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Five Questions for: Daniel Corts

October  28, 2010

Dr. Daniel Corts talks with a student in one of his classes.
Augustana Photo Bureau/Marla Alvarado Neuerburg

1. When did it dawn on you that your future lay in investigating cognitive psychology?

“It was the beginning of my junior year in college. I was in the process of getting kicked out of Belmont University in Nashville for bad grades. I was majoring in music production and had started to lose interest. I looked around and thought, I really love college, and I need to start doing the things that will keep me here for a long time.

My roommate was biology major, and he and I used to sit around in the evening and talk about science and literature. We were a couple of nerds -- we didn’t get invited to many parties. I changed majors at the beginning of the spring semester and by the end of that semester I had the curious honor of making both the academic probation and dean’s list.”

2. So, just what is cognitive psychology, and why should potential students consider it as an area of specialization?

"It is the study of cognition -- the science behind how we think, how we reason and how we make decisions. It is how we deal with information. What we do has direct application even for those who don't want to go on to a PhD program in cognitive psychology. My education students are interested in how people learn, the impediments to learning and how to improve learning. Biology and pre-med students are interested in studying memory and the neuroscience behind how the brain stores information. "

3. You have co-authored a new psychology textbook with Dr. Mark Krouse of Southern Oregon University. How do you expect the publication will impact the study of psychology?

"Mark and I were friends and officemates at the University of Tennessee, so I guess it could be said that we survived a similar type of graduate school student trauma together. In the years after graduate school, we talked about collaborating, but while I was studying human cognition, Mark was studying animal behavior -- specifically how snakes find food.

"About five years ago, we were both talking with a publisher about how we thought existing textbooks focused too much on justifying psychology as an extension of the scientific method while at the same time repeating old stories about psychology that had never actually been explored scientifically. Our goal is to return the study of cognitive psychology to a scientific method-based discipline. Mark and I believe that this focus will move our students to a heightened level of scientific and cultural literacy."

4. Finish this sentence, "When a student completes my cognitive psychology course, he or she will...'

"First, they will be able to read and understand the basic concepts behind the study of psychology. Second they will gain an extensive understanding of how the scientific method was applied to establish these principles and third, they will be able to analyze things in the real world -- maybe in the news media -- from a scientific perspective.

"I think what they study in this course will have lasting relevance in their personal and professional lives. It is my expectation that students who complete this course will become more civically literate, that they will know how to apply scientific literacy to their responsibilities as citizens in a free society."

5. How is your penchant for preparing Bananas Foster on the grill a reflection of you as a scholar?

"About the time I decided that I wanted to become a psych major, I also decided that I really wanted to learn how to cook. I got a job at an upscale grocery store working in the gourmet kitchen that supported the catering business. Working there, I realized that cooking involved a lot of experimentation. I wondered about things like how oil, flour and heat combine to create the roux that is the basis for so many Cajun dishes.

"I now keep a book in my kitchen. It's called On Food and Cooking, by Harold MaGee, and it focuses on the science behind cooking. So I guess you could say that my love of science and experimentation is evident in the Bananas Foster on the grill thing."

Five Questions is a series of profiles of people at Augustana College. Dr. Daniel Corts, associate professor of psychology, gives the answers today. If you know someone you'd like to see profiled, send his or her name and a note to sharenews@augustana.edu.

By Scott Cason