Group Members

Group Members


Daniel R. Montello

Daniel is a Professor of Geography and affiliated Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara and he currently co-edits for the academic journal Spatial Cognition and Computation. He has a background in environmental, cognitive, and developmental psychology, and is interested in the psychology of physical environments, both built and natural: How characteristics like layout size and shape, appearance, ambient sound, path networks, and so on affect perception, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Daniel plans on exploring the interdisciplinary explorations of the psychological role of darkness in environmental psychology, including examining empirical evidence for this role.


Holley Moyes

An Associate Professor in the Anthropology program, Affiliate in Cognitive and Information Sciences, and Associate Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts at the University of California, Merced, Holley specializes in archaeology and has conducted research in the American Southwest, Israel, Turkey, and Tibet, but predominately works on ancient Maya ritual cave sites in Belize. In her edited volume Sacred Darkness: A Global Perspective on the Ritual Use of Caves she hypothesizes that dark zones of caves have been employed as special use or ritual spaces throughout the world over time since before we were modern humans. She has partnered with cognitive scientists and other scholars to examine the question of “why caves” and how this may have played a role in the development of spiritual beliefs.


Michael Spivey

Currently a Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Merced Michael’s research for the past 25 years has examined the relationship between visual perception and the rest of the mind (language, action, problem solving, etc.). His research program overlaps with the Darkness research group for their mutual interdisciplinary interest in understanding how dark environments influence our minds, our culture, and our understanding of the origins of magical thinking. Dark environments affect our visual perception, our visual imagery, our visual cognition, and even our reasoning. He hopes to extend his research program into interdisciplinary experimental studies of these important influences that darkness has on human cognition.


Jeff Yoshimi

Jeff is an Associate Professor of philosophy and cognitive science in the Cognitive and Information Science department at UC Merced. He is a founding faculty member, who does work in philosophy of cognitive science, phenomenology, neural networks, and dynamical systems theory. He is interested in several strands of phenomenological research relating to light and darkness. One (under-studied) strands looks at the relationship between light, darkness and the experience of time; another strand uses metaphors of light and darkness to describe (among other things) the acquisition of knowledge and the structure of truth.


Heather Bortfeld

Heather is a Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of California, Merced. She completed her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at SUNY, Stony Brook in 1998. Her postdoctoral training at Brown University was supported by a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She was on the faculty at Texas A&M University and the University of Connecticut prior to arriving at UC Merced in 2015. Her research examines both healthy and atypical development with a focus on language.

Ramesh Balasu-bramaniam

Ramesh is a Professor in Cognitive & Information Sciences. Ramesh’s interests are in the area of Sensorimotor Neuroscience. He is interested in how sensory information (from light, sound and touch) is integrated in the human brain for the perception of space and time. In particular, he is interested in how darkness and diminished vision contribute to 1) adaptation in the brain 2) compensatory changes in other sensory systems. An important application of this work in the use of sensory substitution for individuals with impairment to one of the senses. Ramesh’s laboratory uses a combination of psychophysical methods and brain imaging technologies to study issues related to darkness.


Shadab Tabatabaein

Shadab is a graduate student at the University of California Merced in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program. Her interest lies at the intersection of the anthropology and cognitive sciences. Her research combines various approaches employed by each discipline to offer new solutions to old and long-lasting questions in anthropology working with culturally-specific as well as cross-cultural phenomena. Currently, she is participating in an interdisciplinary project that strives to isolate the effects of ambient darkness experienced in deep caves on human perception and cognition. The importance of this project lies in shedding light on the controversial topic of embodied cognition.

Hatton Photo Sleeping

Nigel De Juan Hatton

Nigel is an Assistant Professor of Literature and Philosophy at the University of California, Merced. His published work includes articles on Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Søren Kierkegaard, Ivan Klima, Jose Martí and other writers and thinkers who fall into the intellectual sphere of literature and philosophy. He has lectured, taught courses and facilitated workshops at Stanford, UC Berkeley, in California’s community colleges, at universities across Europe, in homeless shelters, and in California prisons. An advocate for economic justice, educational reform and equity, and social transformation, he bases his research in local communities, in the academy, and in the world.

Carolyn Jennings
Carolyn Jennings

Carolyn’s primary research work is on attention, especially as it intersects with perception, consciousness, action, and responsibility, and is informed by the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. She has been working with graduate student Shadab Tabatabaeian on the use of light and darkness to manipulate cognition, particularly as it relates to altered states of consciousness (e.g. trance states in Shamanism and meditation in Buddhism). She is interested in how light and darkness are used to manipulate attention and hopes to extend her understanding of attention and its effects on the mind through the study of darkness, in collaboration with the other researchers involved in this initiative.


Scott Nicolay

Scott is a graduate student in Interdisciplinary Humanities with an emphasis in Archaeology at the University of California, Merced. His doctoral research focuses on the prehistoric ritual use of caves in the Greater American Southwest in relation to the roles of darkness and water in indigenous cosmologies. He has conducted archaeological research in caves in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Easter Island, and Belize, and organized several symposia on cave archaeology for the Society for American Archaeology. He is also a member of the National Speleological Society, and serves as editor of the quarterly newsletter for that organization’s Western Region.

Oana David

Oana completed her PhD in linguistics at UC Berkeley. She is currently a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced. Her research focus is in cognitive linguistics, specifically computational, corpus and discourse analytic approaches to the study of metaphor. Her recent work focuses on metaphors for cancer.


Teenie Matlock

Teenie is the McClatchy Chair in Communications and Founding Faculty in Cognitive Science at UC Merced. Her work explores how people use and understand language. Some of her research examines how the content of political campaign messages affects voters. Other work investigates how metaphors are interpreted “in the wild”, for instance, in natural discourse about technology, math, or politics, or how grammatical form influences reasoning about past events.


Brandon Batzloff

Brandon is a graduate student in the Cognitive and Information Sciences program at the University of California Merced. His area of research is sensorimotor timing with an emphasis on the ways in which visual and auditory timing interact with motor functions. Examples of this include how physical movements can alter perceived durations of sub-second stimuli, or an examination of timing differences when dissociating auditory and visual neural processing from each other.