May 2016 Spotlight, Qi Wang, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Qi Wang, Ph.D. ( from the Department of Human Development at Cornell University. Dr. Wang’s research integrates developmental, cognitive, and sociocultural perspectives to examine the mechanisms responsible for the development of autobiographical memory. She has undertaken extensive studies to examine how cultural variables sustain autobiographical memory by affecting information processing at the level of the individual and by shaping social practices of remembering between individuals (e.g., sharing memory narratives between parents and children). Her other lines of work include the study of future thinking, self-concept, and emotion knowledge in cultural contexts and the investigation of the influence of social media on memory reconstruction. A graduate of Peking University, China, Qi Wang earned a Ph.D. in psychology in 2000 at Harvard University. She then joined the Cornell human development faculty as an assistant professor and was made a full professor in 2011. She has received many honors and awards, including the Young Scientist Award from the International Society for Study of Behavioral Development (2006), the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Early Research from the Society for Research in Child Development (2005), and the Outstanding Contribution to Research Award from SRCD Asian Caucus (2013). Her research has been frequently published in scientific journals and in volumes of collected works. Her first book, The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture, a study that shows how the self that is made of memories of the personal past is formed and shaped by micro and macros cultural processes, was published in 2013 by Oxford University Press.


Personal Spotlight

We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew them to do work on Asians,Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to them in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in their area.

The main topic of my interest is autobiographical memory. In mid 1990s, when I went to Harvard for graduate school, I had no idea what autobiographical memory was. Although I had a Bachelor’s degree in psychology at Peking University, I had never heard of this concept. At that time, the study of autobiographical memory in Western psychology had grown into a dynamic, interdisciplinary field that had drawn researchers with diverse interests in human memory in natural contexts, in life histories and narrative self-making, and in the practical implications of memory in clinical, legal, and everyday settings. Autobiographical memory was not a subject of research in China then, however. Neither was autobiography an eminent genre in Chinese literature. I was amazed by the large sections of autobiographies and memoires in the Cambridge bookstores. What is the driving force behind the cultural difference in the popularity of autobiographical memory in research and autobiography in pop culture more generally? This question has motivated my research ever since.

I think intellectual curiosity and sensitivity is usually the first step towards systematic research.

Research Spotlight

We also asked scholars to describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.  Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other understudied populations; d) practice or policy relevance.

There are currently several lines of research in my lab that have generated exciting new findings. For example, we have found that culture has parallel influences on how children remember the past and how they imagine the future. We have found that ways of remembering the personal past have different implications for well-being for Asians and European Americans. We have found that Asian and European American children and adults have different views about the functions of personal memory and those views, in term, influence their memories. These findings significantly extend general memory theories and highlight the importance of conducting research beyond WEIRD (Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries) samples.

Experiences with Asian Caucus

I think the Asian Caucus has played a great leadership role for developmental researchers interested in Asian cultures. I’d like to see the further extension of its influences to other fields of psychology.

Upcoming Talks

I’m having a poster presentation at the coming SRA meeting in Baltimore, on “Adolescent Narrative Identity Across Cultures.”

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