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Meet the New Faculty: Harlan Fichtenholtz, Psychology

Have you ever wondered why we do the things we do? What makes us tick? Harlan Fichtenholtz, a cognitive neuroscientist and the newest addition to the Keene State psychology faculty, investigates how people understand and interpret the vast array of social and emotional signals that they encounter every day. “We get so much more information from the non-verbal responses people make,” said Fichtenholtz, whose work has shown that social emotions, particularly facial expressions of fear and anger, bias how people pay attention to the world around them. “My research looks at how we integrate these social, emotional signals into our cognitive processes.”

Originally from Branford, Connecticut, Fichtenholtz attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where he developed an interest in how the brain controls the body and behavior. Fichtenholtz spent seven years at Duke University, two years in a research lab and then moving down the hall for graduate school and the PhD he earned in 2006. He did a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University doing research on memory and remained as part of the medical school faculty until 2015. Harlan spent last year at Bennington College in Vermont prior to his arrival at Keene State.

Although he enjoys his research work, Fichtenholtz is happy to be back in the classroom full time and helping students learn about the various possibilities in the vast field. Fichtenholtz says he was drawn to Keene State by its liberal arts program and the interesting work by faculty members in the Psychology Department. “There’s a foundation for doing neuroscience here,” he said. “My hope is that I can build off of what they’ve started in their research and build my own program but also develop coursework that brings neuroscience particularly the methods – not just the content – to the classroom here.”

Putting mind over matter, Fichtenholtz has embraced the opportunity to hone the interests of students at Keene State, where he is teaching two sections of General Psychology and a History of Psychology course this semester. “Because of my interest, I focus on the links between the brain and behavior,” said Fichtenholtz about topics he will introduce in his General Psychology class. “One thing the students in my class didn’t realize was how much hard science there is in psychology. It’s one of the STEM disciplines.”

Interacting with upperclassmen in his history class, Fichtenholtz will take his students on a time travel exploration of psychology that begins with Aristotle and Plato up to the past two hundred years when people began taking a scientific approach to studying the mind and behavior. “In psychology it’s very important to talk about how the study of the individual has really changed over time,” said Fichtenholtz. “Looking back we can actually see a continuous path from what was going on to what people are currently doing in the field.”

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