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Psychology Alumnus Wins American Psychology Association Early Career Award

Brian Anderson, PhD, ’09 MS, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University. Photo credit: Texas A&M University

Brian Anderson, PhD, ’09 MS, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, was selected as the recipient of the 2021 American Psychological Association (APA) Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the area of perception and motor performance.

Dr. Anderson, who earned a Master of Science in Psychology from Villanova University in 2009 before earning his PhD in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, is the Director of Human Imaging at Texas A&M, and his research involves investigating the mechanisms by which reward learning and adverse conditioning change how humans direct their attention in the future. In his work, Dr. Anderson seeks to inform the understanding of basic mechanisms of attentional control, and to discover identifiable clinical implications, such as treatment of addiction-related issues.

“The past recipients of this award include a number of people who I have really looked up to and have drawn inspiration from over the course of my career, and to be linked together with them through this award is sincerely humbling,” said Dr. Anderson. “As a scientist, you persevere in your work with the hope of making an impact that extends beyond the somewhat narrow boundaries of your own sub-field and leaves a mark on your discipline more broadly. A recognition of this nature is among the strongest evidence I could hope to receive at this stage in my career that my work is having that sort of impact.”

Dr. Anderson was nominated for this award by his advisor at Villanova, Charles “Chip” Folk, PhD, Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dr. Anderson said that Dr. Folk was instrumental in his acceptance into Johns Hopkins and in joining the lab of his late PhD advisor, Steven Yantis, PhD, who, himself, won the APA Early Career Award in 1994.

“I would have never been competitive for the PhD program at Johns Hopkins without [Dr. Folk’s] mentorship and probably not without his recommendation, as Steven held Chip in high esteem and took his opinion very seriously,” Dr. Anderson said.

In his nomination, Dr. Folk noted that Dr. Anderson has published widely in his discipline, with more than 70 publications in top tier journals and more than 3,200 citations.

“In less than 10 years beyond his PhD, Dr. Anderson is already internationally recognized for his pioneering work on the how pairing reward with visual features can bias the attentional system toward stimuli that carry those features,” said Dr. Folk. “Having one of our former graduate students win such a prestigious award reflects well on the Villanova’s master’s program in Psychology as providing solid scientific training that can serve as a springboard for a highly successful academic career.”

Dr. Anderson credits the Villanova Psychology faculty, particularly Dr. Folk, with introducing him to the very idea that one could pursue academic research as a career and his development as a scientist.

“I owe my foundation in the theoretical bases of attention and perception, as well as my foundation in experimental psychology, to the mentorship of Chip,” said Dr. Anderson. “Afternoons mapping out possibilities on a whiteboard with Chip are among the fondest memories I have.”

Other notable Psychology faculty mentors at Villanova for Dr. Anderson include Matthew Matell, PhD; Thomas Toppino, PhD; Irene Kan, PhD; Patrick Markey, PhD; and Michael Brown, PhD.

APA is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.