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Psychology professor Derek Isaacowitz talks about his research

Derek Isaacowitz, Professor of Psychology, sits down with the College of Science Graduate Program staff to talk about his research at Northeastern University.

Tell us about your current research.

Work in my lab is interested in better understanding how our emotional lives change as we get older. In particular, we investigate how people’s ability to regulate their own emotional experience may change with age, and how their ability to make judgments about other people’s feelings changes as well. Our focus is on developing and utilizing cutting-edge methods to tap into everyday affective experience. For a number of years we have used eye tracking to investigate whether older individuals actually look differently at affective information; more recently we started using mobile eye tracking to investigate age differences in looking patterns in more ambulatory environments. We’ve just started a large study of age differences in emotion regulation in everyday life, and are working on developing ways to do eye tracking in the home.

What drew you to your field?

As an undergraduate student, I worked in a lab studying socioemotional changes in aging. I was immediately drawn to the mystery of why, despite well-documented negative age-related changes in physical and cognitive functioning, older adults report quite positive affective lives. How could this be possible that older adults are by and large happy? This question continues to motivate much of my research all these years later.

What do you like most about being a faculty member at Northeastern?

What I most like is the opportunity to interact with, generate ideas with, and collaborate with colleagues from different disciplines. Just as one example, my interactions with colleagues in Game Design have led to several projects using gaming-related methods to study affective changes with aging, including one federal grant to pursue this interdisciplinary work.

What is your favorite part about Northeastern?

My favorite part about Northeastern is definitely the students I get to work with. On both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Northeastern students love to try new things and experience research hands-on. They just do it! It is a pleasure working with such hard-working and motivated students.

What is your favorite part about Boston?
Two things: first, I love the academic culture that permeates the city. Second, I love how easy it is to get to the mountains or the beach – makes every season exciting.

What advice would you give to new and current COS graduate students?
I believe the most important thing for a graduate student is to have in mind the story of their research program, so that when they leave Northeastern they can point to a trajectory of working on a problem or set of questions. So my advice is constantly keep asking (yourself and your advisor) – what is the bigger picture of my work? How does my next study build from my previous one? What would be the next steps given different sets of findings?

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