University of Texas at El Paso
Psychology Department
SCN Program Links    

Doctoral Program Information    

Social, Cognitive, and Neuroscience Program Description    

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) offers a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Social, Cognitive, and Neuroscience (SCN).  The SCN program of study is designed to provide students an opportunity to pursue strong experimental approaches to theoretical and applied research problems. Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, UTEP offers a unique bicultural and bilingual environment for research on social and cognitive processes. The SCN area includes research specializations in three main subfields: social psychology, cognitive psychology/language acquisition and bilingualism, and behavioral neuroscience.

Social Psychology

The social psychology focus at UTEP investigates the influence of social and personality factors on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, with an emphasis on social cognition. These factors, and outcomes, include broad topics related to attitudes, cognition, emotions, intergroup relations, interpersonal relations, and stereotyping and prejudice. Members of this group utilize a wide range of social cognitive and personality methods to investigate a variety of thought-provoking theories. Some of these methods include reaction time paradigms, surveys, event-related potentials (ERP), experience sampling or daily diary protocols, video gaming and virtual reality, and linguistic analysis. Examples of current topics, which students and faculty in this group are collaborating on, include wrongness admission (Fetterman), conceptual metaphor theory (Fetterman), memory consolidation effects (Zárate), intergroup relations and attitudes towards immigration (Zárate), and how attitudes guide everyday decision making (Crites). In addition, much of this research incorporates issues relevant to the community’s unique border situation. As such, the social psychology group has diverse perspectives, which encourages interesting collaborations and opportunities to apply our basic research. 

Cognitive Psychology / Language Acquisition and Bilingualism

In the Psychology Department at UTEP, there are five cognitive psychologists for whom language acquisition and bilingualism is a major component of their research program. We have a PhD concentration in Language Acquisition and Bilingualism in collaboration with four core faculty in the Department of Languages and Linguistics. UTEP and the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez community provide an ideal environment for the investigation of cognitive and language processes in Spanish-English bilinguals and monolingual speakers of English or Spanish, with a diverse range of experiential and proficiency characteristics. Current core faculty in psychology focus on a broad range of theoretical questions in reading and language comprehension (Schwartz, Whitford), language production (Francis, Ivanova), memory (Francis, Bangert), attention (Bangert, Ivanova, Francis), conceptual/knowledge representation (Francis, Schwartz), interaction between languages (Schwartz, Ivanova), and the impact of bilingual language experience on cognition (Francis, Ivanova, Whitford). Core faculty in linguistics focus on phonological perception and production (Amastae, Mazzaro), language comprehension (Contemori), and syntax (Sobin). Affiliated faculty in Speech Language Pathology focus on typical and atypical language acquisition (Summers) and typical and atypical speech recognition (Desjardins). These research programs examine cognition and language across the lifespan from childhood to older age. Our research laboratories incorporate a variety of techniques, including response time and error rate analysis, standardized assessments, eye tracking, ERP, acoustic analysis, and audiometric measures. We also implement a variety of advanced analytic techniques. Our goal in training PhD students is to develop independent scientists with a broad range of content and methodological knowledge in cognitive psychology and language research.

Behavioral Neuroscience

UTEP offers a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Behavioral Neuroscience. Graduate students have the opportunity to develop strong experimental skills in one of the fastest growing areas of science. UTEP offers a unique bicultural environment for conducting neuroscience research related to border-relevant issues such as drug abuse (Castañeda, Iñiguez, O’Dell, Serafine), metabolic disorders (O’Dell, Serafine), mental health problems (Iñiguez), and neurodegenerative disorders (Castañeda). With 4 Hispanic faculty members, the neuroscience area offers an intensive and culturally sensitive environment that has a record of promoting the independent research careers of neuroscientists from diverse backgrounds. Our research programs are thematically centered on motivated behavior and we apply an array of state-of-the-art methods involving neurochemistry, molecular biology, electrophysiology, genetics, and histochemistry procedures. Our goal is to develop a strong foundation in neuroscience methods, grant and publication writing skills, and empirical design that will help our graduates develop independent research careers in neuroscience. Our graduate training program is enriched with a vibrant undergraduate and post-doctoral fellow environment that creates a strong scientific community of neuroscientists. In addition to the research offered in the Psychology department, there are also opportunities for collaboration with other departments, such as Biological Sciences that has 8 additional neuroscientists.