Date published: 3/17/2016

Student’s performance on tests and homework assignments don’t always capture what they have learned during schooling. In fact, students commonly report “choking under pressure” or performing below their actual ability. I am interested in investigating STEM learning of students at various stages in schooling and the emotional factors that prevent them from performing at a high level.

I use both laboratory and classroom field research to investigate how attitudes and beliefs (both in school and in the home) interact with cognitive constructs to impact students’ achievement. I also apply some of my basic theoretical findings towards designing interventions that can help students learn and perform at a high level. A consistent theme of my work has been to understand the influence of struggle (i.e., disfluent processing), the agents that lead to struggle, and the reasons why struggle can both harm and sometimes aid learning.

In one line of research, I am investigating the impact of children’s math anxiety (i.e., a fear of mathematics) across different stages in schooling and the factors that can contribute to the development of negative math attitudes more generally.  My findings suggest that children who are the most likely to succeed (i.e., children with higher working memory) are the most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of math anxiety. Of course, a fundamental question is why young children are developing math anxiety in the first place. To address this issue, I examine how elementary teachers, college professors and parents' own attitudes harm student’s math learning.

I am also engaged in an applied program of work that involves the design of theory-driven interventions to help students perform at a level that is more indicative of their ability. For instance, my previous research demonstrated the performance benefits of offloading cognitive worries through a simple 10 minute expressive writing exercise before math and science examinations.

I grew up in various areas of Los Angeles before my family settled in the Florence-Graham area. I was the first in my family to attend college and received my B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Northridge. I received my Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology in 2013 from the University of Chicago and joined the UCLA Department of Psychology in 2014. I live in Culver City with my wife and three children.