Faculty Spotlight: Vrinda Kalia

photo of Vrinda Kalia

  • Associate Professor of Psychology
  • PhD in Developmental Psychology from Clark University in Massachusetts
  • Also holds a graduate degree in psychology from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and a diploma in counseling from India
  • Runs the Thought, Language & Culture (TLC) Lab to conduct research on goal-directed behavior
  • Teaches courses on developmental psychology


"Before coming to Miami to join the Department of Psychology in 2014, I was a faculty member at Worcester State University in Massachusetts."

"In India, I used to work as a counselor for children living with HIV. Unfortunately, during that time antiretroviral therapy was not available for Indian children, so the children I worked with would often get sick and not get better. It was then that I internalized the fact that developmental changes across the individual's lifespan could have a profound influence on a person's lived experience."

"This realization propelled me to pursue developmental psychology in graduate school. I really like that developmental psychology tries to understand the entire gamut of the human experience, from tiny humans to aging humans."


"I typically teach courses in developmental psychology. This past spring, for example, I taught Infant Development and Development of Social Cognition."

"Teaching is a genuine passion of mine. I love it! As a life-long learner, teaching feeds my need to learn and grow everyday. But my favorite thing about teaching is interacting with my students and sharing my enthusiasm for psychological research with them. I especially enjoy the classes where I get to know the students. Teaching young minds who have exciting ideas and unlimited potential is a real privilege."

"Because I love learning, my teaching philosophy underscores the joy that learning can bring. I situate my instructional philosophy broadly within the "engaged learning" model. Within this model of teaching, students are taught using a combination of traditional lectures and strategic activities that encourage them to engage (i.e. play) with the material. My role in the classroom extends beyond providing information to instead focus on scaffolding the development of their knowledge of theories, ideas, and perspectives, and facilitating their skills in exploring."

"My goal is to encourage students to challenge their own assumptions. The one thing I hope they take away from my class is to be open to changing their patterned way of thinking. They will play a big role in solving the big problems that we're currently confronting, and I want them to understand that the ability to engage with alternative perspectives and ideas (i.e. flexibility in thinking) will only improve their problem-solving skills."


"I study goal-directed behavior in humans across their lifespan. Although we are motivated to achieve goals, not everyone can control their thoughts and behaviors to the extent needed to achieve a goal. Anyone who has made a new year's resolution that they gave up on knows what I’m talking about!"

"The mental processes that allow us to control our thoughts and behaviors are known as executive processes, which are coordinated by the frontal regions of the human brain. In the past few decades, researchers have shown that the frontal regions of the brain are responsive to environmental exposure. They have also demonstrated that some of the variability in how effectively people use executive functions to achieve goals may be influenced by environmental demands."

"Based within this theoretical framework, I study the differential impact of positive environmental influences (i.e. things that enhance executive processes) versus negative environmental exposures (i.e. things that reduce executive processes) on goal-directed behavior. My recent research, published in the journal Plos One, has shown that adults who experienced early life adversity, such as abuse or having a parent who was struggling with addiction, have trouble thinking flexibly when solving problems."

"All the work in my Thought, Language & Culture (TLC) Lab is made possible by my team of motivated, dedicated, and fantastic undergraduate and graduate student collaborators, who are involved in all aspects of the ongoing research. They facilitate the development of projects, help design studies, aid with data collection and data analysis, and are included in writing and presenting the findings. I am very proud of the publications that have emerged from graduate and undergraduate student collaborations. For instance, a recent paper from my lab was published in the journal Scientific Reports with both graduate and undergraduate student co-authors."

"Additionally, because I use both behavioral and psychophysiological measures for my studies, most of the students in my lab are trained on cutting-edge research techniques (e.g., fNIRS) and can employ multiple methods of assessing psychological phenomenon."

"In the last few years, research from the TLC Lab has consistently shown that stressful events can have a debilitating effect on our ability to think flexibly when problem-solving. We've demonstrated that any stressful experience, whether it is brief (Kalia et al., 2018), chronic (Kalia & Knauft, 2020), or from your childhood (Kalia et al., 2020; Kalia et al., 2021) can hamper your ability to think in flexible ways."

"Flexible thinking may be essential to solving a complex problem, particularly under stress, so it’s important to consider what the loss of flexible thinking could mean for a person. People who get stressed out from goal-directed behavior can be negatively impacted, possibly making it harder to accomplish their goals. Our work also highlights the damage that the stress people have experienced during the pandemic could do to their ability to achieve their goals. Unsurprisingly, we're seeing signs of burnout and disengagement everywhere."

Outside the Classroom

"I am an Indian woman, so family is a big part of my life. I have a loving and supportive husband who cherishes me for the person I am rather than the skills I possess. I am also grateful for all the opportunities that I have been given. Each opportunity is a doorway to a new experience, a new adventure. All of this keeps me motivated!"

"Other than reading, my hobby is gardening. I love to spend hours in the garden when the weather allows."

[May 2022]