ASU psychologists rise to the top of their field

3 professors named 'Rising Stars' by Association for Psychological Science

January 28, 2016

Three Arizona State University psychology professors have been named as “Rising Stars” by the largest international psychological association in the world. The trio of honors ranks first amongst the Pac-12 schools and is second worldwide to only Stony Brook University.

The Association for Psychological Science gives the Rising Star award to “outstanding psychological scientists in the earliest stages of their research career post-PhD whose innovative work has already advanced the field and signals great potential for their continued contributions.” Download Full Image

The 2016 ASU honorees are Gene Brewer, for his research on cognitive processes and working memory; Frank Infurna, for his studies on the effects life stressors have on resiliency and healthy aging; and Madeline Meier, for her findings on long-term marijuana use and IQ decline, along with advancing discoveries of the pathology of schizophrenia.

Memory improvements

Working memory is the brain’s ability to represent goals, Brewer said, which can range from everyday menial tasks like remembering to attach a document to an email or snap decisions with large repercussions — a police officer responding to the scene of an ongoing crime, for example.

“If working memory capacity is the goal maintenance ability that people have, it’s so critical within all of these domains, then we need to find ways that we can improve it, to retrain it, and there’s a lot of research in that area and it’s a very controversial topic,” Brewer said.

For example, Lumosity, a popular brain-training app that advertised users could expect results including increased athletic performance and protections from Alzheimer’s disease and chemotherapy side effects, was recently hit with a $2 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising earlier this month.

“I’m not a major proponent of the brain training method. Our work can’t speak directly to that, but the evidence is almost becoming overwhelming in terms of the inadequacies of current methods for training. Now that, that absolutely doesn’t mean it’s not possible … we may be asking the wrong questions,” Brewer said.  “So definitely a future direction is trying to figure out how can we improve that functionality and how within that functionality we can get it to translate to real world domains.“

Healthy aging

Infurna’s work also involves cognitive function, but narrows in on how mentally resilient an adult can be when encountered with aging and adverse life events, like the death of a spouse or loss of employment. His findings have shown that the more stressors an individual encounters, the harder it becomes for that individual to function normally.

“That’s what we’re currently focusing on: what are some of the factors that promote resilience and individuals being able to stay healthy? Some of the things we’re finding is having a strong social network or being able to have people to go to for help in time of need or stress, but also individuals who are able to stay engaged in one social network as well,” Infurna said.

Infurna’s close relationship with his grandparents during his childhood helped provide the impetus behind his study of healthy aging. He says he was working as a research assistant when “something clicked.”

“I think healthy aging is a combination of things: are people able to interact effectively day to day in terms of doing what they want to do, so they have control over their life circumstances, are they generally happy, and also how they’re doing health wise,” Infurna said. “Individuals may have chronic illness, but if they’re able to manage that chronic illness, that’s still considered healthy aging … so individuals who are able to maintain higher levels of physical functioning don’t show cognitive declines over time and they are able to live longer.”

Adolescents and marijuana

And while her colleagues are researching ways to improve and protect cognitive function, Madeline Meier’s research has shown that consistent marijuana use from adolescence to adulthood can lead to a significant reduction in IQ points.

“People who begin [to use] marijuana as a teenager and then continue to use for many, many years — they show an about eight point IQ decline,” Meier said. “We tried to rule out various alternative information … that could be explained by adolescent users coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds that could be explained by adolescent marijuana users who also use alcohol or other hard drugs, long term tobacco use — we ruled out all those explanations.”

Because marijuana decriminalization and legalization is more controversial than ever before, it’s not surprising that the research behind its use and long-term effects can be just as divisive. A recent study in the United Kingdom as well as a joint effort between UCLA and University of Minnesota scientists have claimed that marijuana does not cause a noticeable IQ decline in teens and twins, respectively.

However, the UK study only surveyed adolescents from the ages of 8 to 15, while the UCLA-UM study did not query subjects on current marijuana usage, but only focused on the time periods where subjects reported their highest amount of usage.

“We have received [pushback]. The media is constantly publishing reports that other studies have contradicted what we have found between marijuana and IQ,” Meier said.

Her second research area may have discovered a new way to discover schizophrenia using a process called renal imaging, but Meier is quick not to jump to any conclusions during the ongoing study.

“What we found was that people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia have wider veins. While we might say, ‘OK, we can detect this person has a wider blood vessel or blood vein in their eye, this leaves them at risk for schizophrenia,’ but that might put them at risk for a host of other things, like higher blood pressure,” Meier said.

Both Meier and Infurna were part of a class of nine new department hires in 2014.

“We have these new faculty who are really, really good, and contributing at a level that our prestigious department deserves,” said Brewer. “And that’s exciting to be a part of."

Reporter, ASU Now

ASU Art Museum presents a unique exhibition by Cuban-born artist Tony Labat

January 28, 2016

On Jan. 30, 2016, the Arizona State University Art Museum opens “Love Me Two Times,” a unique exhibition divided between two recent projects by Cuban-born Bay Area-artist Tony Labat. The title refers to the newly restored diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

The first of the two projects, “Irregular Encounter: Leveling the Field,” was commissioned for the Havana Biennial in 2012. At the ASU Art Museum, the installation will rely on audience participation, as it consists of a customized billiards hall with bleachers, a café/bar stand and the highlight—a handmade pool table in the shape of the island of Cuba. ony Labat, “Irregular Encounter: Leveling the Field,” installation view. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

A pioneer of video installations, Tony Labat has been an important player in the California performance and video scene since the early 1980s. His work often identifies the “outsider,” whether the artist or the immigrant. Having emigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, he himself has often been caught between the U.S. and Cuba’s severed diplomatic relations, and his work makes frequent commentary on labor, migration, displacement and marginalization.

While researching how to build a pool table in Cuba, Labat discovered a world of underground “billiards” clubs. After a decades-long ban on billiards, communities created unauthorized pool halls in their homes. At one of these Labat met a young man named Tatin, who had come into building pool tables quite accidentally. A local police chief had a few pool tables left over from the 1950’s in the basement of the police station, and he asked Tatin to fix and renovate one table. In exchange for his services, he was given one of the tables. By deconstructing a pool table, Tatin taught himself how to build one from scratch. The police chief then looked “the other way” and let Tatin develop a “pool hall” in his home. The custom-made pool table he built for Labat was milled from one tree, possibly a type of walnut tree, from which the cue sticks were also made, while a saddle maker constructed the pockets.

When the table premiered at the 2012 Havana Biennial, “Irregular Encounter: Leveling the Field” became the first “ sanctioned” Cuban pool hall in 50 years, by the way of art. Other than the story and fabrication, perhaps the most important aspect of the table is its unusual shape: the island of Cuba itself. The new configuration forces each player into an equal place as they try to figure out how the balls respond to curved,rather than straight rails. Labat’s conceptual take on the traditional billiards table mirrors the current day politics – a new era is beginning where the old rules no longer apply.

“Irregular Encounter: Leveling the Field” is the second project in the new ASU Art Museum series Encounter, where artists re-imagine and re-contextualize the museum collection to address larger issues relating to the current social and cultural climate of Arizona and the world at large. For Encounter, Labat will choose a selection of the museum’s seminal contemporary Cuban collection that will be displayed in the installation of “Irregular Encounter: Leveling the Field.”

For the second project in “Love Me Two Times,” titled “Day Labor: Mapping the Outside,” Labat set up a surveillance system outside the window of his studio and, during the course of six months, recorded the activities of the laborers while also recording himself producing artwork in his studio. The cameras were camouflaged in three exterior flowerpots aimed at Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco’s Mission district, a location known as the place to pick up day laborers. This multi-channel video installation also relates to famed conceptual artist Bruce Nauman and what he describes as “dead time” in the studio. Here Labat refers to the day labors waiting to be offered a job and poses the question, “What is the difference between informal economy and the art economy?” Both are large unregulated markets with implications in the global economy.

Labat was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1951, and emigrated to the United States in 1966. He received both a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute. His videos and installations have been included at the The Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Hague; Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico; The Kitchen, New York; Museo de Arte, Bogota, Colombia; Centro Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam, Havana; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, N.Y.; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the Seville Biennale, Spain, among others. His videos are part of the permanent collections of numerous institutions, including Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Kunstmuseum, Bern; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Long Beach Museum of Art, California. He lives in San Francisco.

Join the artist at the ASU Art Museum Spring 2016 Season Opening Reception, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 at the ASU Art Museum and ASU Art Museum Brickyard.

Members and Alumni Preview 5:30–6:30 p.m.
Public Reception 6:30–8:30 p.m.

Sponsored by Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen and the ASU Art Museum Creative Impact Board. 

This exhibition is supported by the Helme Prinzen Endowment.


The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America magazine, is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

To learn more about the museum, call 480.965.2787, or visit

Location/Parking: The museum has three locations across the metro Phoenix area: the ASU Art Museum at 10th Street and Mill Avenue, on ASU’s Tempe campus; the ASU Art Museum Brickyard at 7th Street and Mill Avenue, in downtown Tempe; and the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix. Designated parking is available at all three locations.

Admission: Free at all three locations.

Hours: The ASU Art Museum and ASU Art Museum Brickyard are open 11 a.m.–8 p.m. on Tuesdays (during the academic year), 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space in downtown Phoenix at Combine Studios is open by appointment.

Media Contact:
Julio Cesar Morales
ASU Art Museum