Showcased in one of the cover features of LSU Research magazine, cognitive psychologist Dr. Melissa Beck is being called a “collaborative champion,” for her skill in developing cross-discipline research and teamwork.
Dr. Beck is professor of psychology at LSU and leads the Beck Visual Cognition Research Lab, where she conducts innovative and interdisciplinary research on visual attention and memory.
Dr. Beck serves on the executive committee for the LSU MIND group, or the Multidisciplinary Initiative for Neuroscience Discovery. “She’s been described as ‘the glue’ for various cross-campus collaborations,” reported Elsa Hahne at the LSU Office of Research & Economic Development.
In an interview with Hahne, Dr. Beck said, “When I first came to LSU, I was doing basic science research with my graduate students while also doing applied collaborative research at the Human Factors Group at the Naval Research Laboratory at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. We were looking at how pilots allocate attention to digital maps while they’re flying and how their expertise develops. I learned how to take basic research and apply it to different areas while working with people who aren’t cognitive psychologists.”
Beck is aware of how little other disciplines know about psychologists’ skills. She told Hahne, “At all universities, silos get created. Someone in engineering might think psychology is therapy— and it is!—but there’s also this huge other area of psychology called cognitive science. It doesn’t occur to them that we have all of these people with skills and the ability to study interesting problems that are related to business or marketing or engineering. We could collaborate, but people don’t understand what our skills are, and vice versa. Not unless we have conversations.”
Dr. Beck and her team of researchers have worked to uncover the “inattentional blindness” that impacts automobile drivers, the ways that visual attention and memory work or don’t work in various situations. With the aid of grants from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and working through LSU’s University Transportation Center for the Gulf Coast Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, Beck and her students are able to study human responses in a driving simulator.
Housed in the LSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “The simulator consists of a full-sized passenger car––a Ford Fusion with no wheels,” she said, “combined with a series of cameras, projectors and screens to provide a high fidelity virtual environment. Realtime Technology Inc. manufactured the simulator,” Beck explained.
“Lately,” Dr. Beck told Ms. Hahne, “I’ve been working with faculty members in construction management and architecture on a grant submission to look at how architects and engineers communicate with each other around design. People from different disciplines have different conceptualizations of what they do. For example, they might cognitively perceive a building differently. So, how do we get them to communicate well with each other? It’s kind of meta, because the very thing we want to study— cross-discipline communication—is necessary during our collaboration.”