Professor To Receive Women in Cognitive Science Leadership Award

Barbara Spellman

Professor Barbara Spellman holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology in addition to her J.D. Photo by Jesús Pino

November 7, 2019

Barbara Spellman, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Virginia School of Law, has been named a recipient of the Women in Cognitive Science Leadership Award.

The award, sponsored by the Psychonomic Society and Women in Cognitive Science, recognizes initiatives that individuals have undertaken, beyond their own students and laboratories, to benefit women in cognitive science more broadly. Spellman will be one of two women honored with the award Nov. 14 at the Psychonomic Society Meeting in Montreal.

Spellman said that her efforts to promote the work of women began years ago.

“Every semester I would nominate one young woman, who was not a member of my lab or my department, for an award,” Spellman said. “She would get an email from me saying, ‘Send me your CV, I want to nominate you for something.’ Now I am part of a group of women across psychological science who are trying to make awards to women — and other underrepresented groups — more equitable.”

Spellman is co-author of “The Psychological Foundations of Evidence Law,” published in 2016. She edited a special issue of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review in 2010 on emerging trends in psychology and law research. From 2011-15, she served as editor-in-chief of Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Spellman considers her editorship with Perspectives her greatest contribution to not just women and cognitive science but to the field of psychology. She opened the portal to all submissions and confronted “the replication crisis” — the recognition that many findings across science could not be repeated and were likely the results of poor methodology.

“I recruited an editorial board of mostly women whose judgment I respected — ranging from very prominent to nearly unknown,” she said. “I have strong views about the role of editors in peer-reviewed journals, and I taught and modeled that behavior and I always had their backs. Many of them have gone on to senior editorial roles at other journals.”

Spellman earned a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law. After practicing for a few years, she earned a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1993. Her psychology research focused on memory, analogical reasoning and causal reasoning. Now she writes about judicial reasoning, forensics and the replication crisis in science.

Spellman joined the faculty of the UVA Department of Psychology in 1997 and moved to the Law School in 2008. She teaches Evidence and various courses on the intersection of psychology and law, such as Behavioral Decision Making and Law, and the Psychology of Wrongful Convictions.

Women in Cognitive Science, founded in 2001 and originally affiliated with the Psychonomic Society, works to improve visibility of women in the profession, encourage young women to join the field, and provide professional training and development. The Psychonomic Society, formed nearly 60 years ago, is the preeminent society for the experimental study of cognition.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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