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Probing the Mysteries of the Mind

Psychology student drawn to research tests fairness of SAT

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Joseph DeAngelis was a high school student when he found his calling. He took a psychology course that captivated him from the opening lecture right through to the final term paper.

“I was hooked,” DeAngelis says. “I could see immediately how the study of human behavior could be applied to the everyday world.”

At the School of Arts and Sciences, the Egg Harbor Township native wasted no time plunging deeper into the field. He majored in psychology, minored in cognitive science, and seized upon undergraduate research opportunities with the Aresty Research Center.

Rather than focusing on clinical psychology, DeAngelis has always been drawn to the mysteries of human thought. I could see immediately how the study of human behavior could be applied to the everyday world.

“Cognitive science is all about how we think,” DeAngelis, now a graduate student in psychology, says. “It’s a discipline that employs psychology, computer science, neuroscience, anthropology, and other fields to get different perspectives on how we think, make decisions, and collaborate with others.” His current research project addresses one of the most contentious topics in American education: standardized tests. DeAngelis is examining whether some Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) questions can be answered through prior knowledge, gained outside the classroom, rather than through purely critical thinking or academic knowledge. For example, he said, one SAT verbal question asks students about a passage that references ballet.

Joseph DeAngelis“If you know something about ballet, then that may be the only thing that can help you answer the question,” he says.
To find out more, DeAngelis devised his own experimental exam and administered it to several dozen students over the summer. The results are pending. But the research may raise serious questions about the fairness of standardized testing.

“The SAT is not supposed to be measuring prior knowledge and it would be completely unfair if it did,” he said. “It affects the future of so many students.” For DeAngelis, Rutgers is a natural fit. He has been involved with the Aresty Research Center, currently serving as a peer instructor. He received funding for the SAT research from the Dorothy and David Cooper Scholarship, which supports outstanding psychology students.

He plans to attend graduate school and continue the career in research he launched at Rutgers.

“So many innovations that have contributed to the betterment of mankind have started in the same place,” he says. “You can always trace it right back to someone doing the research.” 



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