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Kimberly Kraebel

Kimberly Kraebel

October 2008

Professor Kraebel at work in her lab
Prof. Kraebel assisted by students A. Golden and K. Dickerson

Dr. Kim Kraebel joined the Cortland faculty in 2003 as an assistant professor of psychology; although she is relatively new to the faculty she has already made a big impact, inspiring students by her extraordinary dedication to research and teaching.

She is the first junior (pre-tenure) faculty member at Cortland to receive federal funding from the National Institutes of Health. In fact, Kim is only the second faculty member from Cortland to receive NIH funding (Prof. Charles Spink from Chemistry was awarded an NIH grant in 2002). Kim was awarded $156,500 for a two-year project from the Child Health and Human Development section of NIH. Her research into the learning processes of healthy infants holds enormous potential for insights into developmental disabilities.

Kim's primary research interest is in the area of developmental psychology. In particular, she is interested in assessing the role of intersensory integration in learning and memory processes in human infants. Intersensory integration refers to the ability to integrate information across multiple sensory systems. In the everyday perceptual world of adults, the world appears organized and unified despite the fact that information about the world is often presented simultaneously and/or asynchronously from our different sensory systems. For instance, an object sensed simultaneously by both the visual and haptic (touch) systems is still perceived as a single object, and an object normally sensed only visually is still recognized even when that object is experienced only through the sense of touch. This ability to combine information from different sensory systems to form a unified perceptual world is referred to as intersensory integration. For adults, intersensory integration seems effortless, possibly due to their extensive experience with the world. But the problem of intersensory integration poses an interesting question for developmental psychologists: how do infants, who have less experience to draw upon, integrate information from an ever-changing array of sensory information? How do the processes of intersensory integration influence the perceptual and cognitive development of infants?

Prof. Kraebel with students
Students attending a Vancouver conference with Prof. Kraebel: K. Armstrong, N. Granger and E. Shoykhet (L to R)

The specific purpose of Kim's Infant Learning and Memory Project is to examine the potentially unique way that infants learn and remember the multi-sensory events they experience. Previous studies have suggested that infants are very sensitive to information when it is presented in more than one sensory system. This redundant sensory information is known as amodal information. For example, it has been shown that infants pay more attention to a musical rhythm if the rhythm can be both seen (visual information) and heard (auditory information), such as when a ball is bounced on the ground - the visual movement of the ball and the sound it makes when it hits the ground reflect the same rhythm (i.e. rhythm is the amodal information). Other examples of amodal dimensions include tempo, synchrony, intensity, affect, familiarity, or shape.

Although studies have shown that infants are sensitive to amodal dimensions, none of the studies have asked whether that information is actually helpful or beneficial for infants. For example, does having amodal information presented in multiple sensory systems enhance an infant's ability to learn and remember? Answering this question will lead to a better understanding of the learning processes of normal healthy infants. In turn, this may lead to the development of diagnostic procedures that help identify infants at risk for developmental disabilities and/or it may provide infants-at-risk with experiences uniquely designed to help them learn. As part of her research program at Cortland, Kim strongly encourages undergraduate involvement. She typically has 3-4 students working with her each semester. Her students have earned multiple honors including departmental recognition at Honors Convocation, internal grants, and fellowships (Research Travel Awards, Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship). Many of her students have gone on to graduate level work; most notably: Jeffrey Young is currently working towards his Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at Argosy University, Kelly Armstrong is currently working on her Masters of Science with Certification of Advanced Study in School Psychology at St. Rose College, and Kelly Dickerson is currently working towards her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology at Binghamton University.

Kim recognizes that her impact on today's psychology majors is part of the life blood of academe: good mentors inspire their students. "My success at the assistant professor level could not have happened without the excellent training I received from my research mentors: Charlie Edwards, my undergraduate mentor who introduced me to research and showed me how much fun it could be; Norman (Skip) Spear, my graduate school mentor who taught me not to give up and to seek research's own rewards and not external ones; and Peter Gerhardstein, my post-doctoral mentor who sharpened my critical thinking skills and reignited my love for research."

baby at play
A happy research subject.

Prior to earning NIH funding, Kim received several internal grants (a Summer Research Fellowship, 2 Faculty Research Program grants, and Research Travel grants). Upon receiving NIH funding, she was the recipient of the Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Outreach award. She has given numerous presentations on behalf of the Faculty Development Center and the Research and Sponsored Programs Office about grant writing and is a member of the College Research Committee. Her research has been featured in the media too, including News 10 Now and the Cortland Standard. On top of all that she has published 16 journal papers and presented at over 30 psychology conferences throughout her career.

Her primary courses at Cortland are Child Psychology and Experimental Psychology. She is also developing an Animals and Human Health program and has taught a course in Pet-Assisted Therapy. She has extensive experience in animal rescue and currently has 2-4 students a semester working for credit at the Cortland County SPCA. These students go through a 6 week training program to learn how to read canine behavior and learn basic training skills. The students then apply these skills to their work with the shelter dogs, with the goal being to increase the dogs chances of getting adopted.

Kim is particularly grateful for the supportive environment she has found at SUNY Cortland. "I want to also extend my deepest appreciation to the Research and Sponsored Programs Office, and in particular to Amy Henderson Harr. Without Amy's continued support and faith in me, I might not have persisted in pursuing federal level funding. Amy's unyielding commitment to support Cortland's faculty in their pursuit of external funding is truly one of SUNY Cortland's strongest assets. I would also like to thank the faculty of the Psychology department for their support, in particular Mike Toglia, Dave Berger, Jim Starzec, and Judy Ouellette. And last, but not least, I would like to thank all the parents who allowed their infants to participate in my studies and helped contribute to our understanding of the learning processes of infants. Thank you!!!"