Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Vrinda Kalia

Written by Sarah Guenther, CAS Communications Intern

Vrinda Kalia

Above- Dr. Vrinda Kalia, Assitant Professor, Miami University Department of Psychology

Dr. Vrinda Kalia always felt like an indifferent student in her undergraduate years. It was not until her first psychology class that she piped up and realized learning is exciting. Prior to that, Dr. Kalia thought she would travel around the world as an archeologist.

“I was a student who would sit in the back seat,” said Dr Kalia. “I was unsure of what I wanted to major in, and I was seeking experiences that would help me find myself.”

Dr. Kalia received a graduate degree in psychology from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.  She then went on to pursue her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Clark University. She now is a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Miami University.

“I chose my focus of study partly because I spent three years in India before grad school as a child counselor for children with HIV,” said Dr. Kalia, “Even though they had nothing to do with the disease they got from their parents, society viewed them as a stigmatized population. And these kids were totally unaware that they were viewed this way.”

After she wrapped up her work in India, she moved to New Zealand for graduate school, and then moved to the United States, where she solidified her focus of research.

“When I was in New Zealand people thought that the way they lived was the only way to live,” said Dr. Kalia, “Then when I moved to the U.S. people thought the same thing and same was true of people in India.”

“But they were living vastly different lives. You made different choices, and you had different experiences,” said Dr. Kalia. “I noticed that I was a different person based on the I culture I was exposed to, so I dove headlong into the study of culture and context.”

Dr. Kalia’s experiences not only impacted her focus of study, but also her research interests. 

“Being able to actually study what I experienced in my life was super exciting,” said Dr. Kalia. “I am particularly interested in the contextual forces (i.e. family, culture, language environment, stress) that shape the development of emotion regulation and executive processes.”

Three lines of research are ongoing in her lab (Thought, Language, and Culture Lab) right now: Examining the role of language in shaping our thinking, studying emotion and how emotion influences our thinking, and understanding motivation and its impact on our ability to think.

Students are actively involved throughout the entirety of her research program. She is currently working with ten undergraduate students from a variety of majors and three graduate students from different areas in psychology.

Kalia Lab

Above- Dr. Kalia pictured here with her collaborator Dr. Vishwanath (Physics) teaching students from the TLC lab about fNIRS, a non-invasive technology that uses light to image the brain.

Dr. Kalia teaches several undergraduate courses in the psychology department, including PSY 210, which is a Global Miami Plan class and an introductory course on the ways in which our culture influences us, as well as PSY 430, which is a seminar course in developmental psychology. 

“I really try to show students that if you approach information with joy and enthusiasm you will spend more time reflecting on it and playing with it,” said Dr. Kalia. “That playfulness about learning is what I would like to inculcate in my students.”

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