Learning, Decision-Making, and Development: Understanding Connections to Stress and Mental Health

Supervising Faculty:
Jamie Hanson, Ph.D.

Jamie Hanson, Ph.D.

Area of Research:
Clinical Psychology/Developmental Psychology; Cognitive Neuroscience; The Role of Experience in Behavioral Development

Learning from experience is important. It is essential to understand what might be the best way to spend our time and what actions might have negative consequences. When we feel stressed or anxious, we might make poor decisions or be overly sensitive to bad outcomes. Similarly, children and adolescents sometimes make shortsighted choices, decisions that give more importance to immediate gains over longer-term rewards. For this project, we are interested in understanding how children, adolescents, and adults make decisions. We are also interested in knowing if experiencing stress changes how we make decisions. To answer these questions, we have people play some computer games and answers some questionnaires. The computer games involve picking between different options, and for some of the options, participants receive a reward. Getting rewards in certain amounts or orders may influence later decisions. The questionnaires ask about different experiences and feelings people have had. Some of the questionnaires are about challenges at home or in people’s neighborhood. Some of the questions are about whether people are experience mental health issues (e.g., depression; anxiety) or get in trouble at school or work often.

Duties of Students:
Primary responsibilities will include running participants in computer-based behavioral experiments. There will also be regular “journal clubs” where students and lab staff will discuss research of interest. Some students may be invited to assist in setting-up behavioral paradigms after gaining experience running participants. Experience with computer programming (e.g., linux/bash; Python) and/or statistical analyses may allow for students to be centrally involved with data processing and manuscript composition.  

Additional Information: 
For more information about Dr. Hanson’s research opportunity, please see lab (http://www.lifelab.pitt.edu/) and personal (http://jamiehanson.org/) websites.


  • GPA of 3.6 or higher (no exceptions)
  • Students should meet all Departmental criteria for eligibility for directed research
  • Students who can commit to 8-10 hours/week (3 credits) for 3 semesters

Terms offered:
Fall, Spring, and Summer 
Number of Students: