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Cognitive scientist Jennifer Trueblood wins National Academy of Sciences’ Troland Research Award

Mar 11, 2024

Jennifer Trueblood came to Indiana University for its world-renowned music school as an undergraduate student, but she stayed for a Ph.D. through its leading cognitive science program. Ten years after receiving her doctorate, she returned to IU as a faculty member and is one of the National Academy of Sciences’ 2024 Troland Research Award winners.

Jennifer Trueblood Jennifer Trueblood. Photo courtesy of James VavrekTrueblood is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Cognitive Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. She’s a cognitive scientist studying human judgment, decision-making and reasoning. Her research combines computational modeling and behavioral data to identify solutions to real-world problems.

The National Academy of Sciences selected Trueblood for her pioneering research in developing mathematical models of cognitive processing. According to the academy, her findings have reshaped the fundamental understanding of how humans make decisions.

“You can’t pay attention to everything at one time,” Trueblood said. “If you think about going into a grocery store and buying cereal, there’s lots of cereals that have different features. Price is an obvious one, calories, you name it. We’re curious about how people make those decisions and what are the cognitive processes that are involved when that decision is being made.”

Trueblood’s research has advanced our understanding of how people make decisions when faced with multiple, complex alternatives and options involving different risks and rewards. Her research has not only advanced the basic science of human decision-making but has also made significant contributions to applied decision-making in areas of medical image interpretation, consumer behavior and legal decision-making.

Her scientific approach involves the integration of behavioral experiments with tools from the mathematical, computational and physical sciences. Trueblood’s research exemplifies a multidisciplinary approach to studying human cognition with the aim of understanding both the intricacies of human decision-making and how to help people make better decisions.

She is interested in how decisions and mistakes are made in medical image interpretation tasks. Pathologists, medical technologists and medical residents, for example, have cognitive and perceptual biases that can impact their decision-making in clinical settings, Trueblood said. Understanding their decision-making processes can help identify why misdiagnoses happen in the first place and how to prevent them.

The National Academy of Sciences’ Troland Research Awards are given annually to two early-career researchers under the age of 45 who have demonstrated unusual achievements in experimental psychology. The recognition is accompanied by a $75,000 award to further research in the field.

Trueblood joins Robert Goldstone, John Kruschke and Robert Nosofsky as the fourth Troland Research Award winner from IU. Goldstone and Nosofsky are also in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and frequently interact with Trueblood.

“All the work I’ve done throughout my career has always been in collaboration with many other people,” Trueblood said. “IU is a special place in terms of the intellectual atmosphere, the sense of community and the interactions I can have that help me do the best science I can do.”

Trueblood said she’s deeply honored to have been nominated for the award and is appreciative of all the people who have supported her over the years, especially those who mentored her as a student at IU.

Though she originally attended IU to study vocal performance at the Jacobs School of Music, she became fascinated with psychology after taking it as an elective. Her professor suggested she gain a solid foundation in quantitative skills, and she never looked back.

“The people here have supported me from day one and provided career advice that has majorly impacted my life,” Trueblood said. “It’s nice to come back, connect with those people, give back to the program that gave so much to me and hopefully provide that same guidance to current and future IU students and potentially the next IU Troland Research Award winner.”

On April 28, Trueblood will travel to Washington, D.C., to accept her award during the academy’s 161st annual meeting.

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