Mind Games: CMU Professor Studies the Intricacies of "Muscle Memory"

For instructor Timothy Verstynen, baseball is the ultimate example of the translation of high-level thinking and strategy into implicit action.


CMU professor studies “muscle memory”
Many of us currently have baseball on the brain. But Carnegie Mellon psychology professor Timothy Verstynen is more interested in what’s on the brains of the players themselves. Verstynen, who recently received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation, has been putting his brain to work studying what he describes as the “back and forth” between the cognitive and procedural aspects of complex actions. In other words, he wants to know how “muscle memory” happens — the way we get from thinking through small actions to letting our thoughts guide our actions automatically.

“The analogy that I always give is when you’re learning to drive a car,” Verstynen says, describing the way that novice drivers have to remind themselves to put on a turn signal, hit the gas pedal and shift gears, whereas experienced drivers do all of that automatically.

For Verstynen, baseball is the ultimate example of the translation of high-level thinking and strategy into implicit action — layers of complications from the pitcher being faced, to the batter’s count, to the number of men on base and the pitch itself all come to affect the decision to swing. There’s a lot of context that goes into “[h]ow we make decisions on whether or not to engage in action,” Verstynen says, and baseball the perfect way to put laboratory studies to the test in the real world.

“We have these interesting understandings in the lab about how these decisions are made and we have this rich collection of statistics [from baseball],”  Verstynen says. His challenge is to connect the two.

— John Lavanga, PM Editorial Intern

Cal U introduces graduate certificate program in student affairs
Typically, student affairs employees hold a master’s degree; however, graduate certificate programs are a great way to get a jump start in a student affairs career. In June, the School of Graduate Studies and Research at California University of Pennsylvania will begin offering an online Student Affairs Practice Certificate to prepare students for entry-level jobs in the field. Through three classes, students can gain the basic knowledge needed to work in such sectors as admissions and career services. Pennsylvania residents who enroll in the nine-credit program likely will pay the university’s standard graduate tuition prices; nonresidents should contact the Bursar's Office for rates.

Applicants must provide an official undergraduate transcript listing a 3.0 minimum GPA. The program, which currently has a rolling admissions policy, hasn’t yet capped class sizes. Students who start in June should complete the program by January 2015. Email Dr. John Patrick, program coordinator, for more information.

— Krystal Hare, PM Fact-Checker

Pittsburgh app has successful pilot run at Pitt, plans to expand
What started as a pilot program at the University of Pittsburgh now will launch nationally: MyPath101 is a Pittsburgh-based Web app designed to “help students become more self-aware, select the right classes and majors, manage their online reputations, graduate from college in four years and start on fulfilling career paths,” as stated in one of the startup’s recent press releases. MyPath101 cites statistics from the Chronicle of Higher Education, noting that about 32 percent of undergraduate students at four-year U.S. institutions move on within four years. The Office of Career Development and Placement Assistance at Pitt — which has a rate of 62 percent — participated in the app’s four-month pilot run and now is an official client, offering free memberships to its students.

Pupils can join during high school or college to use a variety of guided modules, such as instructional videos and interactive exercises focused on personal branding, career marketing and ways to use social media for educational needs. A free trial is available online. With every membership purchase, low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students receive a free membership through a partnership with the nonprofit Beyond 12.
— K.H.

Categories: Great Minds