Faculty Bio

Mark Cleaveland

Associate Professor of Psychology

J. Mark Cleaveland earned his B.A. in Biology from Brown University and his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Duke University.  At Brown he was first introduced to behavioral ecology by Douglas Morse, and at Duke he worked with Carl Erickson studying aie aie's and in John Staddon's lab studying pigeons and budgerigars.  Finally, before coming to Vassar, Prof. Cleaveland served as a wissenschaft mitarbeiter (post doc) in the lab of Juan Delius at the University of Konstanz, Germany.  At Vassar his research is in the area of comparative psychology, and he teaches courses in psychology and neuroscience.

Cleaveland's research examines the interactions of evolutionary "behavioral systems" with the formation of learned response patterns in both humans and non-humans.  With non-human subjects (pigeons and mice), his lab has sought to develop computational models that capture how animals come to use their own behavior to guide decision-making.  In the lingo, such models are informed by research on adjunctive behaviors and response-outcome (R-O) and stimulus-response (S-R) associations.  Such research touches on the formation of compulsions and stereotypic behaviors more generally.  With humans, Cleaveland's research has examined the influence of foraging "behavioral systems" on decision-making.  Specifically, his lab has examined whether biases in how humans judge probabilistic outcomes might be related to evolutionary adaptations.

In the classroom Cleaveland has long been interested in how narrative and game-like mechanics might inform pedagogy.  Such an approach is commonly termed "game-based" learning, "gamification" or "role immersion" learning.  Regardless of the terminology these approaches share the desire to import elements of social play and narrative meaning into the classroom setting.