The Voice: Winter 2002
Hitchcock becomes Dr. Danny
Dr. Danny Hitchcock, who has been teaching in the psychology department since the fall of 2000, successfully defended his dissertation and was awarded the Ph.D. from Rutgers University this fall. Hitchcock's dissertation was titled The Influence of Emotional and Physiological Activity on Infant Memory.
Hitchcock says he's been fascinated with how babies develop since his college days when he did
an honor's thesis involving infants. When he applied to graduate school, he looked for a place
that had a good reputation in the study of infants. He found that at Rutgers.
For his research Hitchcock observed 100 four-month-old babies as they learned how to make a
ribbon activate a slide and music show. After they'd learned how to pull the string, the ribbon
was disconnected. Most babies reacted with frustration and anger. During both situations,
Hitchcock observed facial expressions, tested cortisol levels through a saliva test, and measured
heart rate to determine what happens to children as they learn. The objective was to find out
whether the amount of emotion observed during the learning process influenced memory.
Hitchcock found that although sixty percent of the babies remembered how to make the ribbon
activate the slides and music, one week later, those who had shown the most anger and the most
extreme heart rate during learning were least likely to remember how to play the game. He
concludes that high levels of stress disrupt memory. He was happy to find that despite the fact
that most babies became frustrated, none were affected strongly enough to raise their cortisol
levels as would happen in a traumatic event.
Hitchcock hopes to continue his research on babies' learning in the years ahead, developing a
baby studies research program in which his students can participate. He plans to develop lab
components for his Cognitive Psychology, Learning Theory, and Physiological Psychology
classes that will allow collaborative research for students in his classes.
This could create a great opportunity for individual psychology majors who plan to go on to
graduate school and want some research experience, he says.