Associate Professor of Psychology
Director of General Education
B.S., Psychology, Georgetown University
M.A., Psychology, University of Toronto
Ph.D., Psychology, University of Toronto
My scholarly interests are really about one thing: What is the impact of context in cognitive processing? Having written that, I’m reminded of an approach one of my many mentors took in writing about a complicated topic: I need to explain three terms in that question: Cognitive Processing, Context, and Impact.
Cognitive processing… My perspective on mental life is that it is best understood in the tradition in psychology known as Information Processing. The basic idea in Information Processing is that we are surrounded by information — that the things we can see and hear, everything we experience is information that we can work with. Mental activity can be described as being like those things we do at a desk. We put some things on the desktop and work with it, and some things we might put in the drawers of the desk, or on shelves near the desk, or (if you’ve seen my office), on the floor. Some things go in the wastepaper basket, too. When we work with the information at our desk, we examine it, change it, and create new products. We write things down, and create lasting records of our work. We might also take something off the shelf and change it, or leave it as is…
I am interested in certain aspects of that processing, and my research over the years has addressed selective attention (deciding what to process), working memory (the active processing), and various aspects of remembering, including remembering our experiences and remembering (learning and knowing) what things mean.
Context… Context is a difficult concept, and psychologists aren’t very good at disentangling that formally. So I won’t bother to define it formally. Instead, I’ll define it by examples:
Aging changes us, and our aging bodies (and minds) are therefore a changing context for cognitive processing.
Information can be presented to us clearly or not so clearly, and the form that information takes is a context in which we process it.
Words are a context for other words.
What we know is a kind of context in which we perceive, learn, and remember.
Our expectations, based on experience, form a context for remembering.
Theoretically, I have referred to context as “environmental support”, but I’m not sure that term captures what I mean entirely, because referring to our past experiences and knowledge as “environment” is a bit sketchy.
Impact… How do we know whether something in our cognitive context is having an impact on processing? By exploring variables in research, and so one of the important aspects of my scholarly work is methodology. Much of my work is directly or indirectly about the research methods used to explore the impact of context. My interest in methodology is a result of one of my intellectual strengths: I have always just had a knack for research methodology and my mind just seems to work that way. Why do I mention this? It’s a context!
Positive Psychology and Optimal Cognitive Functioning. Positive Psychology is a perspective, primarily in the clinical areas of psychology, that optimal human functioning is not just the absence of maladies. It arises from the presence of something good. An ever-growing group of researchers are interested in things like happiness and exercising one’s psychological strengths. One of my current research projects is exploring the impact of this kind of personal context on cognitive functioning. Do people who exercise their psychological strengths experience positive benefits in cognition?
Statistical Methods in Psychology. I am in the early stages of writing a textbook for the Statistical Methods course in Psychology. The research behind that includes identifying changing trends in the statistics reported in published research articles. The goal is to ensure that the textbook is oriented toward what would benefit students the most in such a course.
Selected Publications and Conference Proceedings:
Shaw, R. J. (2003). Using and conducting aging research in experimental methods and statistics courses. In S. K. Whitbourne & J. C. Cavanaugh (Eds.) Integrating aging topics into psychology: A practical guide for teaching (pp. 43-55). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
Matvey, G., Dunlosky, J., Shaw, R., J.; Parks, C., Hertzog, C. (2002). Age-related equivalence and deficit knowledge in updating of cue effectiveness. Psychology and Aging, 17, 589-597.
Long, L. L., Shaw, R. J. (2000). Adult age differences in vocabulary aquisition. Educational Gerontology, 26, 651-664.
McDowd, Joan M.; Shaw, Raymond J. (2000). Attention and aging: A functional perspective. In Craik, F. I. M. Craik & T. A. Salthouse (Eds.) The handbook of aging and cognition (pp. 221-292) (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Smith, A., D., Park, D., C., Earles, L. K., Shaw, R., J., Whiting, W. L. (1998). Age differences in context integration in memory. Psychology and Aging, 13, 21-28.
Shaw, R.J. (1997). Unprimed stem completion is only moderately predicted by word frequency and length. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 29, 401‑424.
Shaw, R.J. (1995). Pedagogical benefits of a “distributed” computer laboratory in a cognition course. West Virginia Journal of Psychological Research and Practice, 4, 31‑37.
Shaw, R.J., & Laumann, L.L. (1994). The interaction of knowing and remembering in Alzheimer’s Disease. West Virginia Journal of Psychological Research and Practice, 3, 77‑86.
Shaw, R.J., & Laumann, L.L. (1993). Neurobiological factors in the normal age‑related decline of selective attention. West Virginia Journal of Psychological Research and Practice, 2, 73‑82.
Park, D. C. & Shaw, R. J. (1992). Effect of environmental suport on implict and explicit memory in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 7, 632-642.
Shaw, R. J. (1991). Age-related increases in the effects of automatic semantic activation. Psychology and Aging, 6, 595-604.
Loewen, E.R., Shaw, R.J., & Craik, F.I.M. (1990). Age differences in components of metamemory. Experimental Aging Research, 16, 43‑48.
Salthouse, T. A., Babcock, R. L., Shaw, R. J. (1991). Effects of adult age on structural and operational capacities in working memory. Psychology and Aging, 6, 118-127.
Shaw, R. J., Craik, F. I. M. (1989). Age differences in predictions and performance on a cued recall task. Psychology and Aging, 4, 131-135.
Howard, D. V., Heisey, J. G., Shaw, R. J. (1986). Aging and the priming of newly learned associations. Developmental Psychology, 22, 78-85.
Howard, D.V., Shaw, R.J., & Heisey, J.G. (1986). Aging and the time course of semantic activation. Journal of Gerontology, 41, 195‑203.
Finkel, N.J., Shaw, R., Bercaw, S., & Koch, J. (1985). Insanity defenses: From the jurors’ perspective. Law and Psychology Review, 9, 77‑92.