following the completion of her PhD (2007) she turned down an NSERC post-doc to start as Assistant Professor at Algoma University….  where it all began.

Why continue to work with the chickadees? Well, they produce that chick-a-dee call that is a perfect model for understanding perception. It can be broken down into several components to determine what the birds are paying attention to, and perhaps then we can figure out why they modify this call. In other words, what are they trying to say? It’s sort of like attempting to learn another language.  

Laurie and I talked about a lot of different things, her present research, her inspirations, and other stuff.  This one was fun for me as it was the first non Skype interview I have done.  Laurie is also the first woman I have had on the show, which is a long overdue thing.  Oh yeah, and she is like four doors down the hall from me at work....

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 3 September 2015

Episode 5 - Aaron Blaisdell

Aaron Blaisdell is a Professor in Learning & Behavior and Behavioral Neuroscience in the UCLA Psychology Department. He presides over the Comparative Cognition Lab, studying cognitive processes in rats, pigeons, hermit crabs, and humans.

Aaron knows the best way to carry a rat is on your shoulder
After receiving his BA and MA in Biological Anthropology (at SUNY Stony Brook and Kent State University, respectively), Aaron realized that animal cognition was even more interesting than dead humans. So he trekked on over to SUNY Binghamton for his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology with  Ralph Miller, where he studied learning, memory, and temporal cognition in the rat. 

This was followed by a brief stint as an NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow with Bob Cook, an expert on Avian Visual Cognition at Tufts University, where he learned how pigeons perceive and think about the world. In 2001, he emigrated to the climatological and cultural paradise of sunny LA where he has remained ever since. 

A second interest of Aaron’s is in how human ancestry and evolution can inform us about health and well being in the modern world. He is currently studying the interaction between diet and cognition. He is a founding member and Past President of the Ancestral Health Society, Past President of the International Society for Comparative Psychology, an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Evolution and Health, and a member of the Brain Research Institute, the Integrative Center for Learning & Memory, and the Evolutionary Medicine program all at UCLA.

We talked about a lot of different things, including reasoning in rats, sensory preconditioning, how diet affects cognitionrepresentation in rat memory and Aaron's crowdfunded research proposal.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

mp3 download