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Waldorf College professor presents at conference in Germany

Waldorf College
Dr. Sara Finley, assistant professor of psychology at Waldorf College, presented two research projects at the 35th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society in Berlin, Germany this summer.

For the talk titled “Rapid Learning of Morphological Paradigms,” Dr. Finley and Elizabeth Wiemers, an undergraduate student from Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., shared their research of how people learn word endings that signify gender and number.

Dr. Finley also presented a poster entitled, “The Effect of Non-Linguistic Patterns on Linguistic Biases,” which showed that language could be affected by what people see. In her research, she discovered that watching a visual pattern could change a person’s judgment of new words, as people can make comparisons between language and vision.

In addition to meeting with colleagues and other professionals in her field at the conference, Dr. Finley learned about new techniques for adapting traditional research to online learning. “I spoke with another professor who was working to get experiments online so that online students could participate,” explained Dr. Finley. “It got me thinking of the many ways I can extend my research program at Waldorf.”

To be accepted for presentation at the conference, members of the Cognitive Science Society submit research papers for review by other members. According to Dr. Finley, roughly a quarter of the submitted papers were accepted as talks, with less than half selected for poster presentations. More than 1000 professionals attended the conference.

Cognitive science – the study of the mind and its processes – blends ideas from psychology, linguistics, philosophy, computer science, and education to understand how human knowledge is acquired, processed, and applied.

Dr. Finley became interested in the field as an undergraduate at the University of California in Santa Cruz. “What my linguistic professors were telling me about how languages are learned was different from what my psychology professors were telling me,” she said, “so I became interested in how the two fields intersected.”

The 2013-14 academic year marks Dr. Finley’s second year at Waldorf College, where she teaches cognitive psychology courses and advanced research methods.