The Association for Psychological Science named UMD College of Education Professor Kevin Niall Dunbar a fellow of the organization in December 2018. The association is renowned worldwide and helps facilitate psychological research across disciplinary and international borders. Fellow status is reserved for members who have contributed to the science of psychology through research, service, teaching, and application over the course of their career.
“The award shows your continuous creativity and research, and that it’s not just a one-off thing, it’s your entire research program that they are honoring,” Dr. Dunbar says. “It’s really a wonderful honor and recognition for the work.”
Dr. Dunbar has embraced a range of psychological and educational research. Largely, his research focuses on how humans develop the complex thinking and reasoning skills that are used in science and all domains that involve the use of creativity. He has investigated children and scientists, as well as undergraduate students in domains such as biology, physics, chemistry drama, dance, and music. He uses a variety of research methods, including ethnographic, experimental and neuroimaging techniques, to investigate key components of the scientific and the creative mind.
For example, Dr. Dunbar spent a year audio and video taping molecular biology laboratories at Stanford University to study the different strategies that scientists use to make discoveries. He followed this up with experimental work on the complex cognitive and social mechanisms underlying scientific and creative thinking in his own laboratory. To further understand the nature of these mechanisms, Dr. Dunbar has used different brain imaging techniques to investigate the neural mechanisms involved in the use of analogy and causal reasoning, which are essential processes used in scientific creativity in both the classroom and the laboratory.
Currently, Dr. Dunbar and his colleagues are investigating the learning process that groups of University of Maryland undergraduates use while designing experiments to be carried out on the International Space Station. Overall, Dr. Dunbar’s research has converged on a set of principles underlying human learning. Dr. Dunbar sees these principles as key components of 21st century learning and creativity, and his I-series course at the University of Maryland reflects his commitment to translating his research into critical thinking skills that all students can develop.
Dr. Dunbar is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology.