Claremont, Calif. (August 31, 2020)—Pitzer College Professor of Psychology David S. Moore has been elected a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, an honor given only to researchers who have shown evidence of unusual and outstanding contributions or performance in the field of psychology. Fellow status requires that a person’s work has had a national and/or international impact on the field of psychology.
Professor Moore was honored this year in the field of developmental psychology, APA Division 7. He has taught at Pitzer since 1989 and has directed the Claremont Infant Study Center for the past 30 years.
Ever since he was an undergraduate at Tufts University and a graduate student pursuing his PhD at Harvard University, Moore has actively studied human development. His empirical research program explores cognitive development in infancy, while his theoretical work focuses on the epigenetic processes that drive development forward. His 2002 book, The Dependent Gene: The Fallacy of “Nature vs. Nurture,” has been cited in more than 300 publications and continues to be assigned by professors to convey the insights of developmental systems theory.
His more recent book, The Developing Genome: An Introduction to Behavioral Epigenetics, won two APA book awards, including the Eleanor Maccoby Book Award and the William James Book Award. The Maccoby Award recognizes an author of “a book in the field of psychology that has had or promises to have a profound effect on one or more of the areas represented by Division 7.” The James Award, from Division 1, General Psychology, is given to an author whose book “brings together diverse subfields of psychology… [and provides] a creative synthesis of theory, fact and themes that serve to unify or integrate the field.” The Developing Genome has been adopted for use in classrooms across the US.
In addition to his theoretical work, Moore’s empirical research has significantly influenced the field of developmental psychology. For the past 12 years, he has been studying the emergence of the ability to recognize how a previously seen object would look if it were rotated in space into a new position. This form of spatial cognition, or “mental rotation (MR),” is essential in STEM disciplines and is used in a wide variety of tasks, such as learning to read, navigating through unfamiliar environments, and performing laparoscopic surgery, to name just a few. As he reported in a 2008 Psychological Science paper, Moore has found that some five-month-old infants are capable of MR and that male infants appear to have an advantage relative to female infants on the task he developed.
Moore’s objective in this work is to clarify the developmental origins of this sex difference, and of MR itself, in an effort to potentially aid in the formulation of diagnostics and treatments for conditions associated with abnormal spatial-cognitive abilities. “Understanding the development of this important skill will facilitate the creation of interventions that can improve performances and open doors to productive careers for men and women alike,” he said.
In 2016-18, Moore took a leave of absence from Pitzer to serve as the director of the National Science Foundation’s Developmental Sciences Program in Washington DC. He oversaw the disbursement of $7 million in research funding to developmental scientists and made critical decisions regarding the direction of the field.
Moore said receiving the APA honor validated his decision more than 30 years ago to come to Pitzer.
“When I decided to work at a small liberal arts college, I knew there was a chance I would not be able to publish the same amount as my peers working at research institutions,” he said. “Professors at Pitzer teach five courses every year, which is more than twice as much teaching as many university professors do. While I really wanted to be very involved in undergraduate education, I wanted to be able to do it in a way that wouldn’t have a negative impact on the quality of my research.
“This honor suggests I was able to stay enthusiastically engaged in teaching while still producing research that has contributed in significant ways to my discipline. I feel really great about that.”