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Psych prof lands National Science Foundation grant

April 9, 2001

An Austin Peay associate professor of psychology seems to be on a roll in landing highly competitive and prestigious grants.

Dr. Barrie Woods is project director of a new $26,392 National Science Foundation (NSF) instrumentation grant, "Computer-controlled laboratories in experimental psychology," which will be used to equip five multi-use laboratories in experimental psychology. Previously, students had to rely on software and equipment of "demonstration quality only."

The NSF grant will provide computers, hardware and software that will ensure student work in the areas of sensation, perception and cognitive psychology is of research quality. Woods said, "Because of this, our students will be able to do independent, publishable research projects."

Woods serves as project director for another prestigious project. Funded through the National Institutes of Health, it's titled "Temporal Processing in Mental Retardation."

Funded at $73,557 in 1998, that grant was APSU's first from the NIH, according to Linda Freed, manager of grants and sponsored programs. Due to delays caused by the 1999 tornado, Woods was given an extra year on that project.

At this point, he and his students are two-thirds through their research, which examines behavioral differences between people with mental retardation and those of typical development, particularly as it relates to sensory perception.

"Such a very large proportion of the brain is devoted to processing sensory information," Woods says. "Scientists need to know the kinds of behavior impairments that indicate what's happening in mental retardation."

Woods' NIH grant funds an even narrower area of study: visual perception and temporal processing or, in layman's terms, how the body's visual system processes information that changes quickly over time.

He and his students are testing temporal processing in three groups of 20-40 each:

*Adults with mental retardation

*Adults without mental retardation

*Children without mental retardation

Although graphs posted on Woods' office walls indicate preliminary findings, he is hesitant to speculate on what he believes will be their final determination.

"The NIH grant had very specific hypotheses that different outcomes would indicate different kinds of impairments," Woods says. "But we need all the data before we can draw a scientific conclusion. It would be premature to announce anything now."

Woods anticipates his research on visual temporal processing in mental retardation will be complete by Fall 2002.