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Ahn named Whitney Professor of Psychology

Woo-Kyoung Ahn

Woo-Kyoung Ahn, who has conducted groundbreaking work on cognitive processes, with a focus on thinking and reasoning, has been appointed the John Hay Whitney Professor of Psychology, effective immediately.

Ahn is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in the Department of Psychology.

Ahn has made significant contributions to the study of higher-level reasoning processes. In particular, she investigates how people learn and represent concepts and causal relations, and how causal explanations shape the way we think. Her studies into the cognitive processes that underlie learning have unearthed new insights about the way that the mind grapples with cause and effect. Her work has wide-reaching implications, and she has extended her inquiries to applied issues, such as how expert clinicians’ causal explanations for mental disorders affect their diagnoses, and how learning about one’s genetic predisposition affects people’s expectations about their symptoms.

Her work has also transformed the way that researchers and clinicians approach mental health conditions, and has brought new nuance to our understandings of how prejudice manifests. Ahn’s work has been funded by major grants from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Reboot Foundation.

A fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association, Ahn has been recognized both within and beyond the academy. Recent scholarly speaking engagements have included lectures at Harvard, the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Pennsylvania, and Tufts University; and her research findings have received attention from media outlets including NPR, New York Magazine, and the Huffington Post.

As associate editor of Cognitive Research: Principles and Implication from 2015 to 2018 and Journal of Experimental Psychology: General from 2003-3007, Ahn has shaped the direction of scholarship in the cognitive sciences. In addition, she has served as a consulting editor for Cognitive Science, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, and Memory & Cognition, and has regularly served as a review panelist for the NIH, NIMH, and NSF.

At Yale, Ahn’s undergraduate lecture course “Thinking” had over 450 students enrolled when it was offered in 2019, and was widely praised for its interdisciplinary scope and capacity to equip students critical thinking skills that have bearing not only on their academic work, but their daily lives. She is currently working on a book project, “Thinking 101: Why We So Often Get Things Wrong in Life and How We Can All Do Better” (forthcoming from Flatiron Books), which draws on and builds upon this highly popular course and synthesizes her 30-plus years of groundbreaking research on cognition.

Ahn served as director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology from 2003 to 2010 and from 2016 to 2019, and on numerous university committees. Currently, she serves on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Executive Committee and on the Advisory Board of the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

She earned a bachelor of arts degree at Yonsei University and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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