Sarah Johnson works with one of her SOAR (Student Opportunities for Academic Research) students.

I loved psychology when I took it in high school, but it didn’t even occur to me to take it in college. I was an elementary education major and was planning to teach 4th–5th grade. I had to take some psychology courses for that, and I realized how much I enjoyed thinking about how people think. Everything from why we have the dreams we have to why some people like to solve problems and do puzzles and other people don’t to why memory declines with age and how our language shapes the way we think, I find all of the intricate ways that our minds and our brains work to be really fascinating. Once I realized that I could do research to ask questions and better understand how the mind works, I was hooked.

What are your research interests, and why are you drawn to them?

My current research focuses on the memory mechanisms that underlie stereotypes. This topic merges my past research on semantic memory–memory for general knowledge–with an application that has real-world importance. I enjoy studying questions that help us address some of our societal problems, and I also find that this topic makes it easy for students to engage with me in my research. Right now I am researching gender-bias in relation to science, but because my focus is on the memory mechanisms involved, students in my research lab can look at all kinds of stereotypes that are particularly interesting to them. I have had students focus on stereotypes about gender, sexual orientation, and intellectual disabilities. 

Are there any specific moments from your experience with students that stand out in your mind as special?

The moments that stand out as most special to me are often small moments such as conversations that happen with my research students about what it’s like to go to graduate school or when we’re going over a tough concept again and again in a research methods/statistics class and suddenly the right example clicks and I can see the cartoon light bulbs go off for the students. 

Share something about yourself that people may not know.

Only a few people on campus know that I spent many years doing medieval recreation as a hobby. It’s like being in a Renaissance Faire, but it’s about living the experience rather than putting it on like a play for others to watch. I was pretty good at medieval dancing (surprisingly flirty!), traditional archery, and I sewed my own medieval clothes. I handmade my wedding dress following the pattern for a 15th century kirtle.

What is your favorite Moravian University tradition?

Heritage Day. Even though there are other traditions that might be prettier or more formal, I have always enjoyed doing service with other faculty and students. I’ve done a wide variety of things: digging gravel at an Equine Therapy farm with some of the guys from facilities, tying fleece blankets with my colleague and some students from the neuroscience program, and packing boxes of food for Second Harvest Food Bank with students I know from SOAR and the Undergraduate Research Club. Every year it’s different, and every year it feels like we’re doing something worthwhile in the community.

What book, film, song, or piece of art has so touched you that you find it unforgettable?

The Giver by Lois Lowry had a profound impact on me. I first read it as an adult, and the insight and creativity of it still blows my mind every time I read it. I use it in my Mind & Brain class to talk about perception and memory. Honestly I can’t even quite put words to what is so important about how it illuminates a certain vision of the world. My students can tell you that if anything leaves me speechless, it’s pretty unique.

Name someone who inspires you and tell us why?

My mom was and is a huge inspiration to me. When I was in high school, she went into recovery for alcoholism. When she passed away a few years ago, she had over 25 years of sobriety. The bravery with which she faced her own flaws and learned to accept herself for who she was is a kind of everyday heroism. For all of us, there are times when just getting by day-to-day is the thing that is inspirational, and her example still inspires me. 

Share something that makes you happy.

Being under a cozy blanket with my kitties cuddled up close on a snowy day.