UMass Amherst

Linda M. Isbell, PhD

Current Research Interests

Affect and Cognition

Feelings play a ubiquitous role in our everyday lives and have a significant influence on everything from how satisfied we are to how we perceive stimuli in the world around us. Given this, it is not surprising that feelings influence many significant real-world judgments, including diagnoses of cancer, evaluations of job applicants, and voting decisions. A fundamental assumption in my work is that affective feelings convey valuable information that guides individuals’ thoughts, judgments, and actions. My work embraces the notion that affect and cognition are necessary allies that work in tandem to produce adaptive responses to the world. My research aims to better understand the ways in which affect influences ordinary, everyday information processing and judgment across a number of important social psychological and real-world domains. Much of my research investigates the impact of affective experiences on how individuals seek out, process, and evaluate information about hypothetical political candidates, job applicants, ordinary people, stereotyped others, and the self. I am currently applying research on affect and information processing to understand how affect impacts medical decision-making by health care providers when treating individuals afflicted with mental health and substance use disorders. By relying on theory and research in social cognition, I identify and explore the underlying social cognitive processes that account for the different influences of affect on cognition. A list of publications relevant to this primary line of research, as well as to some secondary lines of work, can be found here.

Research on Teaching

My experience teaching both large lecture courses of up to almost 500 students as well as small seminars of only 20 students has consistently revealed that a very large percentage of students learn best by doing and experiencing. For this reason, I develop innovative active-learning classroom activities and explore their impact on student mastery of course material (e.g., Isbell & Tyler, 2003, 2005; Isbell, Tyler, & Burns, 2007). I have found that learning experiences that link classroom material to the real world in powerful, concrete, and meaningful ways enhance student learning. One significant effort to do this resulted in a newly designed, highly experiential and interactive course in political psychology, described in Isbell (2003). In future research, I intend to explore the extent to which such learning environments lead to relatively greater longterm retention of course material compared to more traditional learning environments. I have also been working to find ways to reduce the feelings of distance, anonymity, and disconnection that many students feel in large lecture classes. These experiences are likely to be most problematic for students who are struggling with course material. My research with Nicole Gilbert-Cote (Isbell & Gilbert-Cote, 2009) demonstrates the efficacy of a simple and efficient intervention to improve these students’ grades. A list of publications relevant to my research on teaching can be found here.