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Ed. psychology scholar awarded prestigious UF Research Foundation Professorship


David Therriault, an associate professor of educational psychology in the College of Education, never seems to find enough time to sit down.

UF COE education psychology scholar David Therriault is happier about his research being recognized than he is about any personal accolades that result from his studies.

“Learning about learning is very important to me, so I’m just proud that something I love to do is being highlighted,” Therriault said after recently being awarded a prestigious University of Florida Research Foundation (UFRF) Professorship. “Whatever helps to bolster the usefulness of my study results makes me happy.”

The UFRF professorships are given to tenured UF faculty members who have distinguished records of research as a way to recognize their contributions and provide incentives for continued excellence in research. Thirty-three UF professors were named this year, and each will receive a $5,000 annual salary supplement and a $3,000 grant to support his or her research.

Therriault is an associate professor of educational psychology in the COE’s School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education (SHDOSE). His main academic interest always has been the psychology of education, which is why his work at UF has focused on the empirical study of the mental processes that shape the way we learn. Such nuances include the representation of text in memory; comprehending time and space in language; the link between attention and intelligence; the use of perceptual symbols in language; and problem solving in engineering.

“I’m actually kind of a weird fit in the college because some people still don’t know what I do here,” Therriault said with a laugh. “I started taking psychology courses when I first went to college and never stopped. My interests within my field are all over the place.”

SHDOSE director Harry Daniels might disagree.

“There is clear evidence that Dr. Therriault is an active and productive scholar, and that his scholarship informs others who conduct similar types of research,” Daniels wrote in a letter of recommendation for the professorship.

Daniels’ letter also pointed out that Therriault’s published articles in scholarly journals – which total more than 25, including 14 in the past five years — have had a “high impact rating” on their audiences.

“The interdisciplinary nature of Dr. Therriault’s research deserves special recognition,” Daniels wrote, explaining that Therriault has developed relationships with UF College of Engineering faculty to address some of the critical issues of scientific problem solving within the field of engineering.

The objective in working with the College of Engineering is to measure empirically how two seemingly disparate disciplines can benefit each other, according to Therriault, who received $805,000 in grant money to examine how engineering students solve open-ended problems. 

Therriault also received an $83,000 UF research opportunity grant in 2011 that enabled him to develop a kindergarten-level reading disabilities screening battery called the Kindergarten Cognitive and Reading Assessment Tool for iPad (K-CRATI). The assessment tool is being designed to allow educators to effectively catch at-risk students early in their elementary schooling.

“If past performance is truly the best predictor of future behavior, there is every reason to believe that Dr. Therriault will utilize the [research professorship] to further his agenda,” Daniels concluded.

Therriault received his bachelor’s degree at the University of New Hampshire before earning a master’s degree and his Ph.D. – both in cognitive psychology — from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He joined UF’s education psychology faculty in 2004.

    Source: David Therriault, UF College of Education;; phone 352-273-4345.
    Media Relations: Larry Lansford, director, College of Education Office of News and Communications;; phone 352-273-4137.
    Writer: Stephen Kindland, College of Education Office of News and Communications;; phone 352-273-3449.


Studying abroad found to boost creative thinking

Co-researchers: David Therriault, associate professor in educational psychology, and graduate student Christine Lee

When American college students travel overseas to study, they often seek deep cultural immersion, adventures among historic sites, culinary and artistic exploration and a life-changing learning experience.

Now, according to a new study out of the University of Florida’s College of Education, study-abroad students can also expect one more benefit: enhanced creativity.

UF researchers have found evidence for a link between studying abroad and creativity, showing that exposure to other cultures benefits creative-thinking skills. The research team was made up of graduate student Christine Lee, David Therriault, an associate professor of Educational Psychology, and Tracy Linderholm, a dean at Georgia Southern University and a former UF education professor.

In this study, Lee, Therriault, and Linderholm showed that the “cultural experiences from living abroad may have wide-reaching benefits on students’ creativity,” according to their research article, published recently in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

A 2009 study at Northwestern University first identified a potential relationship between multicultural experiences and enhanced creativity. The UF study confirmed the earlier finding by comparing a group of students who were immersed in a foreign country for an extended period of time to existing groups of students who have not studied abroad.

The researchers analyzed the creative mental processes of 135 students from UF, who were recruited by an online participant pool from the College of Education and on-campus International Center.

The volunteers were divided into three groups of 45 students each: those who had studied abroad, those who were planning to study abroad and students who had no plans of studying abroad. Each student completed two measures of creativity to test their general and culture-specific creative thinking.

For example, one of the activities on the general test asked participants to draw pictures using nine identical isosceles triangles and two unfinished figures.

The second task, designed by the UF researchers, tested culture-specific creative ability. Students were asked to answer questions like “What steps can you suggest that would get many more foreign people to come to [America] as tourists?” and “Suppose you had access to any ingredient from all over the world. Describe the dishes you would create using a combination of the most unique and/or exotic ingredients you can think of.”

Results showed that students who had studied abroad outperformed both groups in those tests. Lee said a surprising finding was that the study-abroad students not only performed better on the culture-specific task, but on the general test as well.

“One implication of this finding is that experiences abroad facilitate students’ ability to think in more innovative ways,” Lee said. “The ability to not only master course content but to also creatively apply that knowledge is important for students as they enter the real world.”

The researchers said future studies on the creativity-study abroad link is needed to investigate the influence of other factors such as students’ ethnic backgrounds and the location and length of their study abroad.

“It’s important to understand the complex blend of influences that may explain the link found in this study,” Therriault said.

SOURCE: David Therriault, 352-273-4345,
WRITER: Alexa Lopez, 352-273-4449,
MEDIA RELATIONS: Larry Lansford, 352-273-4137,