Valerie Reyna
Valerie Reyna
Professor / Department Extension Leader

G331D, Martha Van Rensselaer Hall





Valerie Reyna is the Lois and Melvin Tukman Professor of Human Development, Director of the Human Neuroscience Institute, and Co-director of the Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research.  Her research integrates brain and behavioral approaches to understand and improve judgment, decision making, and memory across the life span.  Her recent work has focused on the neuroscience of risky decision making and its implications for health and well-being, especially in adolescents; applications of cognitive models and artificial intelligence to improving understanding of genetics (e.g., in breast cancer); and medical and legal decision making (e.g., about jury awards, medication decisions, and adolescent substance use).  She is a developer of fuzzy-trace theory, a model of the relation between mental representations and decision making that has been widely applied in law, medicine, and public health.

Dr. Reyna is a member of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) and is a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the oldest and most prestigious honorary society in experimental psychology.  She is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Divisions of Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Educational Psychology, and Health Psychology of the American Psychological Association, and the Association for Psychological Science. Dr. Reyna has been a Visiting Professor at the Mayo Clinic, a permanent member of study sections of the National Institutes of Health, and a member of advisory panels for the National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences.  For example, she is on the Advisory Committee of the National Research Council’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE) which oversees 10 boards and standing committees, and serves as the Chief Scientific Liaison and representative to the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences of the Psychonomic Society.

Taking a leave from academia, Dr. Reyna helped create a new research agency in the U.S. Department of Education, where she oversaw grant policies and programs.  Her service has also included leadership positions in organizations dedicated to equal opportunity for minorities and women, and on national executive and advisory boards of centers and grants with similar goals, such as the Arizona Hispanic Center of Excellence, National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and Women in Cognitive Science (supported by a National Science Foundation ADVANCE leadership award).

Dr. Reyna is the Editor of Developmental Review and sits on the editorial board of such journals as Psychological ReviewDecision and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, leading journals in decision sciences and in psychology.  Dr. Reyna has received many years of research support from private foundations and U.S. government agencies, and currently serves as principal investigator of several grants and awards (e.g., from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health).

See Biographical Statement.

Topics: Judgment and Decision Making; Risk and Rationality; False Memory; Aging and Cognitive Impairment; Cognitive and Social Neuroscience; Developmental Neuroscience. 

Dr. Reyna’s research focuses on dual processes in memory, judgment, and decision making, on how these processes change with age and expertise, and on their implications for risky decision making in law, health, medicine, and neuroscience. She is a developer of fuzzy-trace theory, a theory of memory and its relation to higher cognitive processes.

I apply non-traditional (as well as traditional) pedagogical approaches to engage students in high-quality scholarly activities, integrating challenging research with engagement in important social, economic, and health issues, including community outreach.

HD 4200 : Laboratory in Risk and Rational Decision Making

HD 3530: Risk and Opportunity Factors in Childhood and Adolescence

HD 4010 : Independent Study, Department of Human Development

HD 4250 : Translational Research on Decision Making

HD 4990 : Honors Thesis, Department of Human Development

HD 6020 : Research on Risk and Rational Decision Making

HD 7000 : Directed Readings

HD 7010 : Empirical Research

HD 7030 : Teaching Assistantship

HD 8990: Master's Thesis

HD 9990: Doctoral Thesis

Reyna, V. F. (2021). A scientific theory of gist communication and misinformation resistance, with implications for health, education, and policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 118 (15), 1-6.

Reyna, V. F., Broniatowski, D. A., & Edelson, S. M. (2021). Viruses, vaccines, and COVID-19: Explaining and improving risky decision-making. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 10(4), 491–509.

Reyna, V. F. (2020). Of viruses, vaccines, and variability: Qualitative meaning matters. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24(9), 672-675.

Reyna, V. F., Helm, R. K., Weldon, R. B., Shah, P. D., Turpin, A. G., & Govindgari, S. (2018). Brain activation covaries with reported criminal behaviors when making risky choices: A fuzzy-trace theory approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(7), 1094-1109.

Blalock, S. J., & Reyna, V. F. (2016). Using fuzzy-trace theory to understand and improve health judgments, decisions, and behaviors: A literature review. Health Psychology, 35(8), 781-792.

Reyna, V. F., Nelson, W. L., Han, P. K., & Pignone, M. P. (2015). Decision making and cancer. American Psychologist, 70(2), 105-118.

Reyna, V. F., Chick, C. F., Corbin, J. C., & Hsia, A. N. (2014). Developmental reversals in risky decision-making: Intelligence agents show larger decision biases than college students. Psychological Science, 25(1), 76-84. doi: 10.1177/0956797613497022.

Reyna, V. F., & Mills, B. A. (2014). Theoretically motivated interventions for reducing sexual risk taking in adolescence: A randomized controlled experiment applying fuzzy-trace theory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(4), 1627-1648. doi: 10.1037/a0036717.

Reyna, V. F., Estrada, S., DeMarinis, J. A., Meyers, R. M., Stanisz, J. M., & Mills, B. A. (2011). Neurobiological and memory models of risky decision making in adolescents versus young adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 37, 1125-1142.

Reyna, V. F., Nelson, W., Han, P., & Dieckmann, N. F. (2009). How numeracy influences risk comprehension and medical decision making. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 943-973.

Editor, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

Editor, Developmental Review.

Editorial Board, Psychological ReviewDecisionPsychonomic Bulletin and Review, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

Advisory (steering) Committee, National Research Council's Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Academy of Sciences.

Member, Editor Search Committees for Decision and for Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics.

Chief Scientific Liaison, Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society.

Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society.

Network Scholar, MacArthur Foundation’s Law and Neuroscience Network.

Editorial Advisory Board, Biennial Bronfenbrenner Conference Series.

National Advisory Board, Center for Learning and Human Development, Miami University.

Director of Extension, Department of Human Development, Cornell University

Director of Central New York outreach programs for risk reduction and obesity-prevention in youth. 

Much of my research, editorial, and committee service is aimed at ensuring that scientific research is translated for the betterment of society.

Director, Human Neuroscience Institute, Department of Human Development

Director of Extension, Department of Human Development

Co-Director, Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research

1981, Ph.D., Experimental Psychology, Rockefeller University

1976, B.A. , Clark University Psychology (Summa Cum Laude)

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