Professor / Department Extension Leader
Human Development

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.

Reyna, V. F. (2018). Neurobiological models of risky decision-making and adolescent substance use. Current Addiction Reports, 5(2), 128-133. 

Reyna, V. F. (2018). When irrational biases are smart: A fuzzy-trace theory of complex decision making. Journal of Intelligence, 6(2), 29.

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.

Reyna, V. F. & Wilhelms, E. A. (2017). The gist of delay of gratification: Understanding and predicting problem behaviors. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 30(2), 610-625. doi: 10.1002/bdm.1977

Reyna, V. F., Corbin, J. C., Weldon, R. B., & Brainerd, C. J. (2016). How fuzzy-trace theory predicts true and false memories for words, sentences, and narratives. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 5(1), 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jarmac.2015.12.003

Reyna, V. F., Hans, V. P., Corbin, J. C., Yeh, R., Lin, K., & Royer, C. (2015). The gist of juries: Testing a model of damage award decision making. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 21(3), 280-294. doi: 10.1037/law0000048 

Reyna, V. F., Nelson, W. L., Han, P. K., & Pignone, M. P. (2015).  Decision making and cancerAmerican Psychologist, 70(2), 105-118. doi: 10.1037/a0036834

Reyna, V. F., Weldon, R. B., & McCormick, M. J. (2015). Educating intuition: Reducing risky decisions using fuzzy-trace theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(4), 392-398. doi: 10.1177/0963721415588081

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., & Zayas, V. (Eds.). (2014). The neuroscience of risky decision making. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Reyna, V. F., Croom, K., Staiano-Coico, L., Lesser, M. L., Lewis, D., Frank, J., & Marchell, T. (2013).  Endorsement of a personal responsibility to adhere to the minimum drinking age law predicts consumption, risky behaviors, and alcohol-related harms.  Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 19(3), 380-394.

Reyna, V. F. (2012). A new intuitionism: Meaning, memory, and development in fuzzy-trace theory. Judgment and Decision Making, 7(3), 332-359.

Reyna, V.F. (2012). Risk perception and communication in vaccination decisions: A fuzzy-trace theory approach. Vaccine, 30, 3790-3797. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.11.070

Reyna, V.F., Chapman, S., Dougherty, M., Confrey, J. (2012) The adolescent brain: Learning, reasoning, and decision making. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Reyna, V. F., Estrada, S. M., DeMarinis, J. A., Myers, 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(5), 1125-1142.doi:10.1037/a0023943

Reyna, V. F., & Brainerd, C. J. (2011). Dual processes in decision making and developmental neuroscience: A fuzzy-trace model. Developmental Review, 31,180-206. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2011.07.004

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.

Lloyd, F. J., & Reyna, V. F. (2009). Clinical gist and medical education: Connecting the dots. Journal of the American Medical Association, 302(12):1332-1333.

Reyna, V. F. (2008). A theory of medical decision making and health: Fuzzy-trace theoryMedical Decision Making, 28, 850-865. 

Reyna, V. F., & Farley, F. (2006). Risk and rationality in adolescent decision making: Implications for theory, practice, and public policyPsychological Science in the Public Interest, 7, 1-44.

Reyna, V.F., & Lloyd, F. (2006). Physician decision making and cardiac risk: Effects of knowledge, risk perception, risk tolerance, and fuzzy processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 12, 179-195.

Reyna, V.F. (2004). How people make decisions that involve risk. A dual-processes approach. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 13, 60-66.

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.

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.

Courses Taught (selected)

HD 3530 Risk and Opportunity Factors in Childhood and Adolescence, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 4010 Independent Study, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 4200 Laboratory in Risk and Rational Decision Making, Cornell University
HD 4250 Translational Research on Decision Making, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 4990 Honors Thesis, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 6020 Research on Risk and Rational Decision Making, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 7000 Directed Readings, Department of Human Development, Cornell University
HD 7010 Empirical Research, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 7030 Teaching Assistantship, Department of Human Development, Cornell University
HD 8990, Master's Thesis, Department of Human Development, Cornell University 
HD 9990, Doctoral Thesis, Department of Human Development, Cornell University

Ph.D. 1981 - Rockefeller University Experimental Psychology

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

Director, Human Neuroscience Institute, Department of Human Development, Cornell University

Director of Extension, Department of Human Development, Cornell University

Co-Director, Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research


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