July 16, 2018

Sebrechts will Lead Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

(Washington, D.C.) Marc Sebrechts, Wylma and James Curtin Professor of Psychology and chair of the Catholic University Department of Psychology, has been appointed as Division Director, Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), effective Aug. 20, 2018.  marc-sebrechts-profile.jpg

As director of the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, Sebrechts will provide leadership and direction to the division, which is responsible for funding research that develops and advances scientific knowledge about the brain, human cognition, language, social behavior, and culture, including research on the interactions between human societies and their environments. He will implement overall strategic planning and policy setting, oversee the evaluation of proposals and recommendations for awards, and foster partnerships with other divisions, directorates, federal agencies, scientific organizations, and the academic community.

“I am honored to have been selected for this challenging position,” Sebrechts said. “Faced with major changes in our environment and our technology, it is essential that we continue to utilize the best scientific research to better understand how people conceptualize their world and their status in it, as well as what influences their behavior — from brain function to cultural context.”

Sebrechts received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University and served as director of one of the country’s first undergraduate cognitive science programs at Wesleyan University before joining the Catholic University faculty in 1988.  He served as director of the Psychology Master’s Program and the Applied Experimental Program before becoming department chair, a position he has held for more than 20 years.

"Marc Sebrechts’s highly successful research and administrative experience at Catholic University should position him well for this leadership role at NSF,” says Andrew Abela, University provost. “This added connection with the scientific community supports our broader efforts to continue to strengthen the research character of our University. "

This appointment highlights Sebrechts’ extensive scientific and managerial background. His research examines a range of issues in human cognition, with special attention to how technology (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, eye tracking) can be used to better understand human perception and cognition. Current research projects include:

  1. Lunar Psychophysics: Assessing perceptual judgements on a lunar-like surface using a virtual reality simulation.  
  2. Use of a virtual environment to determine how encoding information in terms of survival relevance (“survival encoding”) impacts location retention.
  3. Use of eye tracking to examine how reading and retention are influenced by interruptions.
  4. Determining how the gender of a computer-based assistant or agent influences how much we trust that agent to provide the right recommendations.
  5. Comparison of how different learning strategies — repeated study, conceptual mapping, or testing — influence our ability to transfer what we have learned to new domains.

While serving in his full-time role as division director, Sebrechts will continue his research and mentoring of students in the Cognition and Virtual Reality Laboratory at Catholic University.

During his time as chair of psychology, the number of undergraduate majors has almost tripled and a new bachelor's degree in Psychological and Brain Sciences was established. Sebrechts revived the Human Development doctoral program, fostered the development of a collaborative clinical and human development effort on children, families, and cultures, and supported infusion of neuroscience in the curriculum.

His many University activities have included multiple terms on the school’s Committee on Appointments and Promotions, working on University strategic planning and accreditation teams, and serving for 15 years as a representative to the Board of Trustees and the Academic Senate. He is currently the chair of the Academic Senate Budget and Planning Committee and a member of the University Budget Committee.  

He has collaborated with multiple external organizations for his research, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Educational Testing Service, and the National Rehabilitation Hospital. As part of his professional service, he has been an accreditation site visitor for the American Psychological Association (APA) as well as a grant and journal reviewer.  He has been an active member of the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology and was recently elected to its executive board; he serves as its liaison to the APA Board of Educational Affairs.

MEDIA: For more information or to schedule an interview with Sebrechts, contact the Office of Marketing and Communications at communications@cua.edu or 202-319-5600.

ABOUT: The Catholic University of America is the national university of the Catholic Church and the only higher education institution founded by the U.S. bishops. Established in 1887 as a papally chartered graduate and research center, the University comprises 12 schools and 29 research facilities and is home to 3,315 undergraduate and 2,708 graduate students.

ABOUT: The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, funding research in all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities, and other institutions.