Cal State Fullerton’s Minority Access to Research Careers program hosted Matthew Botvinick, Ph.D, of Princeton University Wednesday in McCarthy Hall to speak about the law of least mental effort research, which is about how the brain determines how to solve problems.
Director of Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC), Amybeth Cohen, Ph.D., said the program has been running since 1996.
“Its mission is to aide underrepresented minorities in the sciences who are interested in biomedical research to move forward into Ph.D programs,” said Cohen.
Due to a recent renewal of a grant, the number of participants in the program has increased this year.
“Our renewal upped our number. We originally had six in every year. Three the first year, three the second year because it’s a two year program. But when we were refunded, we were given twelve slots,” Cohen said.
Even though she does not know much about Botvinick, Cohen said she is eager for the seminar to begin.
“One of the highlights of our program is we have funding that allows our scholars to invite two scientists from anywhere in the country to come and spend a day with us in order to enlighten them on how they navigated their research career,” Cohen said.
While other program have a professors who choose the guests, this program has students choose instead.
“This invite was by one of our psychology majors. She was at Princeton this past summer for a research program and met Dr. Botvinick there. So she invited him to come and speak to our scholars and our larger CSUF community,” Cohen said.
Botvinick hails from Princeton’s Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and holds a Ph.D. in psychology and cognitive neuroscience from Carnegie Mellon University.
“It’s been really great talking to all of you this morning and finding out about the programs that go on here,” said Botvinick. “I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk a little bit about what we do in our research.”
Botvinick involved the attendees in mini experiments, which held the attention of the spectators.
“It was cool that he could have interactions with the people listening,” said attendee Raul Perez, 21, a biology major. “They were difficult, but it made the listeners a part of the experiments.”
Another aspect of the seminar was Botvinick’s sense of humor, which elicited laughs from the audience while still informing those interested in the subject.
“All things being equal, animals, including humans, will avoid physical effort,” said Botvinick. “There are reams of research on this. It’s maybe not surprising, but psychologists like to prove things that aren’t surprising.”
After starting out with real life examples and anecdotes, he eventually settled down into more scientific explanations accompanied with slides of graphs, illustrations and drawings of the brain’s different areas lighting up at different times.
Perez enjoyed that the speaker incorporated mathematical, biological and economical examples into his talk.
“He was a very good speaker,” Perez said when the seminar was over. “He went over, and in most cases I usually like to leave when they do that, but I found it very interesting.”