Psychology Alumna Fast, '08, Honored at National Meeting

October 2, 2013

Cindy Fast with Pavlovian Society President Steve Maren.
Cindy Fast, '08, with Steve Maren, president of the Pavlovian Society.

Cindy (Cardwell) Fast, '08, Albion psychology and neuroscience alum, received the 2013 Pavlovian Society Poster Award at the Society’s annual meeting, in Austin, Texas, on September 28. The award acknowledged the quality of her research, which examines both brain and learning mechanisms that affect imagery in rats.

In brief, rats respond differently to a meaningful light if they cannot determine if it is illuminated compared to their response when they can see that it is not illuminated. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the hippocampus seems to be involved in mediating this imagery. Apparently if the rats cannot see the light, they imagine that it might be lit, and this imagery affects their behavior.

Fast's work has implications for the understanding of both brain and learning mechanisms guiding behavior in ambiguous situations. She is currently completing her Ph.D. at UCLA.

Full information about her poster: “Learning History and Hippocampal Involvement in the Use of an Image under Ambiguous Situations” by Cynthia D. Fast, M. Melissa Flesher, Nathaniel A. Nocera, Michael S. Fanselow, & Aaron P. Blaisdell; University of California, Los Angeles.

The Pavlovian Society, founded in 1955, “is dedicated to the scientific study of behavior and promotion of interdisciplinary scientific communication.” Approximately 160 learning theorists and behavioral neuroscientists attended the meeting, from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia. For more information about the Society visit

Holly Paxton (left), Melissa Baguzis, and Professor Jeff Wilson.
Holly Paxton (left), Melissa Baguzis, and Professor Jeff Wilson.

Current Psychology Students Present Research

Current students Holly Paxton, '14, and Melissa Baguzis, '14, also presented research at the meeting. These students, who work with Psychological Science professor Jeff Wilson, examined learning in the earthworm. They found that earthworms in a running wheel can learn to turn off a light by crawling.

The demonstration of learning in the earthworm opens the door to further studies of the neural substrates of learning in these organisms, perhaps offering insight into how more complex animals learn.