Melissa Clearfield

Ph.D. / Professor of Psychology

Maxey Hall 340
(509) 522-4427

I was born and raised in New Jersey (the land of malls, Camaros, and big hair.) After high school I escaped to Middlebury College in Vermont, where I learned that nature is more than just a tree in the middle of a parking lot. I also learned that psychology is cool, especially how babies learn about the world. After college, I started my journey west by going to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington. I earned my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology (with minors in Behavioral Neuroscience and Kinesiology), and then came to Whitman in the summer of 2001.

My research is grounded in Dynamic Systems Theory, which posits that cognition is inextricably linked to perception, action and attention. My current line of research explores whether socio-economic status impacts how these factors interact in very young infants. It is well known that school-aged children who grow up in poverty show deficits in executive function (EF), which is a combination of attention, cognitive flexibility and problem-solving. But we don't know how early these problems begin, since most studies start testing children when they get to school (at 5 years of age). The studies on infants have focused on more global measures, rather than the details of EF. So my research tracks infants across the first year of life to determine whether low SES infants show deficits in any of these areas, with the eventual goal of earlier and more effective interventions.